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  • Writer's pictureKaren Selk

Tears for Tahlequah

Updated: Feb 9, 2019

This piece was made for a call to entry for SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Association) with the theme: Connecting Our Natural Worlds. Our goal is to communicate the wonders of the flora, fauna and habitat relating to our part of the natural world and inspire others to become better stewards of the environment. Our artist statements were to identify danger to the flora or fauna represented and recommend a call to action that can be taken to help save the species. Much of the world watched as one of our J Pod resident orca whales carried her dead baby for 17 days. All of us, including scientists, became aware of just how much the orca's grieving process is like our own. All of this happened as many of us in British Columbia have been fighting to stop yet another pipeline to fill tankers that will ply our fragile coastal waters. I was happy to be given an avenue to express my feelings over Tahlequah and J Pod's loss.

Artist Statement:

I live on an island in the Salish Sea, which flows through the surrounding waters from Vancouver, BC to Seattle, WA. It is the home of the endangered J pod resident orca whales. In July 2018 the whale named Tahlequah, gave birth to what appeared a healthy baby that died within hours. Tahlequah grieved the loss by carrying/pushing her dead baby on her head for 17 days while her family members helped to feed her as they travelled. With no viable births since 2015 and 13 deaths in the last 6 years, the orcas in these waters are in extreme danger. Orcas preferred food is Chinook salmon, which we must protect from over fishing. Orcas use echolocation to source food and other objects in the water, we must diminish underwater noise from all types of vessels. Toxic pollutants affect orcas, we must stop using the ocean as a dumping ground and curtail oil tanker traffic.

The Process:

I sorted my inventory of dyed silk fibre for underwater colours, above water colours, sky colours and the trees. After making a very sparse full size sketch (30 x 24) of where the colours and elements would be placed, I laid out the coloured fibre for the different areas. When making silk fusion, one can embed other elements like angelina fibre for the water, ghost Chinook salmon cut out of silk organza, and silk waste fibres, with lots of texture, for the trees. A very thin cobweb of silk fibre is placed over these elements to act as a catch to hold them into the background fusion. It was a good day, the fusion laid out well and I used just the right amount of water and medium so the finished product came out just right. The trees were machine stitched. The whales were cut out of black silk fusion. The white spots were cut out of white fusion and sewn onto the black whales. The details of the whales bodies were hand stitched. After sewing the whale bodies onto the background fusion, I added quilt batting and stitched the water, sky and whales. I waited patiently for that moment when I could finally sew on the whales tears.

I will not know until the end of March whether the piece is accepted, but it just felt so good to honour Tahlequah and her family.


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