Winter’s icy hold has finally cracked, and spring’s open water races with a pent-up vengeance through the region’s rivers, streams and brooks.
No more is this more evident than in Almonte where the Mississippi River plunges over falls that in the mid- to late-1800s powered the Rosamond Woollen Mill. It provides the perfect backdrop for Tributaries, a solo exhibition by Emily Rose Michaud, now on view at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum.
With Tributaries, the Gatineau-based interdisciplinary artist situates us at the confluence of transience and permanence; personal memory and collective history. She brings us on road trips to watersheds, dams and falls from Almonte to Maniwaki to discover our intimate, emotional relationship with water over time.
Michaud is an interdisciplinary artist and educator who works in community organisation, ecology and civic participation. Her land-based art, installations, drawing, writing and performance art has been exhibited nationally. She earned international recognition for her Roerich Garden Project, a collaborative landscape-scale work created in an abandoned railyard turned wild meadow in Montreal.
For this exhibition, Michaud was asked by the textile museum to propose a site-specific work, including her living tapestries. Informed by her own memories, experiences and ideas of waterpower, territory, and human settlement, she chose to recognize water’s historic influence on the Rosamond Woollen Mill. She has been working on the exhibition, collecting and creating the hundreds of elements in the installation for over two years.
The interior walls of the mill provide a canvas of cracks and chipped paint for the exhibition’s tributaries. Along one wall, Michaud has scattered some 500 squares of cyanotypes (sun prints) – a photo process that dates back to the era when the mill was in full production. She created each unique print by exposing the light-sensitive paper to the sun, placing on it shoreline flora, like branches of willow and cedar, aquatic plants, and heron feathers found on her explorations. These living shadows fade in and out, shaped by the sun, wind, rain – even tears. Together, they take on a batik-like effect, connected by countless streams painstakingly hand-painted in ink that come together through serendipity, and echo the idea of our primal interconnectedness with water.
The other wall, scattered with cedar squares, features the artist’s participatory approach. Michaud invited people to draw freehand “a body of water you love.” Just as water amplifies sound, it carries memories, and everyone involved contributed stories of the powerful role that waterways have played in their personal histories.
A particularly poetic homage to the Rosamond Woollen Mill’s heritage comes through in the artist’s living tapestries shaped like stretched sheepskin pelts. The “wool” is lush with gradients of colour and texture created by wheat, red clover, and buckwheat – favourites for area’s grazing sheep. Even the backs of these plant-embroidered “skins” feature winding lines formed by the interconnected root system formed.
The spirit of discovery continues with a projection of waterfalls and dams along the Ottawa River watershed. Some locations are recognizable – Rideau Falls, Chaudière Falls and Hogs Back, others are “secret” falls that could only be accessed by snowmobile. A soundtrack of water, atmospheric music and snippets of social and political speeches round out the experience.
Several of the artist’s canvases continue the tributary theme on an upper floor, in the permanent collection of the museum. She created them from repurposed paintings she made over a decade ago. Layers emerge like an archeological dig in reverse, revealing personal family memories, poetry, speech and hand-made paint.
Tributaries: New Works by Emily Rose Michaud is on view at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum (3 Rosamond Street East, Almonte, Ontario K0A 1A0) until June 23. For more information about the artist, exhibition or related workshops, visit the exhibition’s website.