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Rilla Marshall’s 3-D textile creations inspired by the Island

by Melanie Jackson

Islands dune by Rilla Marshall (photo: Melanie Jackson)Rilla Marshall has an unusual way of expressing her appreciation for Prince Edward Island’s changing landscapes. She does it through textiles.

Inspired by aerial photos of shifting coastlines, Rilla translates her interest in erosion and rising sea levels through loom-woven tapestries and miniature three-dimensional dioramas - crocheted by hand - which depict familiar Island scenes, such as sand dunes and marshlands.

She calls the handmade 3-D exhibits her “islands”. It’s taking something that’s scientific and factual and cold and translating it through all the connotations that come with textiles, like warmth and comfort and security,” Rilla says.

Last spring, Rilla and her partner, Damien Worth, also an artist, purchased the old schoolhouse in Eldon. The couple are in the process of renovating the historic building and hope to be moved in this month. There, the pair will be able live and practise their art—all inside one expansive space that’s steeped in nostalgia. “For a lot of artists, that’s the dream: having your ideal studio space and living space all in one,” Rilla says.

The peaceful lot and historic architecture of the building are enough to inspire any creative mind. A row of six-foot-high windows runs along the full length of the eastern wall of the schoolhouse, and provide a new to a yard lined with white birch and spruce trees. The windows illuminate the classroom where children once gathered for their school lessons and where Rilla plans to set up her loom that’s “as big as a grand piano.”

Rilla said her new property has inspired her to depict her community in pieces of work similar to her previous coastline tapestries. She’s hoping to recreate the entire Belfast area in textiles.

Thanks to a friend who works at the MacPhail Woodlot Project, Rilla got her hands on some topographical maps that show what the community’s sea level will look like in 20, 50, and even 100 years’ time. She envisions weaving or crocheting the concentric circles of those maps in different colours of wool - to illustrate the varying levels. “I’d use the colours as a language to translate the data,” she said.

Rilla hand spins the locally-produced wool, then dyes it using traditional methods and natural ingredients, such as plants and onion skins. “For my islands, I decided to keep it as natural as possible and to source the materials as locally as possible.”

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