Trying to find a blank wall in Rosalyn Cherry’s home near Bayview Avenue and York Mills Road is an exercise in futility.
The partitions around the hallway, living room, bathroom and lobby are all well decorated with meticulous, needlepoint art made by Cherry herself.
“I started (needlepoint) as a hobby when I was a kid,” said Cherry. “I loved it, but I wasn’t able to focus so much on it until years later when I retired.”
Her lobby is adorned with a circular, cerulean Mandala, a Buddhist symbol for peace and serenity, while a needlepoint hangs above the fireplace between a floral cross-stitch and a geisha embroidery.
Each piece consists of a blend of beads and coloured threads including those of silk, wool and cotton. The end result is a vibrant display of different aspects of nature and culture.
Cherry walks through a corridor with several four square metre needlepoints hung on each wall — a dark lavender peacock embroidery, a blue tapestry with the vast horizon photo transferred onto the canvas, a small, African-themed needlepoint. She stops at a canvas of 360 tiny squares consisting of a spectrum of colours — red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet — that simultaneously lead up to the brightest white light.
“That’s the Aha! It was made from a blank canvas,” says the former fashion designer. “They’re all originals in terms of needlepoint, but some of these were stitched on a painted canvas.”
Cherry says that one of her favourite aspects of needlepoint is the ability to add one’s own feelings and interpretation to a painting through use of different colours and stitching threads. She points out that it’s quite similar to listening to a symphony.
“Every conductor interprets a Mozart piece differently,” she says. “Each one adds in their own emotions and perception. It’s the same with needlepoint. Each stitcher interprets things in an individual way.”
Cherry’s most recent reinterpretation has been in the making for eight years. A two by three metre canvas of an Aboriginal tribe sits patient and lively on a large table in the corner of her living room.
“This one’s called The Tribe. It was painted by a Southwestern American painter,” she says. “I’ve added some beading to where the jewellery is. A lot of it is silk.”
Cherry’s technique consists of attaching all fabric pieces to the needlepoint canvas with hand stitchery, using a sharp needle and a variety of colourful threads. Like all of her work, “The Tribe” requires a great deal of patience.
“When I work on a piece, I stitch an inch to an inch in a half an hour,” she says. “And I work on several different pieces at a time. So I’m often taking notes and going back and forth from one project to another.”
While she’s occasionally tempted to finish a piece right away, Cherry says she tries to slow herself down, understanding that time and fastidiousness often have the best end results. Such was the case with “Babes in the Woods,” a project that took over three years to complete.
“Using an entirely blank canvas, I took a large dinner and small dinner plate, put them together and got my shape,” she explains. “I then cut these figures of women out of clothing fabric and placed them in until they looked very harmonious … I used silks, cotton, overdyes, velvet, ultrasuede, boucle and beads to complete.”
Standing at four by four metres, the piece reflects four Aboriginal women by a brook. Three of the women talk amongst themselves, while the other chooses to leave the conversation to look beyond the water.
While there were days when she lost sleep, thinking about when and how exactly to complete her work, Cherry says that the flattering reaction from judges and viewers at exhibits makes it a worthy experience.
“Babes in the Woods actually won best in show a few years ago at the American Needlepoint Guild Seminar,” she says.
Cherry says the piece created a lot of discussion among viewers, some saying that the lone woman was being excluded, while others thought differently.
“My mission is to create art in needlepoint,” she says. “I love how people have different views of my work.”
Cherry might soon hear more opinions of her work. She plans to exhibit her golden-olive needlepoint of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, which depicts a couple’s embrace. Going into exhibit will mean leaving an empty space in the wall, but with a studio full of needlepoints-in-progress, there’s little doubt that it will remain bare for long.
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