Pier 21: Individual to Collective

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts describing and documenting The Here & Elsewhere Bee, my project as the 2017 Artist-in-Residence at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. A list of the subsequent posts related to the project can be found at the bottom of the blog post.


Things have progressed quickly in the last few weeks for the Here and Elsewhere Bee. I introduced Phase II of the project after 4 weeks, as I had collected 158 5” x 5” bear paw blocks during the first 4 weeks of my residency. I scaled down the exercise to a solid coloured triangle on a 2 3/4” white background.

I was worried that the visitors might not want to do it since it might be less interesting to them to work with only one colour, but some people still tell rich personal stories. And the simpler block is enticing to a time-pressed tourist or a person who doesn’t deem themselves artistic.

Here are some interesting stories from a simple colour on a white background:

“I chose this red because my grandmother was a Red Cross nurse in World War II.”
“I chose this blue because my grandmother came across the ocean from England to Pier 21 when she was four years old. I thought this blue would be a colour that a 4-year-old little girl might like. I also studied oceanography and this blue represents my connection to the ocean, too.”
“I chose this yellow because when my great-grandfather moved to Canada, he became a farmer in Saskatchewan.”
“I chose this sea green because my mother came from Finland, a land with seas and skies. I also chose it because it is the colour of tears. My mother left a child behind when she moved to Canada.”

At first, these bitty blocks looked odd and insignificant when there were only a few.  But when they started to form masses, they became something else entirely. Less individual and more collective. The white space around each also eased my mind, since the bear paws are so full of colour and pattern.

I also rearranged the blocks from a loose geography of country of origin to thematic organization. I grouped them in fours, with the bear paws facing out. I thought it was a more meaningful way to represent what was going on in the quilt to group them by theme. A few themes kept recurring: Nature, Agriculture, Crossing the Ocean, Freedom, Family, Love, Culture, New Opportunities. The reorganization  illustrates how, although each of our stories are unique, there is a commonality amongst them.

The mass of the smaller blocks really underscores this commonality, and began to look like leaves. A jelly roll of Elizabeth Hartman’s Rhoda Ruth Coordinates with some of Carolyn Friedlander’s “Friedlander” collection spurred me to organize each theme around tree trunks.

I now have more than 600 blocks from visitors. A good 240 came from Canada Day, which saw a record-breaking 12,000 visitors at the museum. A combination of rain, Canada 150, and stellar programming contributed to that very high number. More evolutions to come.

#elsewherebee #atelierailleurs

Read the other posts:

4 thoughts on “Pier 21: Individual to Collective

  1. Cathy Lohwater says:

    This is stunning! Will you sew it into a quilt? How are the visitors putting their squares together (glue)? This is just brilliant. Love the solid strips with all the other blocks.

    • andrea says:

      Hi Cathy, Thanks for your kind words! The visitors are using fusible raw edge appliqué; it’s easy and quick for them. I will be stitching all the patches together into a quilt top and then sending it off to a long-arm quilter.

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