Believing in an Idea and Being Brave About It

Written by Lee McLean

I remember my first timid application for an artsnb Creation Grant in 2020. I carefully followed the directions, agonizing over the project description and my selected images. While participating in New Brunswick College Craft & Design’s Advanced Studio Practice Program, I had a series concept about ageing that I wanted to develop. I was inspired by the Dylan Thomas poem Do not go gentle into that good night. It took me more than one grant application attempt but I incorporated feedback I received, reapplying with a more fully-developed project to create two works.

My series concept – in fact, my current art practice – germinated in a hospital waiting room. As I watched the minutes tick by, it struck me how much of my life was being spent on managing my health, of all the associated wasted moments, and of how control is chipped away as we age. I felt compelled to share these feelings using my skills in textile art, working with fabric and thread.

My textile art is usually created with three layers – a pieced fabric top that is the focus, a middle layer and a fabric backing – held together by thread, sewn mostly by machine. These quilting stitches are often part of my design, the text and images drawn with my sewing machine needle. Creating each work is a slow, thoughtful process. In making quilted work, I am using a form that people associate with warmth, care, and tradition. This layer of meaning often contrasts strongly with the subject of my work, which appeals to me.

Before applying, I had already created Still Here, which conveyed feeling less visible as we age. The grant I received funded the making of Disposable, which expressed anger about the disregard for older generations, and Isolation, about shrinking social circles and support – issues clearly highlighted during the pandemic.

It is hard to overstate the positive impact receiving that artsnb’s Creation Grant has had on my practice. While I could judge if I had produced my best work, I couldn’t tell if it was good work in a larger context. I had barely started calling myself a textile artist out loud, for fear of eye-rolling. Having a jury of artists decide that my work deserved funding was an immense confidence boost. This led me to have more courage to show my work and to apply for more opportunities. Because Disposable fit the theme for the 2021 Grand National Fibre Art Exhibition call for entry, I submitted it. It was juried into my first Canada-wide exhibit and has just returned to me this year after travelling to six galleries.

In 2023 I had the opportunity to put together my Do not go gentle exhibit about ageing. My grant-supported works formed an essential part of my first solo show at St. Thomas University’s Yellow Box Gallery. Writing about the concept, deciding what will be part of the exhibit, making new work, borrowing back work, getting quality photography, planning a catalogue, hiring a designer, hanging the work, and opening the show – these professional steps all resulted in part because of the encouragement of that first Creation Grant. I am grateful for the support and for the fact that I was both brave enough to initially apply and, believing in the concept strongly enough, to reapply.

Lee McLean creates textile art to communicate a feeling. Her thread-stitched designs on printed, hand-dyed, and painted fabrics have been juried into exhibitions internationally. In 2023, she was awarded first place in Abstract and Improvisational Art at the CQA/ACC National Juried Show.

Based in New Maryland, New Brunswick, McLean holds certificates in Advanced Studio Practice in Textiles as well as Foundation Visual Arts from the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design. Her former life as a software development professional has likely influenced her work – fortunately or unfortunately is still up for debate.

Her practice is supported by grants from the New Brunswick Arts Board and Canada Council for the Arts.

Stay up to date with Lee’s practice:

Instagram: @mclean.lee