As a fiber and mixed media artist, Sharon Riley calls on her relationship with Mother Earth to inspire her art. Walking on the beach, meditating in less-traveled environs and listening to inner voices that most of us ignore result in felted and embellished representations of works that some might call art dolls, but she calls “healing voices”. Needle and thread have been a part of her creative life for as long as she can remember, and it’s only natural that she expresses her hopes and dreams with fiber.
Tell us a little bit about you and what you do.
I am a Fibre and Mixed Media Artist, though my friends who know me call me a spiritual healing artist. I live in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Passionate about fibre art, I’ve been making, learning and creating for more than 60 years … felting for over 20 years. Over the years my works have found their way to many parts of the globe.
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I love everything about felting, a process that leans naturally into mindfulness, meditation and prayerful reflection. The hand embellishing that follows is for me like transforming lead into gold… I can become completely lost in the stitching and beading, then spend hour upon hour detailing each creation.
My first teachers were my parents and grandparents… adept hand stitchers and artists In their own right. From my first hand-stitched dolls and primitive art forms as a child, to the myriad expressions I have explored over the years I am always happiest when I’m creating. Throughout my life, I’ve explored a varied range of mediums – from clothing and costume design, leather works, printing and dyeing techniques, then to traditional felting and its ever developing expressions.
My creative process is deeply rooted into my relationship with Mother Earth and her vast interpretations. Each piece is a response to what I experience around me. My process is organic. Working by hand offers deep intimacy, a process which naturally leans into stillness…mindfulness. I am a seeker, translating my experiences into tactile, visual expression. Worlds of wonderment open to me while I layer intricate hand embroidery, beading, offerings from nature and unique textural elements into each creation.
To become better stewards for our Mother Earth, to do what we can to positively affect our ever changing global landscape as well as all beings everywhere is very important to me. That my work invite deeper awareness matters to me.
How did you start making art? Did you come from a family of stitchers? What were some of your first projects?
Fibre art has been a passion of mine since I was a small child. For hours on end I’d sit at the feet of my paternal grandmother and my mother, absolutely mesmerized while they took scraps of fabric, needle and thread in hand and made such wonderful things. It was so magical to me, watching with my childhood attention the way their hands moved. Seeing that pointy needle with threads moving through the fabric, creating hundreds of tiny stitches. It was like watching the unfolding of a great mystery.
I still recall my first primitive attempts, the feel in my hands of a big needle, threading it… taking a scrap of fabric from the small pile of recycled garments and beginning. Their patience teaching me, as well as the tender way they formed questions about what I wanted to make has stayed with me. When I’m teaching others, these are the images that come back to me; my grandmother with her thimble and her everlasting patience, my mother with her playfulness and trust. Both focused on doing their very best. I still can see myself there with them.
Why do you express your creativity through art dolls?
Truthfully I tend not to call my sculptural pieces *dolls* though many see and name them as that. And I really don’t mind because I love doll makers and their creations. I have taken classes and courses with a few of them and taught many classes as well. These classes lean into self understanding, self knowing ~ finding, discovering our inner voices, reclaiming lost parts of ourselves, celebrating our inner wild woman warrior selves, discovering our inner Guides and helpers.
My name for the sculptural forms is *Healing Voices*. They are physical representations of my dreams and meditations, images that can be touched and seen and felt. But *Healing Voices* are not the only form I work in. I simply desire to make art that invokes a healing response, or invites questions of ourselves we’ve never asked before.
What inspires you to create?
Visionary artists inspire me, artists that work specifically with healing intention. I love researching ancient felting techniques and teaching myself new ones. So felt makers of all descriptions invite my curiosity. My relationship with Mother Earth and all her beings inform my inspiration. My calling is to do what I can through my art to make a difference, offering healing, hope and love.
I love spending time in nature, getting as close to the earth as I can. So I take long walks in a forest or along a driftwood strewn beach. Everything has a voice and speaks to me. My dreams and mediations are also sources of inspiration; this is the meeting place from where my creativity is truly born. Each time I engage in bringing forward a new creation I go to meditation and nature to receive guidance. And guidance always comes.
Can you tell us about an inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come to be?
