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Embroidery, Fabric

Art Forms


Portrait of a Lady Fern

by: Janice Wright Cheney

In Portrait of a Lady Fern, this species of fern (Athyrium filix-femina) has been embroidered over a photograph of the old-growth forest in Odell Park.

The association of ferns and femininity is longstanding. The Ancient Greeks gave the lady fern its name because its reproductive structures (spore clusters) are hidden on the underside of the fronds, a trait considered feminine. In Victorian England, fern collecting became a great rage, mostly practiced by women. Collecting specimens for their ferneries was a rare activity that Victorian society permitted women to do on their own.

This species is indeed one of the most intricate and delicate of forest ferns. As I was embroidering, I became very aware of its structure, how it is composed of parts that resemble the whole, as if the fern is made of many tiny ferns.

In my work I consider the interconnectedness of all living things. I think about the cycles of growth and decay in a healthy forest, and how everything in the forest plays a role in its regeneration. The forest floor is an especially vibrant space, where mushrooms, moss, lichen, leaf litter, insects, flowers, and ferns are clustered and dispersed. I see the forest floor as a richly patterned carpet that supports and nourishes all forest life. 

Small copy of jwc head shot.crop Janice Wright Cheney

Janice Wright Cheney’s textile-based sculptures and installations consider the fragility of our present state, examine loss of wilderness, and imagine ecological life in the future.

Wright Cheney’s work is featured in the collections of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the New Brunswick Museum, the Glenbow Museum, and Telus Canada at Telus Garden, Vancouver. Widow, her sculpture of a grizzly bear swathed in roses, appeared in Oh Canada, a survey of contemporary Canadian art, held at MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts in 2012. Her solo exhibition Cellar was presented at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (2012), the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (2014), and at Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge (2015). Her work Spectre was installed at the Anchorage Museum in Alaska in 2018, and most recently she participated in Bonavista Biennale (2021). She has been elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. She is a recipient of the Strathbutler Award for Excellence in the Arts as well as the New Brunswick Lieutenant Governor's Award for High Achievement in Visual Arts.

Wright Cheney graduated from Mount Allison University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and completed an M.Ed. in Critical Studies at UNB. She lives and works on unceded, ancestral Wolastoqey land in Fredericton NB, where she teaches at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design.

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