Spotlight: Pam Holland, Textile Artist

Oh, It's An Elephant.

Spotlight: Pam Holland, Textile Artist

Pam Holland travels the world teaching quilting and textile art, encouraging students to try the myriad styles and techniques she had developed over the years. Her work ranges from whimsical to intricate, imaginary to historical, with some pieces taking years to complete.

Pam Holland head shot

How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?

I was ten years old and extremely introverted, one would say pathetically shy. As a child, I was always drawing. I naively thought everyone did. 

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It was when I was in year six (aged 10) that my teacher (Mr. Jones) told me that I could draw. It was a revelation. It was the first time in my life that someone had ever taken notice of me and acknowledged my love of art. I spent all my spare time studying the Old Masters at the Local Library, and I sent letters to many of the significant Art galleries in London and Holland.

I was a quiet child and I won a scholarship to art school aged 12, but my parents wouldn’t let me accept it.

Eye thread painting
This eye quilt was an experiment. I drew an eye in my sketchbook and then challenged myself to re-create it at a quilt, so it was drawn on fabric with pigment ink and painted with thread.

Which came first? Photography or textiles? Do you think you view composition differently with a photographer’s eye?

I began my career as a commercial photographer and then became a fashion designer in my late 30’s. It was a crazy life, and we have 13 children, three born to us and 10 adopted from overseas. The house was full, busy and a bit noisy.

I have two sisters, and we all photograph the same way; it’s the way you look at things. It’s the composition, the light and the colour. Yes, I look at quilting with a photographer’s eye, and I love to teach others to do that, too. You can’t get that from a book, and it comes from the heart. I relish in the excitement when the students suddenly begin looking at things differently.

Oh, It's An Elephant.
Oh, It’s An Elephant.
As I travel, I design quilts from the country I visit. All of the fabric for this quilt is sourced from India, with the exception of the Kaffe Fassett fabric on the Elephant. The green fabric is Rubia, a very fine densely coloured cotton. It’s normally used for the blouse under a sari. The braid was purchased at the local market and the image of the Taj Mahal is from one of my photos and drawn with pigment ink onto the fabric prior to Quilting.
Photo of the Taj Mahal which was inspiration for the piece
Photo of Taj Mahal for inspiration for the piece
Drawing in progress of the Taj Mahal
Oh, It’s An Elephant! Drawing the Taj Mahal to be embroidered on the piece
Close of up fabric and ribbon used for Oh, It's An Elephant
Close up of fabric and ribbon used for Oh, It’s An Elephant

Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you do series work? How does that affect your approach?

No, I don’t do things in a series because I like to design my own genres. Once I conquer a technique, then I move on. But they are there in the background, and I often roll one method into another or build the two up to something different. 

For instance, in the past couple of years, I’ve used artists canvas and pigment block to colour the background of my quilt piece. I went on to design whimsical images using the same techniques and including a mixture of  others.       

Illustration, thread painting and thread sketching feature in many of my genres.

What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours? 

I have to say it’s the art really. It’s the way I see things. I draw and thread sketch whimsical images. Thread painting is my favourite genre; however, I’ve combined genres once again, and my latest piece is a combination of both. 

My re-creation of the Bayeux Tapestry is both traditional machine appliqué and illustration with pigment ink to give a dimensional image.

Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn? 

Honestly, I think both. My mother was a talented craft person, and my ancestors were noted artists. Of course, I wasn’t aware that their paintings hung in art galleries until I was in my 40’s. When I stood in front of them, I had one of those Oh Oh moments, and I realised, “this is where my art comes from”. It was humbling indeed. Also, I believe strongly that it is genetic.

I wish I knew of them when I was a 10-year-old pouring over art books.

I was born in Tasmania and on a trip back I was invited to go the Art Gallery to view the art of some of my relatives. That same day, I had been photographing in the countryside. It was late Autumn and there was snow on the ground. 

We came across a small bridge and I had an overwhelming  urge to stop and take a photo. I took a number of them and it appeared to be a strange location but the light was wonderful. 

When I saw paintings in the gallery, I suddenly went cold. There was a painting of the exact location I had photographed that afternoon. The light was the same, in fact it was an exact copy of my Great Uncle’s painting, and yet I was seeing it for the first time.

Scary, but true.

Threadpainted cowboy in black and white
Ricky Tims; Ricky came to help me at my annual charity event in Alamogordo. I took this photo of him as he stood on stage and this quilt is layers of white cheesecloth, heavily stitched.

