By Paul Gessell
Textile artist Carl Stewart and I are sitting at a Centrepointe coffee shop talking about dead children and the ways they haunt the relatives who survive them. As Stewart so correctly points out, we often have very few clear memories of a deceased child, because that child may have lived only a few years. Therefore, there are no memories of heart-to-heart conversations, nor no memories of that child playing hockey, graduating from school, getting married, pursuing a career.
So, instead of memories to cherish, we cling to photographs or possessions of the deceased. That is certainly the case with Stewart’s brother, Owen, who was run over by a car and killed Sept. 19, 1970, at age 3, in front of his home in Carleton, P.E.I. Carl, then aged 5, was the only witness, aside from the car’s driver, to Owen’s death.
“Since Owen’s death more than 40 years ago,” says Stewart, “certain objects associated with him have taken on an iconic status in my family — a wooden toy, a small cap, a tiny pair of baby shoes but most particularily a photograph, the photograph my mother included in Christmas cards mailed the same year he died, the photograph that was trimmed with tinsel and given pride of place on the Christmas tree each year, the photograph my parents always held in family snapshots, the photograph my siblings prominently display in their homes and that sits on my shelf.”
Nov. 14, 2006 would have been Owen’s 40th birthday. To mark that occasion, Stewart started to create a body of work he calls “belated.” An exhibition of “belated” has just opened at Centrepointe Theatre Gallery, filling wall space in the two-story venue.
For “belated,” Stewart has reproduced the aforementioned iconic photo of Owen a few dozen times. Half of the images are like gaudily coloured Andy Warhol-style portraits of Owen, except they are made of hand-woven wool. The other half of the portraits are cross-stitched reproductions of the photo, navy on white, that progressively get paler and less distinct, just like the memories of Owen fading over the years.
If you look very closely at this reproduced image, you will see, in the lower righthand corner, a bit of purple. At first, it seems like some shadow. In fact, that purple is the blouse on Owen’s mother’s arm.
Owen was only 1 years old at the time of the photo and would not sit up by himself for the photographer so his mother held him upright but tried to remain as invisible as possible during this moment that has become Owen’s Warhol-like brush with fame.
“Belated” is not quite complete. Stewart hopes to weave and cross-stitch a few more of the portraits so that there will be 20 of the Warhol copycats and 20 of the navy on white fading ones. Then there will be 40 images, to mark the belated 40th birthday present for Owen.
Until Feb. 15. Centrepointe Theatre Gallery, 101 Centrepointe. Dr.