June 1-30 2022 / 1-30 Juin 2022

Giiwewidoon transports the viewer in the wind at the bay of Batchawana, a land where interconnected relationships are intertwined to spiritual connection, a place that is foundational, spiritually inseparable from the people, and intricately woven into balance and well being. The softness of the clothes line paired with the colourful patches of the quilts creates an emotional response to ideas of kinship, strength, family, fluency of survival, love, truth, and connection.

Giiwewidoon nous transporte dans le vent dans la baie de Batchawana, une terre où les relations interconnectées sont étroitement liées à une connexion spirituelle, un lieu qui est fondamental, spirituellement inséparable des gens et étroitement tissé dans l'équilibre et le bien-être. La douceur de la corde à linge associée aux patrons colorés des couettes crée une réponse émotionnelle aux idées de parenté, de force, de famille, de fluidité de survie, d'amour, de vérité et de connexion.



by Isabelle Michaud, Curator \ Commissaire
Baawaating, Sault-Sainte-Marie, June 3 2022

Many short trips to Lake Superior were taken over the years with Zenith.  Sometimes with friends and sometimes just her and me. At the last one, in 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we went on a beautiful day in July and saw a grebe with 20 little birds swimming with her. The Grebe had a whole generation of baby grebes around her that she was teaching. Somehow that reminded me of Zenith. 

“The pandemic has given me so many lessons on slowing down,” she says.

With Zenith Lillie’s words still fresh in my mind, I am sitting down at the computer, getting ready to write this curatorial text, and I am opting to also slow down, and let the words and ideas form as I reflect on her work. Soft image-bubbles pop in my mind; the freshest is of a recent windy Sunday, a cotton rope, some clothing pins, and the soft slapping sound of three lovingly sewn quilts.

Zenith is setting up her quilts, reaching high on the towering red pines’ trunks, tying knots and setting up her installation, pulling each quilt from her basket. My attention goes to a few strands of cat hair that a few seconds ago had remained on the seams of the rich crazy quilt flying off into the idyllic beach scenery. The stick installed, she steps back and watches. It is a cloudy day of a coldish Spring, the wind is gusting catching in the folds of her collection of quilted blankets. Some she made, some she adopted. She pins a few but they’re not the right ones… The wind is knocking them down, some are too heavy for the rope she brought. 

Her work finished, I retreat to a far corner of the area and watch her sit down, slowly collect her thoughts, reach to her bag, pick up her tablet. She is in contemplation of her living work. Stories piled upon stories into each of the quilts she curated.

This place, Batchawana Bay, north of Sault-Ste-Marie\Baawaating,  the traditional territory of the Batchawana First Nation of the Robinson-Huron Treaty of 1850, provides urban northerners with much respite from lives filled with febrility. 

The blankets are flying in the wind one minute and hanging still the next. Their ebb and flow is hypnotic. Watching these assembled blankets brings to the surface thoughts of sewing, assembling, choosing patterns, composing with colour and print. The first time Zenith told me of the significance of quilts for her, in 2019, she spoke of Gee’s Bend and the growth of a community of Black quilters in Alabama who had built a cooperative named Freedom Quilting Bee in 1966, in the bend of the Alabama River, called Gee’s Bend.

At the time, Zenith was making quilts and gifting them to her littles. She felt much inspired by the sublime simplicity in the Gee’s Bend quilts and emulated that style in her free compositions. It was at that moment that she envisioned hanging the quilts by the beach at Batchawana Bay. Zenith’s quilts definitely  have a Gee’s Bend quality to them. She makes quilts from donated fabrics, from old clothing, and from leftovers of other sewing projects like masks, bags, or bibs. In the quilts, she imbues a sense of self and of community through the images she creates with the feather and the flower stars over a deep red fabric.  A third quilt accompanies the tableau, a crazy quilt made by an elderly artist that Zenith found and treasured many years ago. The work presented this way, in the form of a video and shared on Instagram, is destined to add another layer to the stories as they will unfold along with the wind of Batchawana Bay. 

“Giiwewidoon is about taking it back...taking it home to others, our relations,” she explains.

I read the words and I try to envision their meaning.  Do I fully comprehend the gift Zenith is gifting me? I think I understand poetically or philosophically: a present of a blanket is meant to show love and relationship with a friend or family member. But Zenith has a connection to these words that I cannot yet fully comprehend.  I will continue to strive to understand.

I realized, upon careful pondering of Zenith’s work, that she does not sew only with fabric, she sews with stories and with friends and sisters. This world of friendship, kinship, and sisterhood is drenched in each quilted pattern and each new adventure.

Source:  William Arnett, Alvia Wardlaw , and Jane Livingston, Gee’s Bend: The Women and Their Quilt, Tinwood Books : 2002, p.16.