Is creativity a survival skill when raising a large family?

Maybe, I’m not too sure. I think I was just ‘crafty’ not in a craft way, but in a survival way. Well, I was indeed creative in making the chores a little easier for us all. Many of them turned out hilarious but they worked.

When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?

Definitively a planner to begin with and then as the project flows and grows, I inevitably surprise myself with new ideas. I get so excited in a childish way as work through the ideas to create the project. 

I’ll explain, I generally begin with a drawing or an illustration. Then I need to work out what genre would work. I drew an image of Frieda Kahlo when I was traveling. 

Once home, I decided to create a quilt with the ideas. With such an intricate drawing, I opted to take white fabric and make my own appliqué designs. I drew them, cut them out, then added them to a panel.

It was immense fun and became the focus for other quilts.

What grabs your attention to inspire you to take on a big, long-term project like the 1776 Quilt or the Bayeux Tapestry? 

People ask me over and over again, “Why did you decide to re-create the Bayeux Tapestry.”?

It’s a valid question and one I don’t have an answer for other than the fact that I felt compelled to do it.

On the 4th of July 2005, I happened to find myself in Denver, Colorado attending a weaving conference with friends. I’m not a weaver at all – I know very little about weaving. But I was staying with a friend who was an avid weaver, and I happened along to the event with her simply because I was staying at her house.

After two days of lectures on weaving, I found I needed a little space and begged to go a buy coffee at a Barnes & Noble situated down the street from the event.

Pleased to be free, I began looking at the books, and I came upon a book that almost jumped into my hand; it was big and bold, begging me to pick it up and take it to my table along with my coffee. I have an embarrassing habit that my family are aware of, that of being able to distance myself in a busy room. When immersed in my personal moment, I can switch off the surrounding environment.

I had heard of the Bayeux Tapestry. After completing my 1776, Heartache, Heritage and Happiness quilt, a few people said it reminded them of the Bayeux Tapestry. So here it was in front of me, and I was happy to divert my attention away from weaving and learn something I was interested in.

Four hours later, I realised my friends would be looking for me; I had read the entire book. Indeed not word for word, but the pictures transferred me to another place that captured my spirit in a strange sort of way. 

Terribly embarrassed, I knew I had a lot of explaining to do. The best way was to purchase the book and introduce the Bayeux Tapestry to my friends.  One of the ladies was a little dismissive of my passion and was quite adept at eye-rolling.

That evening I decided to create a quilt the same as the tapestry.

This is a very long story, one of passion and intrigue and I wrote a book on the story. “1776, Heartache, Heritage and Happiness”

Pattern pieces for the Bayeux Tapestry
Bayeux Tapestry in progress
Close up of illustration for Bayeux Tapestry
Bayeux Tapesty in progress
Illustration for Bayeux Tapestry
Bayeux Tapestry in progress
Laying out fabrics for the Bayeux Tapestry
Bayeux Tapestry in progress
Bayeux Tapestry in progress, machine appliquing
Bayeux Tapestry in progress

If you had to pack up and move, but could choose any place in the world to settle, where would you go and why?

Considering the way my life in Textiles has taken shape over the past 10 years or so, I would have to say that India holds my heart.

I really love it all. I think India has had the most significant effect on my career. Travelling is often fraught with challenges and danger, and I could write a book, but it’s the people I meet and the adventures I have that make it so enjoyable and right now, I’m missing it all terribly. 

Teaching is my life and my passion. 

I intend to spend 6 months studying and working in India when I finish the Bayeux.

I also love the USA – we have family there and I have so many wonderful memories. When I’m in the USA, I live in NM and in Durango with my family when I have time.

The Fish House small embroidery piece
I draw on my iPad every day and this is a small image from my imagination. T
his is a small quilt that we create in class. My drawing in printed on the background of lined paper, and placed onto an old linen table napkin, I’ve illustrated the stitches so the students follow the lines and add their own ideas to the image with hand stitching and a little imagination and the fish house is coloured with Derwent Inktense pencils.

With your extensive travel schedule, how do you make time to create? 

I travel 10 months of the year. It’s amazing how much design time I have when I’m traveling. 

I write and design every day. The plane is a great place to focus. I put in my earphones, turn my music up loud and don’t talk to anyone and it’s just me in my bubble.

Do you have a “creative travel kit”? What is in it?

I’ve always carried sketchbooks, but for the past 7 years or so I’ve used my iPad Pro.

