Thunder Bay

Play around with the 21 Pillows exhibit at Thunder Bay Art Gallery

It's rare that an artist wants people to take their exhibition, and move it around.

Exhibition is first major show for Cheryl Wilson-Smith from Red Lake, Ont.

Cheryl Wilson-Smith, the creator of the 21 Pillows exhibition, sits behind one of the pillows at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

It's rare that an artist wants people to take their exhibition, and move it around.

It's exactly what Cheryl Wilson-Smith wants patrons of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery to do, with her new exhibit, 21 Pillows.

The exhibition involves, as could be imagined, 21 pillows created by Wilson-Smith out of burlap bags, which hold 10,000 glass pieces. It took two years of work to create the pieces, some of which are layered glass, some of which are more round stone-like.

The pieces look like rocks, pieces of the granite Canadian Shield near Wilson-Smith's home in Red Lake, Ont.

"Hopefully people will come in and place, and create a landscape."

"I want people to actually touch them and move them. There's a place north of Red Lake where there's a moraine of round rocks, and when I go there, I love touching them, and I want to share that experience with people."
One of the pillows at the 21 Pillows exhibit at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. It includes rounded stones and layered glass pieces created by Cheryl Wilson-Smith. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Wilson-Smith's latest exhibition has more muted colours than some of her other works, which she said more resembles the rock of northwestern Ontario.

Still, her layered works, which are somewhat sharp and jagged, with unique shapes, catch the eye on the burlap pillows, which also have many of her more rounded stones.

The more rounded pieces are created with powdered glass, but also with beach sand, imported from Florida. She said sand from northwestern Ontario tends to turn the art pieces red.

Her hope is to make the exhibit as interactive as possible.
A handful of the pillows on display, created by Cheryl Wilson-Smith at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

"When you pick up a layered piece, it's got another piece of glass inside that will rattle, and sound like breaking glass. I'm hoping that people just help move the landscape, because we all affect the environment, so how can we do it in this room."

Wilson-Smith said she hopes people who come to see the exhibit will get a bigger message out of the display.

"I'm hoping they all realize that we affect the environment and change it. For a long time, I blamed big business and corporate for our environmental problems. And, just recently, realized it's not just their fault. We're allowing it, we're changing it too.

"I'd love for people to get that message. But if they don't, that's fine. Maybe they'll get it in time."

21 Pillows runs until March 3, 2019 at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.


Jeff Walters

Former CBC reporter

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff worked in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario.


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