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Artist profile: Rilla Marshall

Textile artist draws inspiration from P.E.I.’s vulnerable shorelines.

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Rilla Marshall has always had a thing for textiles. “As a kid, I was knitting and weaving,” she says. “I went through a phase in junior high where I made my own clothes. At 15, I took private weaving lessons from a friend’s mother.” Born in Newfoundland, she moved with her family to Prince Edward Island when she was seven. After studying textiles at NSCAD University in Halifax, she now lives in Belfast, P.E.I., on the southeast coast of the province.

While she does make functional textiles (scarves, napkins and tea towels), her passion is creating hand-woven and embroidered wall hangings that depict land and seascapes. Recently, she held a solo exhibition of this work in St. John’s at Annex Gallery. (She’s planning another show in January 2016 at the Mary E. Black Gallery in Halifax). Marshall draws inspiration for her intricate designs from maps, old photographs and even sightlines from Google Earth. “It about taking hard factual data and translating it into woven landscapes,” she says. “I love taking that data and slowing it down through hand weaving. It’s a way to reclaim the information so it’s accessible and engaging for people.”

Her evocative pieces explore Atlantic Canada’s changing coasts, particularly P.E.I.’s vulnerable shorelines. “Using Google Earth, I look at areas of the shoreline where water has already breached the shore and created estuaries,” she says. “We’re reliant on our relationship to the water. With climate change, we all must adapt to changes with rising sea levels and coastal erosion.”

She does the work by hand. “I weave each piece first, then take it off the loom, and go back and embroider in the contours and textures.” For her, incorporating scientific data into her art keeps it exciting. “It’s a real balance of math, geometry and pattern,” she says. “Weaving is a grid-based structure. It’s like architecture on a small scale. And once you understand the technical side, you have a huge amount of freedom. I think I could spend a lifetime exploring this medium.” North Shore Tributaries #1 to 4 by Rilla Marshall, handwoven/embroidered wool and cotton.

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