Outside of Pam's working studio
Outside of Pam’s working studio

What are the indispensable tools and materials in your home studio? How do they improve your work?

I have two studios, one for my library and art, and one for general work. I have a large 15- foot table holding four amazing Janome machines. Yes, they give them to me. I also use a Bernina Q20.

Pam's working studio, showing her thread lined up for a project
Pam’s working studio

The main studio holds everything I need for creating, and it’s always tidy because I can’t work in a mess, I have to be organised. I was a fashion designer for 20 years, and that held me in good stead for being organised.

Pam's working studio with one of her machines
Pam’s working studio

They are both 30 feet by 20 feet and are separate from the house.

Pam's library in her art studio
Pam’s library in her art studio
Pam's art studio
Pam’s art studio

I have more than I need. More fabric than I could ever use. But occasionally I have a blitz and I give away fabric because I feel guilty that I have so much. I don’t buy fabric because I like it, I buy it for a project. Well maybe a little of both.

Pam's fabric organization
Pam’s fabric organization in her working studio
Pam's working studio
Pam’s working studio
Outside of Pam's working studio
Outside of Pam’s working studio

What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?

Classical mainly. I studied the harp and violin for some time, but I love new country. My iPad Pro has my music library, my movies, my fictional books and study books – it is with me at all times. I was actually finishing this interview on my iPad at the hairdresser’s the other day!

I love documentaries. Our son creates them for National Geographic so I’m his biggest fan and we’ve made some together.

Happy giraffe art quilt

I guess this is not the way you usually begin a Quilting pattern. However, it’s a true story and Geraldine has become one of the most loved patterns in my career.

I was in Kenya leading a Textile and Photography Tour for Craft Tours.
On one of our last days there I was working with Jim West in the office of the Safari Park. The rest of the group were out on safari with our guides and my husband. It was late evening when one of the staff came rushing into the room shouting “Simba, Simba!” Well, I wasn’t too sure if we were being attacked by lions or if I was in a Disney Movie. So the staff ran to the fence at the edge of the compound, and Jim and I followed close behind them.

In front of us we could see about 5 giraffes. Directly in front of them were two lionesses crouched in the tall grass. The giraffes were in front of two symbolic acacia trees with baboons silhouetted against the setting sun,and then they became very silent. Between the legs of the giraffes were several jackals waiting expectantly. 

Looking closer we saw two baby Giraffes that had been separated from the group and the lions were between them and the rest of the group. It was like a documentary and despite our fears for the babies we watched on in awe. Very gently the Giraffe group grew to about 17 huge giraffes, and then they bent their heads to the ground in a provocative stance against the lions. We noticed two huge male giraffes circle around the edge of the group, their heads visible to us above the trees and foliage but unnoticed by the lions. They gently ushered the babies away to safety and the groups began to disperse. The baboons scattered, the Giraffes walked away with casual grace and then the lions stood up with a stretch and yawned, their tails held high in defiance, as they sauntered off and disappeared into the veld.

Suddenly one of the giraffes came towards us at the fence and from about 8 meters away and stood elegantly in front of us while I took her photo. It was a special moment.
I couldn’t capture her in the photo at her full length but I did what I could.
She stood quietly for a few minutes as if to say. “We did it” and gently turned to join the rest of the group.
And this is my Geraldine.”

Where can people see your work? Do you enter juried shows?

I’ve won many BOS (Best of Show), but I stopped entering about 15 years ago. I was victim of a terrible hoax. 

Over the years I’ve written articles about quilt shows. I also made some small documentaries about the participants of quilt shows, and as the years went by, I just didn’t feel comfortable with the psyche of entering and expecting to win. I didn’t like what I saw. My quilts come from my heart, they are not to win, and I would never sell a quilt.

I have given the 1776, Heartache, Heritage and Happiness to the Quilt Museum in Nebraska. I was offered a large sum for it, but it would be like selling my soul. 

In saying that, I have just completed a work that I decided to enter into Houston this year and then the show was cancelled. It isn’t a fancy quilt but it’s different.

Pam Holland Quote

Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?

My website is my sharing space. I share my photos, my journeys and my creations. I use FB timeline for daily events and programs. While I travel the world teaching, I only managed Dominican Republic and Mexico this year. My schedule had included India, USA, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, France, India again and then Germany. Instead I’m home in my studio and loving it, but missing the excitement of being with my students around the world.

Interview posted August 2020

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