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by LINDA MITCHELL
FIRST MET HOLLY GARBUTT FIVE YEARS ago when she came to our (former)
gallery and asked if we'd be interested in exhibiting her mixed-media
art quilts. At the time, Holly was working as a waitress at Curley's
in Ferndale and quilting on the side, and she called me "Hon,"
even though she was a good 10 years younger than I was. She struck
me as funny and out-going, and I took an immediate liking to
During that first meeting, Holly
talked about her quilts in a simple and direct way and appeared
very confident, but when she handed me her portfolio her hands
were trembling. "I'm so nervous," she said in a small
voice. When I studied her portfolio, the blend of poise and vulnerability
was so apparent in her work, I realized immediately that she
was an artist who knew exactly how to express who she really
In those days, many of her quilts
featured the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and they were a big
hit in the gallery. Holly made them in all sizes and styles,
usually painting Frida on a piece of fabric, machine-stitching
meandering lines on top of the painting, and then incorporating
it into a mixed-media quilt.
Holly seemed almost obsessed
with the artist's image -- it was clear she felt a connection
to Frida; sometimes she even dressing up like Frida for Arts
Alive! or Halloween. I asked her about it when I visited her
recently at the Itsy Bitsy Quilt Shop in Ferndale, the business
she recently opened in partnership with her mother.
"I could relate to Frida's
pain," she said. "I was drawn by the intensity of her
paintings, the emotions you could see in them."
Holly said the source of her
own pain is her ongoing battle with clinical depression. "The
hardest part is that people don't always understand it's a disease.
They think you can just snap out of it, but it's like someone
being born with one leg shorter than the other -- you can't help
In spite of her periodic sadness,
Holly remains philosophical about her illness. "Maybe we're
very old souls and we've been around forever -- the sadness might
be something from a past life. If I could understand it, I could
channel that energy into my art."
For Holly, expressing one's
emotional energy through art is what it's all about. "Art
is like having a beast inside you and if you don't let it out,
it can bite you. Whenever I get frustrated or upset, I know I
need to do more art."
Through her art, she says she
expresses not only her sadness, but the joy she feels when she's
out in the natural world, where her "soul gets re-energized."
Recent trips to the Trinity Alps and the Salmon River inspired
her to create several new pieces of art, which will be exhibited
at Gallery Dog in August.
Holly showed me the new work,
much of it still in progress, at the quilt shop. While her art
has always been inventive and original, Holly's new pieces are
beyond anything I've seen her do. She's experimenting with new
materials and including even more painted elements in her work.
"I love painting on fabric," she told me. "Painting
has to be the ultimate of all the things you could do."
I admired a quilt featuring
the Trinity Alps, painted on a large piece of her mother's hand-dyed
fabric, the details of the mountain peaks and trees stitched
into the painting with some kind of metallic thread that pulsed
in the light. In some places the stitches were loose and fluid,
in others almost frantic, exploring microscopic realms visible
only to Holly.
She said that when she makes
her art, she's able to escape to the places that inspired it.
"Your brain starts to meander -- your hands may be sewing,
but your brain could be hiking up a trail at Russ Park. You can
travel to a lot of places through your art."
Since most of the new work seems
to feature nature rather than portraits, I asked if she ever
painted Frida anymore. "No, I got superstitious and decided
not to paint any more single entities. It was in this Feng Shui
book I read -- a pair represents a couple, and I didn't want
to be a single person for the rest of my life." (Apparently
it worked, because she's now in a long-term relationship with
a guy she describes as "a sweetie-pie.")
After I left the shop, I thought
about Holly's work while I drove home. They aren't like any other
quilts I've ever seen and, to tell the truth, I'm not even sure
she should be classified as a quilter. Gallery Dog owner Samantha
"Quilting is a very old
art form," she said. "There are a lot of rules quilters
tend to follow and what I love about Holly's work is that she
doesn't follow any of those rules. The work almost doesn't fit
in the quilting genre -- it's in its own category."
Linda Mitchell can be reached
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