Nova Scotia native Sandra Brownlee, who has been exhibiting her textile work since 1985 and teaching art and weaving classes for just as long, has kept notebooks to record details of her life since childhood. In her textile journals, Brownlee records her observations not only in ink, but also in thread, sometimes sewing words into the fabric of her journal rather than writing them. In Departures and Returns, the physical counterpart to the artist’s 2009 exhibition of the same name, Brownlee says, ”There is both discipline and liberation in the commitment to document on a regular basis a moment, experience, thought or feeling.”
Departures and Returns is Brownlee’s first exhibition since beginning her nine year weaving hiatus in 1996. In the time spent away from weaving, Brownlee taught art to elementary school girls at Agnes Irwin School just outside of Philadelphia, but she still kept up with her journals. “Needing a creative outlet, I used by notebooks as a mobile studio. Working with the children in materials like clay, fingerpaints, cut paper and fabric, on a scale from the minute to the grandiose, liberated my notebook practice,” said Brownlee when she reviewed her notebooks from this time period in preparation for her exhibition in the Mary E. Black Gallery at the Novia Scotia Centre for Craft and Design.
In keeping with the tradition of handmade notebooks, the Departures and Returns exhibit book has a hand sewn binding and contains pages of handwriting reprinted. “Our goal was to provide the experience of something found, familiar, dog-eared, conveying the mark of the hand, yet new — a synopsis, a revelation. We consider the catalogue to be another object in the exhibition,” says designer Sarah Bodine of Sans Serif Studio in New Jersey.
Departures and Returns was printed by Digital Arts Imaging on Mohawk Via, Felt and Mohawk Options, Smooth. Of the choice to use Mohawk papers, Bodine says, “We found that Mohawk Via Felt simulated the tactility of a heavyweight page from an artist’s sketchbook. With its bright white surface, Via can produce an image with such clarity that it becomes almost tangible. Viewers are constantly trying to pick the embroidered bird off of the second page.”