Submitted by: Cindy Hoppe, Fibre Artist

Last spring a group of women, mostly from central Saskatchewan, took a trip down the Impressionist Art Trail in France, courtesy of Corinne Thompson and Natasha Radchenko of VM Travel Adventures, and Liza Gareau Tosh of Routes Gallery in Harris. I was on the Routes Gallery email list, and had idly considered this trip when they were advertising it in the fall of 2011, but had too much on my plate. When the itinerary came out in February last year, I knew this was the trip I had been saving money for and convinced my sister she needed to go too.

We spent our first couple of days in Nice touring Cezanne’s studio and Renoir’s haunts, then six days in a country house in Provence, from which we traveled to every mental hospital Van Gogh had spent time in, Monet’s garden at Giverny, medieval towns on the top of limestone hills and the red cliffs of Roussillon, a trip to the sea shore, two market days and the ancient city of Avignon. After being immersed in the Impressionists’ milieu for 10 days, we ended in Paris and saw the paintings inspired by the country. The Church at Auvers by Van Gogh in the Musee d’ Orsay made a huge impression on me. 
The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise, View from the Chevet, Vincent Vah Gogh, 1890
Fun Fact: The Musee d’Orsay acquired the painting in 1951 with the participation of Paul Gachet (son of Van Gogh’s doctor) and the aid from an anonymous Canadian donation

We planned a Show and Tell get together at the Routes Gallery, August 11 of this year, so during the winter sewing season, I got started. My pictures of the church were not that great but I did have a reproduction of the painting that inspired me on my library shelves, so at some point I gave up worrying about how realistic the building looked and went with Van Gogh as my guide. My sister and Marilyn Weiss, two artists on the trip, were figures in a photo that needed to be put into the picture. I especially liked the orange hat, blue shirt and Marilyn’s wild red hair against the cool, shadowed stone. I have never tried putting figures into my wall hangings before, so this was a new venture.

I checked the size of the Van Gogh picture and found sky and ground in my fabric stash that would give me the rough dimensions. I sketched the building a couple of times and then cut out the picture to make sure it fit well in the size I had chosen, then used it as a pattern for my building pieces. I had some rough suiting of the rich sienna colour of the roof and a variety of stone coloured suitings to build the church from. I added pieces of sunlit green and shadow green from my hand dyed pile. The neutral ground that formed the base of the picture made a good walkway colour. After the various building elements were machine sewn on, it was time to embroider. Threading variegated #12 gauge Valdani thread on the bobbin, I free motioned with the sewing machine on the underside of the piece to produce flowers and grass in the deep shadow, the sunlit area and two Van Gogh cypress trees on the right side. Because you are working upside down, you never know what you will have until you turn it over, so those of you who shudder at the loss of control, get over it and enjoy what might happen.

I did a mockup of my two figures on paper until I was satisfied with their proportions and then found some skin toned, dyed silk in my stash that would act as a base. Celeste and Marilyn were painted with fabric paints, cut out and then stitched to the hanging after the embroidery was done. Other fabric painting was done on the blue details of the church, clock faces, and highlights on the roof. Now it was time to quilt. I did the sky quickly but then put the piece aside for a while as other work was calling and I frankly was scared of the quilting on the building. I went back to the hanging in May after letting it sit for a couple of months and managed to reconcile detail and form as best I could. The figures didn’t get much quilting and I am pleased with the decisions made there; enough to give them form, but not enough to detract from the church.

L-R: The work in early stages, Detail of the figures, Putting on the finishing touches
The process of this work is endlessly challenging and subject to discoveries and internal decision making. As I work, the radio is on and synchronous events happen. I had just determined that the title would be ‘Pilgrimage to Auvers’ when later that day, Philip Cousineau who has written a book called, ‘The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred’ was interviewed. His description of satisfying, meaningful travel was exactly what this trip was to me.

Van Gogh and exaggerated the world he saw to open it up to those of us stumbling blindly through life without seeing the beauty around us. I hope this little show and tell gives others permission to try something they don’t think they can do. Who knows where you may go and what you may create?

Church at Auvers (after Van Gogh), Cindy Hoppe, 2013