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Large Two Inch Squares, 54in. x 64in., cotton hand-dyed by artist, hand quilted by the Martin sisters.


Expedition XII, 58in. x 59in., cotton hand-dyed by artist, hand quilted by the Martin sisters.





Artist: Joyce Seagram of Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Interview 57: Joyce exhibited in the 2009 World of Threads Festival  2009 exhibition Common Thread International Part 2 in Oakville, Ontario.

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.



Joyce Seagram was born and educated in Toronto, Canada. She graduated as a Registered Nurse, married Norman in 1958, and started living in and travelling to other parts of Canada and the world.  Having lived in England, Kenya, Tanzania, France, as well as Halifax, Montreal, and Calgary in Canada (during which time she raised four children) she now resides in Toronto or, during the summer months, on an island in Muskoka, Ontario.

During the non-Muskoka months, Joyce has remained true to her nomadic nature by hiking or just wandering about some twenty-five mostly remote countries of the world.  These, with their extraordinary diversity of cultures and customs, their kaleidoscope of colours, smells, sounds, textures and shapes, have deeply influenced Joyce’s sense of colour and her use of colour as a quilt artist.

In the early 1970’s while living in Montreal, Joyce developed her unique approach to quilt making.  She first learned traditional quilt making but soon began exploring non-traditional techniques that allowed her freedom of design and colour. Workshops conducted by the renowned Nancy Crow have been her greatest inspiration.

Joyce’s work has been exhibited in England, France, Spain, Italy, Australia, Japan and throughout the USA and Canada.  She uses special cotton fabric hand-dyed at her studio in Muskoka.  Her work is the result of meeting the creative challenge of transposing the forms and colour her eyes have absorbed from her world adventures to fabric art that enlightens and delights. Joyce's Website


Artist Joyce Seagram.


Tell us about your work?

I am a quilt artist. I create, design, colour, cut and piece together the fabric elements that comprise the top layer of what will become an art quilt. I also draw the lines and patterns for the intricate quilting that combines the layers of fabric and batting that will form the ultimate work.

All my work is hand quilted by the three wonderfully talented Martin sisters who live near Elora, Ontario. Previously, Edna Koepke, an amazing woman from Waterloo, Ontario, quilted for me virtually until she died at the age of 101.

My art is intuitive, usually very colourful, and often uses the colour yellow in all its moods. Ninety-nine percent of the time I work with my own hand-dyed cotton using fabric that I obtain in Europe. I dye this material at my summer studio on an island in northern Ontario where I spend seven months every year. There I think, plan and explore new ideas especially when, with my two dogs on a long walk, I have the time to see the colours in the rocks, lichen moss, the leaves and the trees, all surrounded by the rarely still water.

Each evening, looking out my studio windows that face west, I can watch the setting sun and its ever-fascinating colouring of the sky, the clouds, the trees and the water.  Even in the sombre days of storms the shades of grey in their variations from dark to light give life to the clouds and the water.

Yet, there are other months of the year when I travel to other places in Canada and more particularly to other parts of the world. That is where the extraordinary diversity of our world's cultures and customs, with their kaleidoscope of colours, sounds, smells, textures and shapes, deeply affect me as a quilt artist.


Expedition V, Quilt National 2007, 53in. x 56in., cotton hand-dyed by artist, hand quilted by Edna Koepke.



From where do you get your inspiration?

It would be too easy to say "from everywhere". But it is true. Wherever I go, from whatever I do, and see, feel, hear and read, my senses absorb forms and colour. My imagination does a translation; my eyes select the material; my hands create the pieces and apply them to the work wall; my mind examines and worries the shapes, the sizes and the colours into a whole; and my emotions confirm whether or not I am on the right track.


Expedition IVb, 35.5in. x 53in., cotton hand-dyed by artist, hand quilted by the Martin sisters.


Why did you choose to go into fibre art?

In the mid-1970's I spent a year in classes at the Visual Arts Centre in Montreal. There I was given a taste of just about everything that is considered a craft, particularly those involving textiles and fibres – knitting (which I enjoy), crocheting, weaving, quilting, embroidery, needlepoint, and even macramé.  It all made me realize that if I wanted to do well in any craft, I had to choose just one and basically forget the others.

