Colour With a U

Tracey Lawko
Winter 2020

In Canada, we spell colour with a “u”. We also spell labour, favourite, honour and neighbour with a ‘u’. That ‘u’ could stand for unique, unforgettable, universal, unity, understanding, utopia. It could include the unusual, unexpected, unbounded, unabashed, unaccounted, uncanny. We care about the “u”; it makes us unique. We care about the “you”; it brings us together. What do the Canadian values of diversity and inclusion mean to you? How does your labour in your favourite medium honour your neighbourhood, your community? How do you colour yourself in to our Canadian culture? We are looking for artwork that expresses these ideas and that together will give an insightful perspective on our Canadian cultural identity.

In January 2020, Canadian members of Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) responded enthusiastically to a Call for Entry for art quilts on the theme of diversity and inclusion. Forty-four exciting works were selected by Jurors Faith Hieblinger, Alan Syliboy, Jayne Willoughby and Debra Antoncic: 35 for Colour with a U and nine for Colour with a U Too.

is one of 44 quilts in the SAQA exhibit, Colour With a U, developed to explore the theme of diversity and inclusion. 90″ x 90″ x 4″, Susan Avishai

Debra Antoncic, Juror and Director/Curator of RiverBrink Art Museum, observed, “A critical design element employed in the creation of these quilts is, of course, colour. The conventional spelling of the word in Canada provides the starting point for the theme of the exhibition, which has prompted reflection on the values that define us. The physical qualities of the fabric, the warp and weft of the textiles… reveal a unique and vibrant community.”

The 44 works interpret the theme in many ways. Some recognize famous Canadian artists such as Margaret Atwood in Mary Pal’s Peggy and Glenn Gould in Victoria Gray’s The Eccentric Pianist, or a collection of historical figures in Janet Scruggs’ Women I Would Like to Have Met. The identity of grouped individuals in Joan Kilpatrick’s Colour in Transit, Krista Zeghers’ Powwow Power and Fuzzy Mall’s Kill Your Darlings #2 are not known, but each work presents a recognizable picture of Canadian life. Linda Finley’s 36 Million Stories and Julie Poirier Mathur’s Tout un Monde to Make a Nation delightfully highlight the diversity of our collective.

Colour In Transit, 41″ x 60″, Joan Kilpatrick

Susan Avishai’s Shirtz, Andrea Tsang Jackson’s The Here and Elsewhere Bee, Kit Vincent’s Tri-Colour Red and Helena Scheffer’s A Simple Twist of Fate are strong abstract representations, in essence collecting individual stories, while Anne Solomon’s Our Home ON Native Land and Judy Villett’s Political Stripes draw attention to political context.

Some works have a strong sense of place, such as Heather Dubreuil’s Rue de Buade #2, Karen Johnson’s Colours on the Rock and Hélène Blanchet’s Garden on the Hill. We can’t talk about Canada without a focus on our magnificent landscape as seen in Arja Speelman’s Backcountry and Janet Harper’s Cold Magic. Nature is strikingly represented in Lorraine Roy’s Sassafras Mandala, Greta Hildebrand’s We the People of Staghorn and Sumac and Catherine Ugrin’s The Dancer. It becomes an evocative metaphor for our culture in Mita Giacomini’s Colour Theories and Chris Liszak’s United Diversity. In Beneficial Symbiosis Ihor Gadwan underlines the importance of the environment. These are just some of the fabulous works in the exhibitions.

Sassafras Mandala, 35″ x 35″, Lorraine Roy

A Simple Twist of Fate
, 20″ x 24″, Helena Scheffer

That’s a bit of serendipity. Dr. Antoncic of RiverBrink Art Museum was interested in the exhibit. However, the former summer home of Samuel Weir is relatively small and consequently wasn’t be able to host the full Colour with a U exhibition. The organizing committee thought “why not have an additional smaller exhibition, chosen from the same entries, that could travel to smaller venues?” The historic links further supported the idea. Canadian artist Homer Watson and art collector Samuel Weir knew each other and both their former homes have been transformed into art galleries that celebrate Canadian art.

These two exhibitions were intended to coincide with SAQA’s first-ever annual conference outside of the United States, scheduled for Toronto in March 2020.

United Diversity
, 70″ x 40″ x 15″, Chris Liszak

Cold Magic
, 26″ x 19″, Janet Harper

Rue de Buade #2, 24″ x 18″, Heather Dubreuil

Due to the global pandemic, the conference and plans for grand openings with visiting international quilters, collectors, and curators had to be cancelled. Nonetheless, we are delighted that Colour with a U opened at Homer Watson House & Gallery in Kitchener, ON, and Colour with a U Too opened at RiverBrink Art Museum in Queenston, ON, over the summer once public health guidelines allowed.

PowWow Power, 28″ x 26″, Krista Zeghers, photo Don Zeghers

For these two exhibitions, art quilters have reflected on the theme of diversity and inclusion to give “colourful” representations of our Canadian cultural identity. Each offers an individual perspective on how we as Canadians see ourselves in our social, historical and physical landscape. As with all fibre art, nothing matches experiencing the rich textures, colours, shapes and messages in person. We hope you will see the exhibitions at one of the upcoming locations as they travel across Canada until 2023.

Colour with a U
Oct 9, 2020 – Feb 27, 2021
St. Francis Xavier University Art Gallery, Antigonish, NS

Apr 23 – June 13, 2021
Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Thunder Bay, ON

Apr 30 – July 2, 2022
Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, Almonte, ON

July 15, 2022 – Sept 2, 2022
Saint John Arts Centre, Saint John, NB

Colour with a U Too
Mar 2 – Apr 10, 2021
Agnes Jamieson Gallery, Minden, ON

Oct 7 – Nov 10, 2022
Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John’s, NL

Dec 3, 2020 – Feb 17, 2021
J. Franklin Wright Gallery, Port Hawkesbury, NS

Check online for additional locations as they are announced. In the meantime, enjoy a narrated slideshow of the exhibition.

Tracey Lawko is Chair of SAQA’s Colour with a U Exhibition Committee. She is also an award-winning textile artist, a Juried Artist member of SAQA and a CQA/ACC Certified Quilt Judge. Follow Tracey on Facebook at TraceyLawkoTextileArt; on Instagram @traceylawko; and at

Maine Quilts July 27-29.2023

Maine Quilts July 27-29.2023

Maine Quilts July 27-29.2023