Garden flourishes around emergency room 

By Barbara Black

Going from sewing quilts to designing a 34-metre high-tech installation for a public building may seem like a stretch, but it’s not.

Barbara Todd, who teaches part-time in the Fibres unit of the Studio Arts Department, has been a quiltmaker during a period when that traditional art developed into high art. She can transfer her superior design skills to creations in glass and metal, and has just completed a huge interior mural for the new emergency wing of the Sacré-Coeur Hospital in Montreal North.

“I am thrilled with the result,” she said.

Magnifying glass

The mural, made of glass and wood, is called Jardin de guérison, or Garden of Healing. The work, lit from below, shines in the sunlight and glows in the dark. It was the focus of all eyes at the launch of the new facility on March 12.

The work was commissioned by the Quebec government's program that integrates art into architecture and the environment by requiring every public building or major renovation to include a work of art.

It started as one per cent of the building cost, but is now somewhat less. The Sacré-Coeur project cost $2.9 million; Todd’s project cost $77,000, plus the cost of creating the maquette that went to the jury.

The context of the space was all-important, Todd said. She made a maquette that was 1/25th of the scale and put it in a light box to show how it would look, day and night. “Presenting that was like jumping off the deep end, because then I had to recreate the effect.”

Magnifying glass

Todd departed from her art quilting in 2000, when the Federation of the Combined Jewish Appeal asked her to design a quilt installation for their foyer. The space got so much direct sunlight that she knew a fabric quilt would be unsuitable, so she designed a relief sculpture in cut metal instead.

For the Sacré-Coeur project, she was fortunate to work with Pierre Auger, who has a lot of relevant experience.

“His métier is silk screen printing, on glass as well as paper,” Todd said. “He has worked with many artists with integration projects, and he knows the ins and outs of the process, how to work with construction crews, and how to solve difficult installation problems. Pierre made this work possible.”

It was just such a commission that gave Concordia Nicolas Baier’s deconstructed flower on the east side of the EV building, and will give us Geneviève Cadieux’s ivy on the exterior of the new John Molson School of Business.

“A colleague of mine suggested that what I was doing with this work fits into the tradition of mural painting, like, for example the WPA works.” The Works Progress Administration was part of the U.S. Depression-era New Deal that employed millions of people to make public art. In the arts division, over 200,000 art works were produced.

“That made me feel good,” Todd said. “It made me feel like I was part of something larger.”

Originally from Ontario, Todd spent 12 years in Banff with her husband, Michael Century, a musician and specialist in new media. In 1993, they moved to Montreal, where she has an active art practice, although she always teaches at least one course in Fine Arts.

She says Barbara Layne and Ingrid Bachmann, the full-time members of the Fibres unit, have created a magnet for “wonderful students who want to be in Montreal.”


Concordia University