Deborah Dunlop, Fusion Fiber Arts
Why, hello there! It’s good to be back. It has been a while since my last blog post. I’m sure I am not the only one who had a pretty BUSY fall! So happy to have started into this new year, and with it, we’re embarking on so much more ART! More blogs; more exciting events; and great new opportunities are in store at Shō Studios!
In January, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Deborah Dunlop in her studio, Fusion Fiber Arts, at Shō. Seeing as I began my art career as a Fashion Designer, I cannot tell you how excited I was to learn all about Deb’s awesome journey as a Fiber Artist and her experience so far since joining Shō in May of 2018. In this blog we will explore her journey from Area Supervisor at Elias Bros Restaurants, a job she held for close to 20 years, to opening her studio at Shō Studios.
Before we dive deep into her story, I would love to introduce you to her work, Fusion Fiber Arts.
“Fusion Fiber Arts is a workspace for the creation of Fiber Art. We offer workshops, unique gifts and a meeting place for artists. We also have retail space where we carry most of the supplies used in our workshops.”
Some of the products they carry are “fiber, roving, yarn, supplies for knitting, felting and sewing. Socks, scarves, thread paintings, felted vessels, needle felted 3d animals and 2d wall pieces.”
What is Fiber Art, anyway? According to Wikipedia “Fiber Art refers to fine art whose material consists of natural or synthetic fiber and other components, such as fabric or yarn. It focuses on the material and on the manual labour on the part of the artist as part of the works’ significance, and prioritizes aesthetic value over utility.”
Fusion Fiber Arts was initially started as Deb’s studio away from home. It is a place where she is free to work in the various forms of Fiber Art that she enjoys including thread painting, yarn spinning, felting, and most recently weaving. When asked the motivation on joining Shō, Deb shared, “I came to take what I was doing, selling my thread paintings, and expand on it.” And, that she has done.
Her search for the perfect place to open her studio started in 2016. Her goal was to buy a house where she could open a studio to create her work, as well as teach and live. However, due to the housing market skyrocketing, she knew she had to keep her options open. This is when she happened upon Shō Studios.
When Deb had her very first courtesy interview with Lorraine, Sue, and Phil, she was sold. She knew that they were very much in alignment with her own vision of how she wanted to expand her business.
“They can sell a dream like no one on earth!” she explained.
With that it was very clear that she had found her new home.
Shō is so passionate about their vision and what they want for this space. Whoever they draw into this building, seems to almost always been in alignment with this same vision in their own work. However, you are not taking on their dream. Instead, they have this ability of helping you get a clearer understanding of what your own aspirations are. Even just having the opportunity to watch them formulate this ever-evolving concept, teaches you how to formulate and grow with your own.
That being said, Deb knew exactly what she wanted when she joined. Long before ever starting a career in the Arts, she was honing her entrepreneurial skills. In fact, her passion for Fiber Art didn’t flourish until later in her life. Deb had an illustrious 20-year career in the Restaurant Business as Area Supervisor for Elias Bros Restaurants. During that time, she learned how to build, manage, and inspire teamwork in the various restaurants she supervised. These skills at community enrichment became the foundation for the art career she would embark upon years later.
After her corporate job, Deb opened her first business, The Burgundy Goose, on Ottawa Street. It was a consignment shop featuring arts and crafts from many talented artisans in the region. She confided that this experience truly helped her form a strong understanding of small business and exactly what it entails. Because of this, she felt confident upon the opening of Fusion Fiber Arts close to 15 years later.
In The Burgundy Goose years, she rekindled her love for sewing. Deb first learned to sew at only 8 years old under the tutelage of her grandmother and aunt. By the time she was 12, she was already making her own outfits. Unfortunately, during her corporate life, her love for art and sewing took a back seat to her career. Having the opportunity to sew again reignited Deb’s love to create.
Although, she decided to close her business in 2002, that was far from the end of Deb’s artistic journey. In fact, it ignited her artistic passion now that she had freedom to get more connected in the arts community. She was member at Artcite from 2009-2016. During this time, she was on the Board of Directors from 2012-2016, and was Board President from 2014-2016. At this time, she made it her goal to further Fiber Arts in our region. She started her now long running Stitch ‘n Bitch workshops at Artcite, which moved onto Ten Thousand Villages for 8 years, and now continues, along with many new and exciting workshops, at Fusion Fiber Arts in Shō Studios.
It was during her time at Artcite that she embarked on an impressive series of quilt collaborations. The first collaboration included 20 different quilters. The large quilt found just outside her studio, which was created in collaboration with Georges P Vanier school ( École élémentaire catholique Georges-P.-Vanier ), included 40 collaborators.
“We asked the students to give us images of what they thought peace looked like…The one thing that I learned from this project is that the version of what people think peace looks like is vastly different. A curator from The Art Gallery of Windsor asked us to come and put it together at the gallery. When we presented the quilt, we received a lot of great media. This was all under the auspices of the Stitch ‘n Bitch group.”
It is often when an artist is working on a big project, visions of new ideas are formulated. This is when the bar is raised. Deb mentioned “It was always my goal to get something I created into a museum.” It was with that mission that the largest collaborative quilt project was born. A total of 60 blocks were created for the 2013-2014 Quilt Project “The Workers and Work: Time Stands Still” with inspiration provided by the Francois Baby House photo database. This project was completed by the Stitch ’n Bitch Quilters in conjunction with MayWorks Windsor. This quilt was meticulously built over the course of two years. Although the requirements for each block had to fit certain guidelines, the artists were encouraged to create truly unique blocks which often featured hand embellishments, such as embroidery. The finished quilt measured an astounding 14 feet long.
