Pam Carnochan: Farm to frame
The ancient Greeks argued as to the origins and number of the Muses. Were there three or nine? Or five? History has long obscured their names and characteristics. Their gifts, traits, and countenance lost to antiquity.
Pam Carnochan, the artist, painter and innovator, named her three muses Helen, Gloria, and Lindsay. All three are fleece sheep and provide the material from which Pam fabricates dimensional, almost structural, paintings unlike any other on display by the many visual artists who grace the Huntsville arts scene.
Carnochan harvests the wool from her three fleece sheep as raw material for her clever and startling pastoral landscapes. She shears their wool, dyes it, and through an elaborate process of felting creates the material, often described as wool watercolour, from which she then constructs layers of perspective that give her work a living presence.
Painting and drawing were interests early in her childhood and into secondary school where she learned preliminary, basic skills.
“I needed some development if I was going to go on to art school and I thought I wanted to,” says Carnochan. “I was not successful as a candidate to get in and so I took a different path. It was still involving some drawing skill, I guess, so I became a cartographer. But that really didn’t fill my soul very much. I always knew also that my passion with art wouldn’t necessarily be my job, my vocation.
“I was actually quite okay with that, in most ways because it’s kind of the best way to be. You can step away from it and just get into it for yourself.”
Getting into it is very important for Carnochan. Art is more than a final object to be displayed and appreciated by a viewer. In many ways, it is a deeper experience, both celebratory and practical, involving all the senses and all of the aspects of human talent.
“I was called to be doing my art, I know that for a fact,” she says.
Carnochan rediscovered her love for art when local painter Terry Gill encouraged her take up watercolors again, but more importantly to go with him to paint, into forest and field, to explore anew. Gill inspired her to find the freedom she needed to express for herself.
She was introduced to needle felting through her association with the local spinners and weavers guild. As a homesteader, she was already familiar with the felting process but needle felting offered fascinating possibilities.
From fiberartsy.com: “Dry felting or needle felting involves using special barbed needles to basically tangle the individual fibers together until they form a matted piece of fabric. The continued process of poking the barbed needle in and out of the wool, pushes the fibers up and down thereby interlocking them.”
Combining her love of watercolour with needle felting, Carnochan found the medium that deepened her joy and enthusiasm for art and painting. “It became the piece that was missing in the puzzle and that’s where Watercolour with Wool was born.”
Carnochan has always loved sheep. She remembers asking for a lamb when she was only ten years old. Establishing her farm, Morgan House, in Huntsville, gave her the opportunity to raise a flock. But she quickly learned that sheep love flowers more than grass when open grasslands are not readily available. Sheep and lambs are vulnerable to predators in the open as well. This meant that her three sheep had to be penned and are now more like pets than farm animals.
Harvesting wool is only the first step in the long transformational journey to art. Carnochan handwashes the raw wool to remove the lanolin, dries the wool, picks it clean, dyes it, and then felts the wool with hot water. Felt is one of the oldest and most durable fabrics in human use. Lightweight and portable, it can be used in an endless variety of purposes, providing warmth from the cold and cool from the heat.
Carnochan soon realized that her wool art was specifically her own, connecting her agrarian lifestyle with her broader desires to create. Morgan House is also a bed and breakfast, and Carnochan began to offer periodic workshops in her style of painting as an additional experience offered at Morgan House.
Dry felting or needle felting is a patient craft. Like weaving or knitting, the skill is in the concentration and quiet posture necessary to transmute the functionality of the wool into the plasticity and application of oil or watercolour used in typical painting.
Viewing one of Carnochan’s paintings, one is struck immediately by the vibrancy of the composition, aided by the complexity of shadow and light the fabric gives the piece. The wool is like clay to a potter or stone to a sculptor, allowing the artist access to subtle shape and form that layered paint cannot.
The fact that Carnochan has a hand in every step of this creative process also adds an almost spiritual attribute to her work. There is a living, breathing labour of love in every developmental phase of each of her creations. From the lands she cares for, to her precious beloved sheep, to the metamorphosized wool that becomes her vision and insight into our world and how we might possibly experience it.
You can find out more about Pam Carnochan at morganhousewoolworks.ca.
Her works will be on display June 17, 2022 at the Landed Art Festival at Hillside Farm, 2295 Hwy 60, Huntsville.
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