Lavishly embroidered cloaks by artist Caitlin Thompson. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Western spangles and ancient mysteries combine in fabric art exhibit at Red Deer museum

Central Alberta artist Caitlin Thompson was inspired by Gene Autry

The “cosmic country embroideries” of Caitlin Thompson combine the glitzy embellishment of country and western wear with the mysterious allure of medieval cloaks.

The former Red Deer College visual arts student, who was raised on a farm between Stettler and Camrose, said she always loved the costumey aspects of old-school country and western wear. Not ordinary clothing worn while fixing a fence, but the formal attire that singing cowboys, such as Gene Autry, would wear on stage.

The sparkles, bold colours, embroidered flowers, butterflies and birds are all incorporated in Thompson’s fabric art pieces in the Dandy Lines Embroidermation exhibit at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery. But Thomson’s rich embroideries don’t decorate Western shirts or jackets.

They spill over voluminous, mysterious cloaks that just might hide something beneath.

The artist said her works “embed images of nature and the unnatural, (while) their void interiors await a body for transformation.”

Mysteries abound — from the multiple plastic eyes that adorn a embroidered pine cone on Pyre, to an embroidered tree stump that spurts a geyser of sequined ‘blood’ (Fountain). Both cloaks are of the hooded style that could cover the Grim Reaper.

Less ominous cloaks with Western yokes are decorated with a cross-stitched owl, snake, fighting cocks and pigeons. They are displayed in action poses, suggesting a tug-o’-war, a bronc rider on top of a barrel, and a rocking horse. Two others, with embroidered foxes around the shoulders, like fur stoles, appear locked in a two-step dance.

“My nature designs cross-pollinate… plants become people and symbols become alive,” said Thompson, who’s animated photos of her embroideries using a stop-action-film-like process. The animations can be seen in Peepshow.

Thompson, who studied at the Alberta College of Art and Design and Concordia University in Montreal, was lured to make fabric art because of its tactile appeal, and the “lusciousness” of the embroidered colours. Her handiwork is largely done by machine from her own designs, with Thompson hand-stitching the borders.

She aims to present Western fashion “as a mythic space of continual transformation.”

This is most evident on her Zenith cloak. Its edge is embellished with cross-stitched moons that gradually morph into embroidered human faces, skulls and eventually space aliens.

She hopes viewers will enjoy her cryptic works — and make of them what they will.

The exhibit continues to Jan. 7. Thompson will give a free talk at 2 p.m. on Nov. 26. She will also lead a 5:30 p.m. workshop that costs $25 for non-members and requires pre-registration by calling 403-309-8405.

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Some celestial embroidery is featured on the Zenith cloak, by Caitlin Thompson. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

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