Kelly Whiteside’s gift brings together yesterday and tomorrow

Orange flames lick the window frame. Bright orange flames. And in the frames are the crests of the emergency service departments of Simcoe County, all represented.

Leaves blow out of the window frames, stretching the whole length of the picture.

It’s striking; it’s powerful; it’s a tribute to the 343 firefighters who lost their lives saving others’ in New York City on September 11, 2001.

It’s a quilt.

Done by Kelly Whiteside, this tribute quilt, hanging six feet tall, will hang at the Simcoe County Museum, home for many years of the Simcoe County Arts and Crafts Association. And it was at the organization’s 59th annual meeting last Monday that women from all over Simcoe County gathered to celebrate the existance and importance of crafts, and art, fibre, pottery and expression.

Now 75 members strong, SCACA (as it’s called) boasts 13 life members and represents just about every possible art form.

We’re not talking about simple amusement, here, either. These women are serious about their ability, and meet regularly to celebrate, challenge each other and improve. And Fay Wilkinson, owner of Creative Cocoon in Eagle Lake told her story of corporate exhaustion and her decision to move to simpler times and a simpler life.

Today, Fay is a respected artisan, known for her felt and fibre art, masks, hangings, and hats! She challenged her fellow artisans to embrace a simpler life, to laugh more, to risk more, to care less and to live better.

This is a group that needs little urging. What a celebration of just simple joy in needlework, in texture and design, in whimsical art. Many of SCACA’s members are retired, some are stay-at-home moms, and lots have known each other forever. The organization not only presents the County’s annual Quilt & Rug show every fall, it holds classes in beading, rug hooking, china painting, glass painting. They meet monthly at Simcoe County Museum. They celebrate annually at this Elmvale church, centrally located so all can easily drive there.

At one point, SCACA boasted 200 members in its ranks, and today’s lower membership likely matches the demographic of baby boomer crafters who are ushering their children out of their homes, and moving their parents in. Not yet retired, their hobbies and creative energies are taking a back seat. But, with retirement just around the corner, SCACA can expect a surge in membership in the next few years.

Sharing new techniques, meeting to plan quilts, working on joint and individual projects and generally bringing a quality to life that enriches it thoroughly… these are contributions SCACA members make without even knowing it.

A look through the archives reads like headlines of earlier times. In presidents alone, SCACA has been blessed… 1951 Mrs. Lew Beaver (smacking of an earlier, pre-feminist time); 1957 Llew Beaver himself. 1960 Albert Parker. 1967 Maude Koury. (How many of us remember Maude Koury?, her fabulous steakhouse on Collier St, with her own residence at the rear on the second floor: her retirement project after selling the Little Red Hen in Collingwood.) 1978 Joan Ashton.

And this year Janice Baird takes over as president, with a willing list of volunteer executive members, selling memberships, convening the group’s boutique at the museum, running interesting programs, and editing the newsletter.

Early members included Clara Cavanaugh who worked in leather, pattern maker Mary McKay, painter Jozo Weider who discovered the blue clay and put his potter skills to work to create Blue Mountain Pottery, Jean Knox with her needlepoint, and Eunice McLeod, quilter.

Today’s talented artisans include knitters Audrey Stillman and Cindy Vilpors (and we’re not talking simple patterns here… these women are artists!)

Listening to Fay Wilkinson talk of her early professional life, briefcase and stress in tow, it’s easy to relate. When she opted out, she talked of attacking her new artistic life with a corporate zeal, celebrating it with perfect triangles of a quilt for her youngest son who had been waiting his turn for years.

It was a perfect quilt, and Fay held it up to approving applause. Her son hated the quilt, and gently told her so.

“Mom, I want a quilt that has come from your heart, and your brain,” he pleaded. His remarks catapulted Fay into a new, exciting, creative life.

“He gave me the kick that sent me into true creativity,” she admitted, celebrating the resultant product… very large turtles, each quilt square alive with form and colour, and very, very creative, definitely conceived in her heart.

It was a comfort Monday night to join these women, to celebrate simplicity, to turn off the world and tune into Fay Wilkinson’s marvellous message. “Our work has been to touch our own hearts and then the hearts of others,” she told her listeners.

How true. How true.

Thanks, Fay. Thanks, Kelly. And thanks SCACA members for being exactly who you are!