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Beautiful British Columbia Multiple Purpose Thermal Blanket 1979

Gathie Falk, Beautiful British Columbia Multiple Purpose Thermal Blanket, 1979

Gathie Falk, Beautiful British Columbia Multiple Purpose Thermal Blanket (detail), 1979
Oil on canvas, 56 squares mounted over fibreglass insulation on canvas backing, 550 x 490 cm
Kamloops Art Gallery

Asked to produce a work that would warm up the brick wall of the lobby of the new credit union building in Vancouver, Gathie Falk created Beautiful British Columbia Multiple Purpose Thermal Blanket. It is composed of fifty-six oil-on-canvas panels stitched together in an eight-row, seven-column grid. The work is extremely large at 5.5 metres tall and nearly 5 metres wide. Each canvas square is sewn over fibreglass insulation so that it is puffy, depicting a different patch of lawn or garden witnessed by Falk during her daily walks with her dog.


Many of the squares represent deep-green patches of lawn—these occupy the perimeter of the blanket as well as the diagonals that extend across the composition from lower left to upper right. The remaining squares, placed somewhat irregularly, boast more detailed, articulated images of a variety of flower beds witnessed by Falk on her walks. A border of salmon pink surrounds all of the squares.


This was Falk’s second commission for a public artwork—the first, Veneration of the White Collar Worker #1 and Veneration of the White Collar Worker #2, 1971–73, was created for the cafeteria at the Department of External Affairs in Ottawa. Beautiful British Columbia Multiple Purpose Thermal Blanket represents Falk’s way of achieving monumental scale while meeting the client’s request for a work that would “warm up” the space. The garden subject brings colour, light, and life to the corporate setting. The construction of this piece was so laborious that it required the assistance of many friends.


The format of this work, although named a thermal blanket by Falk, is, of course, reminiscent of quilts by Joyce Wieland (1930–1998), such as Reason over Passion, 1968, and The Water Quilt, 1970–71. Like these precedents, Falk’s monumental stitched composition elevates a mode of making typically relegated to the realm of craft, or women’s work, to the realm of high art. As Wieland did, Falk also relied on the collaborative methods of the sewing circle to execute her work. Interestingly, the sewing circle was an important aspect of Mennonite life. Women in the community would come together regularly to sew clothing and bedding to be distributed through service organizations to those in need.


While Beautiful British Columbia Multiple Purpose Thermal Blanket was a work that responded very specifically to the requirements of a commissioning client, elements of Falk’s composition would define the next phase of her work. She would go on to create a series of smaller floral thermal blankets, such as Beautiful B.C. Thermal Blanket—Gloria, 1980, and the subjects of flowers and gardens would emerge again and again over the course of her career. In the smaller variants of Thermal Blanket, Falk introduces elements of still life and figurative portraits to personalize the compositions, although she maintains that the significance of the works is greater than their association with her friends.


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