More than 25 years ago, while living in rural Nova Scotia, I was invited on a hike of the Bay of Fundy. It’s a magical place where ancient rock formations formed after the last ice age and melt. These rocky shores are home to crystal formations and geodes of amethyst, quartz and selenite. I recall sitting close to a large geode sphere partially exposed in the lap of grey rock. Warming rays of sunlight beamed down upon me; sound of the sea soothed me as it rushed against the rock formations, that delicious salty air smell…. I felt such peace and then found myself laying down next to a massive quartz geode. And I couldn’t seem to help myself from drifting into sleep.
I found myself being propelled outward into the Milky Way Galaxy. All around me was radiant, luminous cloud, and the sweet sound of joyful, ethereal music. I saw before me a circle of women representing every culture and race. They danced around me in such beautiful rhythm. As the music slowed, one woman came to stand before me. She spoke of how Mother Earth was in a time of great transformation; of how women, using their creative voices in their art making, with intentions of healing and transformation, were going to help shift our consciousness towards One ness. Our voices would be part of the great tapestry of a mass awakening with each of us receiving an invitation to offer their gifts as a way to bring this shift of consciousness forward.
She showed me image after image of sculptural forms. Each form housed an inner crystal; each one held healing and transformational codes to help our planet and all beings move into and embrace this great shift. She explained these would be called *Healing Voices*. Then each time a new being came forward I saw images of her in dreams and meditation. Since that moment I’ve always used the words * Healing Voices* to describe my sculptural work. Indeed, all of the works are expressions of healing and transformation.
This relationship with my highest self, with the sacred, with the guides and helpers that appear when I need them most, work together to bring each creation into being. All of my work comes forward this way.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? Lesser known tools/materials that might surprise us?
I always have various wools in many colours. These I gather from everywhere ~ wooden dowels and a newly acquired rolling pin that is my latest, best tool for rolling the wool… lots and lots of bubble wrap, organic soap and lavender essential oil which I always use in the final rinse, baskets filled with driftwood collected on beach walks, vases of feathers, baskets of beads, eco dyes to use when I can’t find the colour I really want to use… recycled hand painted silk scarves…
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? Do you have a dedicated space for creating?
I often write things down as they surface ~ thoughts, dream fragments, excerpts from inspirational poets and authors, though my skills at organizing them is severely lacking. So I try my best to keep little baskets with these notes here and there throughout my space. Truth be told, my ideas look more like the scribbles of a young child, so they would make little sense to anyone else. I have no dedicated space for creating as I live in a small apartment. My art making supplies sit in baskets here and there throughout my small space.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music? What kind?
Much of the time I sit in silence as I create. At other times I listen to music that centres me and stills my spirit. To be honest I become so enveloped in the process I lose all track of time. When I listen to music it tends to be soothing soundscapes. Though I love all kinds of music, music with lyrics can be distracting. I tend to do most of my felting at the dining room table as it’s the largest flat space available.
Where can people see your work?
I am a member of the arts council in my province, though I primarily show my work on Facebook. I maintained a website for a number of years but found it didn’t have very much traffic.
If you could interview a creative person who would it be and why would you choose them?
I would like to interview Havi Mandell… her website is https://havimandell.com/. Havi works with intentional creativity. Though I’ve not taken classes with her, her paintings and their stories invoke such emotion and love, such deep introspection.
How to do you deal with creativity blocks?
When I find myself blocked for whatever reason, I like to drum or play my crystal singing bowl. Then I dance, or take a walk in nature. I cherish my time in or near the water, Be it ocean, river, lake or stream. Water soothes and restores my being. It’s as if a veil lifts and I can begin again.
If you were to no longer able to use this medium, how else would you express your creativity?
This is a difficult question; I do my best to live in the moment, to be grateful for what I am able to do now… In my past there have been a handful of times when I was unable, due to injury, to be a maker with my dominant hand. In one of these situations I learned how to make soap and organic, earth friendly bath products which were sold in many shops. A recent set of injuries just a year ago left me unable once again to use my dominant hand. That limited overall movement for many months. So I chose this time simply to rest and heal.
My Papa who lived to be 104 years old used to say, “Don’t think ‘what will I do tomorrow’, for we cannot know what tomorrow will bring”. Today, right now, this is what we are given, so live this moment, give this moment your very best… and if that is taken from you, temporarily or permanently, trust that something else will come. He was a very wise man.
Interview posted October 2021