Helena Wadsley

I have been working with indigenous pigments and dyes. Woad, another blue dye, has a history in the Azores. The Portuguese brought it to be cultivated and to create an economy around it. The Portuguese are known for their seafaring history, and I would like to research the types of ships and smaller boats used since they first came to the islands in the 15th century. I would like to make sculptures of the boats using local materials and incorporate the woad dye into the material. The boats I have been making for the Ships and Sugar project have incorporated a history of needlework such as crochet, knitting and rug hooking. I would like to research local textile-based crafts and incorporate these traditions into my project while there. Given the relatively short time for the residency, I might source appropriate materials beforehand. I would also like to involve the community somehow but how that will look will be based on further research and my experience once I am on Pico Island.

For the last few years, I have been working on a project titled Ships and Sugar which has followed a path of research on the links between human migration, boats and sweet foods. For example, I made a multi-part installation about the history of molasses in Newfoundland in connection with the slave trade, part of which involved crocheting a to-scale sculpture of a dory, the traditional fishing boat, out of molasses-coloured video-tape. Also as part of Ships and Sugar, I went to the Dominican Republic to do a community project for which I made models of the traditional canoe of the Taino people, indigenous to the region. Made from banana fibre paper, I involved children in painting them with indigo; both materials are indigenous to the island.


Helena Wadsley, a Vancouver-based artist, works with a variety of media including painting, drawing, textile-based sculpture, video and photography. Her current paths of investigation include histories of craft, fashion and food. She has BFAs in Art History and Studio, an MFA with a concentration in painting practice, and she has been teaching at colleges and universities in Canada for almost two decades. Recently, her materials-based practice has focussed on sustainability; by incorporating natural materials such as earth pigments or plant-based dye, natural fibres or discarded textiles, she creates work that has a lower impact on the environment but also draws attention to the consume-dispose cycle of our society. Her works range from haunting installations in abandoned buildings to scale-models of boats out of materials such as video-tape or banana fibre.

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