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Libby Oughton presents an exhibition of her woven rugs at the Arts Guild

by Kumari Campbell

Libby Oughton at home with some of her woven rugs

When I drove into her yard I could see Libby sitting at a picnic table beneath an old apple tree. She seemed to be ripping up something. I was there to interview Libby Oughton about her upcoming one-woman exhibition at the Arts Guild, and was expecting to see an array of paintings. But when I stepped out of my car, spread out before me on Libby’s back deck, was a riot of colour represented by eighteen woven rag rugs. And under her apple tree, Libby was indeed ripping up a pair of denim jeans—the makings of another of her signature rugs that lends its name to her exhibition.

When the sky slips into the sea slips into the sky is the title of the exhibition, and also Libby’s unique signature pattern that weaves together various shades of blue denim to mimic the patterns of sea and sky. But only one of her signature rugs is among the eighteen. In it, a sky of light blue descends to an ocean of darker blues.

The other rugs are as varied in hue as they are in subject. Yet, they speak with one voice of Libby’s enduring love affair with Prince Edward Island. “Red Island Road at Dusk,” “Hooray! the potatoes are up,” “Last Snow on Potato Field,” “Swimming in a sea of Lupins” and “Sunrise” are unmistakable evidence that “The Island’s unique and astounding colours, the clay reds and the florescent green of spring, the ever-changing sea, the full moon sparkling on the sea started working their way onto my canvas—my loom.”

Libby also admits to have “always had a deep interest in traditional art/craft forms, learning them and engaging in seeing how far I can stretch and expand their edges beyond the tradition.” This is clearly the case, as she uses her loom as a canvas, painting it with strips of various materials manipulated to achieve her design goals. In “Hooray! the potatoes are up,” she actually forms rust-red ridges to denote the potato drills, and then “plants” bits of green fabric in the drills. “First Snowstorm” has tufts of white wool woven into it, while “Last Snowstorm” has subtle browns swirled among the white, making it instantly recognizable to anyone who has experienced snow in April. In “Lighthouse in Fog” she has ingeniously created a 3-D “fog” around the lighthouse with wisps of white wool. Her most challenging rug so far has been “Common cow” paying homage to local literary hero, in honour of her late friend Marc Gallant, using his design for the Cows tee-shirt by the same name.

The artist explains that her fascination with fabric began when, “As a child I watched my grandma and her quilting circle busy stitching together traditional quilts, [and] I played with a basket of scrap material, cutting strange shapes to fit together.” As a teen she designed and stitched her own clothes, then went on to design leather clothes and sandals. Over the years Libby has explored many, mediums for her creative expression, including clay sculpting, wood carving and furniture building, driftwood sculpting, woodblock printing, and turnip printing. Libby’s art in all its glorious manifestations has been the subject of several exhibitions, from PEI to Nova Scotia to Greece, over the past dozen years.

To those familiar with this gifted artist, Libby’s latest exhibition is but another manifestation of her varied talents. To others who only associate her with the literary arts, as a poet and the owner/publisher of the former Ragweed Press, this is a revelation of the many facets of Libby.

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