“We did so many events around this quilt, and it really was the most fun two years of my life… until I had to put the thing together! I put it together in my home, in my bedroom. I had so many people come to volunteer to hold it up while I fed it through the machine.”
The group decided to donate the quilt in honour of Windsor’s history to the Francois Baby House museum. They bring the quilt out every May to put on display. Currently, it is on display at the Chimczuk Museum at the Art Gallery of Windsor.
Collaboration and community building are a big passion of Deb’s, and it is truly the driving force behind the growth of Fusion Fiber Arts. She first began teaching basic sewing classes at D&R Vacuum and Sewing Centre, but upon opening started to offer them in her studio. Since that many exciting workshops have been developed and are available monthly.
Workshops are not only a great opportunity to learn something knew, but they give you the fortune to learn, in-class, again. For most adults, we finish up in-class learning very early in our lives. Some of us have had the opportunity to have post-secondary education, but even then, most of us completed these experiences in our young adulthood. I cannot stand the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog knew tricks”. In fact, I believe that as we mature, we have this amazing ability to get excited about the act of learning itself. The workshop environment is great, because it allows the student to immerse themselves in new techniques, ideas, and creativity, without the need to fulfill standardized testing at the end. You walk in to learn and leave with exactly as much as you put into it, without judgement.
A few upcoming workshops at
Fusion Fiber Arts:
Having a tactile experience in a workshop setting gives you a deeper understanding of art. Getting your hands working and having access to an expert will get you hooked!
I believe that is why we are seeing a big surge of workshop opportunities, not only at Shō, but throughout the city.
Fusion Fiber Arts offers a great range of fun workshops, most of which require no previous experience. You come to learn from experts and connect with people who are looking to try out new adventures, like you!
If you thought that workshops and Deb’s studio were all that was available for you at Fusion Fiber Arts, you would be mistaken. In fact, in June of 2019 Fusion Fiber Arts opened a retail space filled with gorgeous fiber art, clothing, accessories, home decor, and pretty much everything you need to take a workshop at the studio. It showcases high quality work from local Fiber Artists.
Some of the awesome finds waiting for you at Fusion Fiber Arts shop!
Featured below are beautiful products made by many local artists including, but no limited to, Deb Dunlop, Renee Labute, and Vera Hickey.
Bringing people together is what Shō is all about, and Deb fits right into the mix. One of her main aspirations for the future of her business is to attract and bond the fiber arts community in our area. She would also like to expand this to a younger group of people who are looking to try new things.
She, along with Diane Clinton of The Hook Pusher, developed Fiber Shō last fall. This event was a huge success for Fiber Arts in the region. It drew an astounding 47 Fiber Arts vendors and was attended by more than 400 people. The success was so great that Deb is planning on hosting the event again!
Mark your calendars for September 12th, 2020
photos from last fall’s event:
One thing that I noticed in my own experiences with Shō is that the energy of this building itself seems to draw people together. It is as though the building itself has a certain atmosphere.
“There is a high number of people, percentage wise, who just walk through the door and get halfway down the hall and say ‘this is awesome’; ‘this place is so cool’; and ‘the vibe is great’. The ‘vibe’ is the word that people use all the time’.” – Deb Dunlop
It is as though the building itself holds this amazing energy that inspires through the collaborative dream of community building.
Shō has a way of drawing the right people to it. Deb is definitely one of those people. Fiber Shō was a great example of this. Before sitting down with Deb, I never really realized how much is available locally that is Fiber Art related. The sheer fact that in the very first Fiber Shō 47 vendors booked in (a full capacity of vendors) is truly telling of the plethora of talent in our area. This is a true affirmation of the great growth of this somewhat hidden treasure trove of art.
Looking forward Deb really wants to focus her own artistic efforts deeper into weaving. She joked that she has little weavings going on in all different forms, all over her home. She loves to try out new things, from her first felting class in 2013 at Hope College; creating the fusion fiber fabric from which she named her studio; her amazing thread paintings; to her newfound love of weaving.
“I have my first project here on my 4-shaft loom, a loom which can create very complex designs. I am starting off with the easiest thing I can. So, I have a 7-foot scarf on there right now.”
In addition to this, she would really like to develop Fiber Shō into an even more in-depth event similar to those she has seen in the Kawarthas.
After sitting and chatting with Deb, for hours no less, I am certain that her own personal growth and the strength of the community she is dedicated to build is only going to flourish in 2020. Deb is a force. She has huge aspirations and doesn’t really appear to be slowing down. And, Shō is all the better for it.
As I mentioned above, Shō truly does have this unique way of drawing the right people into the mix. I believe that it really has right from the start. I know that when I first joined, I was the youngest by far. I was seeking mentors. I was seeking a place that not only supported the artists involved, but also had movement and growth of its own. They were literally trying everything at the time. I learned that there were no limits here, only the extent of your own imagination. If you don’t believe me, go watch Phil build pretty much anything, on any given day. Start talking to Lorraine about artists that inspire you. Tell Sue your plans. You will find a plethora of untapped ideas, in a matter of minutes.
You can leave, looking for yourself for 5 years, and come back to find a portion you forgot about.
I’ll end with this awesome quote from Deb which really hit home for me:
“ This place is a time capsule…Immediately, when I met them that very first day, everything we were looking to do dovetailed together. They have integrity and I can not say enough about that. They are passionate and they are good people.”
I could not agree more, Deb.
Written by Christy Litster, Artist & Sho Associate
Christy Litster is a Visionary Artist living in Windsor, Ont., Canada. Her work ranges from mixed media abstracts to psychedelic digital mandalas. Visionary art aims to transcend the physical world and portray a wider version of awareness, often including spiritual or mystical themes.