By Rick Garrick
NORTH BAY – Fabric artist Robin McKenzie developed her unique style of fabric art about two-and-a-half years ago at the request of one of her hand drum bag customers.
“I used to do drum bags for hand drums with my designs on the front,” says McKenzie, who is from Kebaowek First Nation, which is located about an hour’s drive from North Bay in Quebec. “A lady loved the design, but she said she didn’t drum. She wanted just the design, so she asked me to make her one. I think she wanted (something) like the quilted wall hangings, but I tried it this way and she absolutely loved it. So I just kept going with it.”
McKenzie says her fabric art pieces range in size from five by seven to about 16 by 20 inches.
“It’s all made with fabric, and then I stretch it over a canvas so it hangs on the wall like a painting,” McKenzie says. “It’s like a quilting panel, and then I stretch it over the canvas.”
McKenzie says her work has progressed since she began, noting that her stitches were more visible in the beginning.
“In my current work you can’t even see my seams and my stitches — they are really fine,” McKenzie says. “A lot of people think they are paintings when they look at them because you can’t see (the stitches). You have to look really close.”
McKenzie says people have been telling her that her fabric art is “really unique and different” at craft shows and Pow Wows across southern Ontario and into Quebec.
“Everywhere I go everyone says they haven’t seen anything like it anywhere,” McKenzie says.
McKenzie adds that she sold all of her fabric art pieces at a national education conference this past summer in Toronto.
“There were people from all over the world, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, and we sold out,” McKenzie says, noting that her work is usually priced at $30 to $200. “We came back with just two pieces.”
McKenzie says her art work is inspired by the different gatherings she attends in the North Bay area.
“The Full Moon Ceremony was the first thing I went to with the Ojibway Women’s Lodge and I drew a design for that one,” McKenzie says. “It’s a woman and she is holding out the yellow fabric to throw in the fire at the end. So I drew it out and picked all my fabrics and pieced them all together and I then sewed them all together and stretched them over the (canvas) and put my name and date and title on the back. There’s still a lot of designs that I haven’t done because I haven’t found the right fabric that I want for it.”
McKenzie says two of her larger pieces, which sold for $600 each, featured the seven grandfather teachings.
“And I did one for the missing and murdered women,” McKenzie says. “I did a red dress in the centre and moccasin vamps around the dress.”
McKenzie says she has collected “bins and bins” of fabric and thread over the years.
“Fabric is getting really expensive,” McKenzie says. “I look for a lot of fabric with Native designs on it too, and that is hard to find.”
McKenzie encourages people to keep her fabric art pieces away from direct sunlight and to clean it with a fabric roller.
“I have a piece in my house, the first piece I made about three years ago, and it still looks like the day I made it,” McKenzie says.