Pier 21: The Story Behind the Bee

This is the first in a series of 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.


My project at Pier 21 is a collaborative quilt entitled The Here & Elsewhere Bee and is inspired by the children’s storybook Selina and the Bear Paw Quilt. The American-born author Barbara Smucker lived in Canada for 24 years of her life, a period when she published much of her work, including the classic Underground to Canada.

The book is set during the American Civil War. Selina lives in a close-knit community of Mennonites in Pennsylvania, and witnesses many quilting bees as a part of her everyday life – a manifestation of how her community connects and functions.

“Because Mennonites would support neither the North nor the South, they were considered disloyal to both. They were persecuted, their lands ruined, and some of their meeting places destroyed.”1

As pacifists during wartime, Selina’s family must escape to Upper Canada to avoid persecution and Selina must leave her elderly grandmother behind. Her grandmother gives her a Bear Paw quilt top to take with her to spread over her new bed in her new country. Made of remnants of dresses, tablecloths and other available fabrics, including her grandmother’s wedding dress, Selina cherishes the quilt top on her journey to Canada.

When she arrives, her community rallies to finish the quilt with her; a warm welcome to her new home.

The book’s illustrator, Janet Wilson, worked with Toronto-based quilter Lucy Anne Holliday. Holliday provided quilted “frames” for each of the illustrations, adding richness to the images. In my mind, Holiday’s fabrics have become the ones in Selina’s quilt – the elements that hold so much meaning in this little story.

“Working with the author (Barbara Smucker) and the publisher (Stoddart-Canada), I was a member of the planning team responsible for the appearance of the books. I hand-pieced, appliqued and quilted the borders for each of the oil-painting illustrations in the books. Working with the artist/illustrator (Janet Wilson), I chose the design and fabrics which would eventually complement and frame each of her paintings. These “framed” paintings were then photographed for inclusion in the books, as full page illustrations to the story.” — Lucy Anne Holliday, from lucyanne.org

1 Smucker, Barbara. Selina and the Bear Paw Quilt. Introduction.

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