And so I chose quilting. I attended the relevant classes but soon found that doing traditional quilting (though I do love bed quilts) was to me a bit like "painting by numbers". It was constraining and seemed to lack a creative challenge. Fortunately, I came across an article in a magazine about Nancy Crow's art quilts, and I said to my friends, "if Nancy Crow ever gives workshops, I am going to be in her very first class". Well, in the end, I was in her second week of classes in 1983. Her classes were challenging and commanding at that time and they remain so today. I continue to be inspired by Nancy and her work.

It seems a natural progression from sewing children's clothing, making booties, knitting sweaters, crafting needlepoint covers for stools, upholstering cottage furniture to hooking rugs.  But it wasn't until Nancy unlocked my creative handcuffs that I began to understand the joy that is embedded in art quilts, the fibre art that has captured me.


Mlia Mingi, 50in. x 53in., cotton hand-dyed by artist, hand quilted by the Martin sisters.


Which is your favourite fibre medium?

Art quilts. Why? Because of the complete discretion over the size, shape, form, material, colour, tone, and balance I have over my work. 


What other mediums do you work in, and how does this inform your fibre work?

None.  In art, focus is important. I have chosen not to dilute mine with undue attention to other forms of textile art.


Expedition XII, 58in. x 59in., cotton hand-dyed by artist, hand quilted by the Martin sisters.


What specific historic and contemporary artists have influenced your work?

I have trouble distinguishing between the historic and the contemporary. Nevertheless, there are some artists whose work I have admired and which, no doubt, has inspired me. Or, at the very least, their work has invoked a positive response that is often reflected in my own.

Norman Laliberté was born in the United States in 1925, grew up in Montreal, pursued his art studies in the USA and has become renowned for his work as a painter, fibre artist, sculptor, designer, illustrator and photographer. His fun loving, imaginative, irreverent, and eclectic paintings were an exciting introduction for me to the freedom that art permits. His classes in fibre art, which I was able to attend years ago, were joyful and captivating.

Friedensreich Hundertwasser was another artist with a multiplicity of skills. As a young boy he survived WW II in his native Germany and matured into both an acclaimed architect and an exciting painter. His wonderful sense of colour and his playful, some would say disorderly, love of any line that was not straight was the essence of his surprisingly sophisticated folk art. It is said that he considered straight lines (either in architecture or on his canvas) to be "the devil's tools".  His boundless freedom of expression constantly reminds me to be unafraid of trying something different.

Mark Rothko, a Russian who arrived in the USA at the age of ten and quickly displayed his broad intelligence in school and at Yale, turned his back on engineering and law to become an artist in the 1940's. To me, his uncomplicated abstract paintings that employ simple but unusual colour combinations project a calmness, a peacefulness that I sometimes try to portray in my quilts.

Arthur Shilling, a Chippewa First Nations Canadian who lived much too short a life, broke with the traditions of native art to apply vivid, undiluted colour (frequently the yellow, red and orange of my leanings) to his portraits and landscapes. His brilliance as a colourist captured me from the first moment I happened upon one of his paintings.

Jack Bush was, like me, a Toronto person. His signature was starkness, with few hints of subtlety. The simple boldness of his paintings with his balanced proportions of colour is a style that I would love to be able to emulate.

And then there is Nancy Crow of Ohio, my mentor and teacher. She encourages all of us to be original, to concentrate, and to be completely free in executing our ideas.  Her own work, often bulldog strong, is constantly compelling, although her current use of straight lines must have Hundertwasser muttering in his grave in New Zealand. She has an unerring eye for what is good and what is bad. She is sometimes very quick to let you know. The world of art quilts would still be mired in its craft beginnings, if it were not for the leadership of great artists such as Nancy.


Large Two Inch Squares, 54in. x 64in., cotton hand-dyed by artist, hand quilted by the Martin sisters.


What role do you think fibre art plays in contemporary art?

I can speak only of art quilts. Sadly, it is still a small role. It is a role that struggles for legitimacy, recognition and appreciation. This is due, I think, to several factors. 

