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Masters of the Crafts

Monique Cliche-Spénard — Quilt Artist

About the craftsperson

Monique Cliche-Spénard
"With her undeniable love of drawing and the ordering of colours, Monique worked to bring new vitality to the art of quilting and to make it so attractive that it would blend with any decor, modern or traditional, because of its varied tones and dimensions. Monique has accomplished the task she set herself of reviving a tradition and introducing it not only to countless Quebec homes but across Canada and abroad. She has rekindled people's love of the past in a form that is novel, beautiful and useful. Because of Monique, quilting is once again a part of everyday life, whether the finished product is signed by Cliche-Spénard or another agile hand."

Luce Bernard
Placer gold miner
Dawson, Yukon Territory

Quilting at the Atelier
Quilting at the Atelier
Monique Cliche-Spénard,
Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce, 1979;
the artist is second from left

Having achieved a basic repertoire of skills, craftspeople have to follow their own creative direction, identifying goals and seeking artistic maturity. This process takes time and the choices are varied. Some craftspeople, as for example Monique Cliche-Spénard, look to their ancestry and regional roots. Others immerse themselves in the cultural traditions of other societies as well as their own, as did Micheline Beauchemin. The potter, Wayne Ngan, made yet another choice. Drawing on both ancient and modern sources, he seeks integration with the environment in terms of both his personal Life and his craft.

A native of the Chaudière River valley in Quebec's Beauce region, Monique Cliche-Spénard is a direct descendant of one of the region's eighteenth-century seigneurial families. Acting on her father's conviction that "a people without tradition is a dying people" and on her own belief that "all will be lost when our families no longer remember those things", she sought to depict the old ways of her people, the Beaucerons.

Cliche-Spénard's interest in woven fabrics led her to collect a variety of antique Beauce textiles, as well as hand-carved butter and sugar moulds, to preserve them from neglect and commercial exploitation. She researched and documented the quilts in her antique textile collection, studied traditional quilting techniques from the women of the Beauce, and began to construct her own unique quilts. The first quilt she made depicted traditional sugar moulds:

"I wanted to tell people about the Beauce and I was looking for a visual means of doing it. Having a collection of sugar moulds at home, I thought of enlarging the patterns and explaining to people the reasons for sugar moulds at that time. I made a quilt. That was when I became known."

In the course of instructing others in the craft of quilting, Cliche-Spénard came to distinguish between l'art traditionnel, which highlights folkart motifs and traditional techniques of Beauce quilting, and l'art populaire, which emphasizes contemporary graphic design and the quilter's personal statement.
CMC 86-126 - CD94-688-028
The Heart of the Village, 1977
Cotton Cloth
Quilted, appliquéd
230 cm x 202 cm
CMC 86-126
Gift of Ann Mortimer

The Cliche family
The Cliche family
Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce, Quebec
ca. 1900

A modern-day daughter of the Beauce, Cliche-Spénard applied these distinctions to her own work, reinterpreting the memories of a collective past, reassembling traditional motifs, adapting old techniques, and selecting printed and coloured fabrics for their design and effect. Cliche-Spénard also insisted upon the economic viability of quilting. Wishing to encourage more Quebec women to profit from one of their traditional crafts, she began to involve neighbours in the production of quilts as a cottage industry.

She now has an atelier where Beauce women, trained in all aspects of the business, produce and market quilts of Cliche-Spénard's design. The success of the atelier has freed Cliche Spénard to design and work on her own limited-edition quilts. At times she finds her artschool training, and artistic ambitions at odds with the conservative views of some of her neighbours. Nevertheless, these differences fuel a creative tension in her craft and traditional Beauce quilting is transformed from bedcover to wall-hanging, and from utilitarian object to an artistic and political statement about the folk traditions of the Beauce and its people.

Selected Works Choices Continue