Threads of Interest: Debra McPherson in Conversation with Marianne Parsons

Marianne Parsons
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Spring 2021

How does the real you appear in your artwork? Is it in the colours you choose, the way you apply fabrics, or the topics you choose? It’s hard to hide your personality when you are an artist. A successful fibre artist has to have audacity, a bold eye for colour and a sense of humour.

Debra McPherson’s self-portrait suggests that she has what it takes. She puts her personality and passion about her subjects into her quilts, which is particularly evident in her larger-than-life self-portrait, a take on The Scream by Edvard Munch.

Debra is a native Albertan and lives just outside of Calgary. She studied fine arts for two years in the early 1970s until life got in the way but she remained interested in designing, drawing, painting and photography. It was through meeting Helen McPherson, a well-known Penticton quilter, that Debra’s first threads of interest in quilting were sewn. She was invited to become a member of the fabric art group The Fabricators in 2009, whereupon she traded paper, pencils and paint for fabric, thread and a sewing machine.

The dots in Gecko are ¼-½” in size, smaller than a thumbnail, and all hand cut and fused; 56″ x 34″.

She enjoys the collage technique because it gives her the feel of painting, putting colour on the canvas dot by dot. This process makes her Gecko glow on the green leaf that cleverly uses the striped fabric to create an undulating impression. Recently, she’s been working on a series of realistic and abstract versions of the same topic.

In It’s a New Day, dawn has just broken and the chickens are running around the barnyard. The mature adults are standing demurely by but the young one is chasing his breakfast: a butterfly. The others are looking at him with disdain for his energetic behaviour.

Debra challenged the rules by having all of the chickens looking in the same direction, but one soon notices that their bodies don’t face in that direction. The action is at the very left-hand side of the page, but the other chickens beckon to be looked at too, moving the viewers’ eye across the page as the story unfolds.

Night Moves is the abstraction of chickens. The viewer is definitely supposed to chuckle at what might happen in the chicken coop after dark. During her working tenure in the oil patch, Debra spent summers taking watercolour classes. Her love of the spontaneous nature of wet paint on wet paper is demonstrated in her pair of butterfly quilts. The ragged edges of the hand-dyed fat quarters floating on the white border are reminiscent of a painted deckled edge of watercolour paper.

In Hope, she collaged branches and handmade butterflies covered with organza to give a gossamer quality to the wings. To create depth, each butterfly was set on a small piece of felt, creating space between the butterflies and the branches. “For all of my backgrounds, I like to let the fabric do the work. I buy lots of hand-dyed fat quarters and gradated fabric, as I feel it gives me a head start on a piece. Nothing worse for me than looking at a blank page!” The two similar backgrounds in this piece are hand dyed. The quilt represents hope in these uncertain times.

For Wings, the abstract version, a variety of triangles were dropped haphazardly (but ever so deliberately) onto the “paper”, symbolizing the butterflies’ freedom to fly. Debra’s inspiration comes from her large inventory of photos of home, loved ones, pets and places she visits. Along with technical and artistic excellence, she wants her work to tell a story. She’s happy to report many more stories are waiting in her inspiration bin.

Debra is completely gob smacked that anyone would find her work that interesting. She’s never entered her work anywhere except as part of the Fabricators group, and doesn’t know any place near her to exhibit it. I wish we lived closer.

Marianne Parsons enjoys creating art; fabric is her chosen form of expression. She’s drawn to pictorial work and the texture and techniques that achieve this, either by hand or machine. She lives in Oliver, BC. See her artwork in the fibreartnetwork.com artist gallery.

Quilt Canada 2023

Quilt Canada 2023

Quilt Canada 2023, June 8-10, Halifax, NS