First, compared to so many other art forms, quilting art is relatively new and has but a comparatively short history.

Second, it has emerged from a well established craft with deep utilitarian roots, a craft that still thrives today but which, unlike art quilts, has a function other than simply to tell a story or freely elicit a pure emotional response. 

Third, its production, to the unknowing, is often perceived to be the result of a large collaboration of people, the result in many cases of a "quilting bee". Thus the identity of the artist is of lesser importance than that found in most other art forms.

And fourth, there is only minor involvement by men in the creation of art quilts. The result is that half of the potential audience for the art form is virtually absent, and serious male interest is minimal.

Despite all that, the art quilt is slowly gaining recognition and appreciation, witness the growth of exhibitions and touring shows, the increasing willingness of collectors to pay a premium price for works of merit, and the gradual expansion of the art form among male quilters.



Skating, 71in. x 71in., cotton hand-dyed by artist, hand quilted by Edna Koepke.


Can you talk about the commercial viability of fibre art?

My views must be confined to the commercial viability of art quilts, for my understanding of the commercial aspects of the other fibre arts (tapestries, for example) is non-existent. If one undertook a reasonably rigorous examination of the production, marketing and sale of art quilts, with due recognition of the fixed costs (space, insurance, furniture and equipment) as well as the variable costs (especially the time of the artist), it is highly likely that only a very few quilt artists could demonstrate profitability – that is, commercial viability. Nevertheless, it appears to me that the suppliers of equipment and material to quilt artists are capable of producing a reasonable living as well as those who teach the art form and those who manage quilt shows and travelling exhibitions.


Expedition XIV, 25in. x 33in., cotton hand-dyed by artist, hand quilted by the Martin sisters.


Do you find it more difficult to show and sell your work than other non-fibre artists?

My difficulty with this question lies in my not knowing many other artists of any sort.  And of the ones I do know, I have never discussed the commercial aspects of their particular form of art. I can say, however, that while I have found it relatively easy to show or exhibit my quilts, or to have them on display in a few commercial galleries, actual sales are relatively infrequent and my inventory at home keeps growing.



Expedition IV, 22.5in. x 50in., cotton hand-dyed by artist, hand quilted by the Martin sisters.


Tell us about your studio and how you work.

I have two studios. One is the third floor of our Toronto home. The other is a lovely addition to our cottage on an island. The city studio is very bright with a south western exposure that faces trees in the summer and city buildings covered with snow in the winter. The cottage studio sits on the edge of a lovely lake to the west and peers into the woods through big windows to the east. 

I produce my hand-dyed fabric in my small dye room at my cottage studio where I can also make good use of the space outside. The warmth of summer allows me to create more and better colours than the cold of Toronto's winter.

In either studio I keep all my fabric visible and easily reached from my large work wall of Pellon. Behind me, I have a large table for measuring and cutting. I work on only one piece at a time; rarely do I have two quilts in progress simultaneously. When I have an idea for a particular design or theme, I used to sketch it on squared paper. Now, however, I let my mind be my sketchpad and I transfer my design directly to the work wall, often experimenting with different shapes, proportions, positions and colours. I will keep working on a piece until I am satisfied I cannot make it any better.

My two studios are my refuges where time flies and I can live in my own world, away from the problems of the day. They are where I always want to be whether in the city or by the lake.


Twenty-five Bowls, 37.5in. x 29.5in., cotton hand-dyed by artist, Kaff Facett design, hand quilted by the Martin sisters, 37.5in. x 29in.

Which World of Threads Festivals have you exhibited in?

2009 – Oakville, Ontario, Canada


Sans Blas II, 16in. x 16in., cotton hand-dyed by artist, reverse appliqué, hand quilted by the Martin sisters.


Where do you imagine your work in five years?

I hope that in five years time my work will show more vigour and strength, and that its appreciation by others will go well beyond my use of colour.


Vietnam, 23.5in. x 70in., indigo hand-dyed cotton from Vietnam farms and villages, hand quilted by the Martin sisters.


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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman



Expedition X, 55in. x 68in., cotton hand-dyed by artist, hand quilted by the Martin sisters.