A Pattern Community

By the time the grass starts appearing in our back yard, I’m always more than ready for a dose of spring, so at the end of March I travelled to the Okanagan with some friends to do some biking. On the way there, as we crested the Anarchist Summit and descended into the Osoyoos valley, I was struck by the beauty of that desert landscape. Rugged hills give way to rolling vineyards and finally drop into the delightfully quirky faux-Spanish architecture of the town as it crowds the edges of the picturesque blue lake. It’s all so striking, with the notable exception of one new development that looks like someone dropped a sprawling Calgary suburb on the edge of the lake. Row after row of cookie-cutter brown condos with a contrived homogeneity that, when contrasted with the organic rhythm of the valley, was shockingly ugly. 

I grew up surrounded by piles of bright-coloured fabric and squares of stitched-together pinwheel patterns. My mom, a life-long quilter, has an astonishing skill for selecting fabrics, colours, and patterns that come together into beautiful quilts. Without ever calling herself an artist, she employs the principles of pattern, repetition, and rhythm to create her lovely works. Those elements of design are nowhere more evident than on a successful quilt. 

Repetition is one of the key ways artists can bring unity into our work. A dash of red over here ties in with the blob of red over there. A curved mountain echoes a curve in the stream below it. A row of trees creates a series of shapes across the canvas. We look for these opportunities to build continuity into our creations, but we have to be careful because too much repetition is boring. 

Communities are like quilts – they need a balance of unity and variety to function properly. Finding like-minded people is good for unity, but how would we ever learn and grow if we weren’t confronted with ideas or ways of doing things that are unexpected or different from ours? How bored would we be if everyone we met on the street was just like us? In our lives, as well as in our paintings, too much repetition is constrictive. A composition, as well as a community, need variety to thrive. 

The irony is that this metered variety – which turns a town into a community – is the same thing that can tear it apart. Differing opinions can become polarized into sides. Left and right can become divided and entrenched. We become unwilling to set foot on common ground. The rhythm of our composition is broken, and variety devolves into unhinged chaos. For the quilter, it’s critical to balance the pattern and variety carefully to keep the viewer interested without overwhelming them with wild splashes and disconnected marks. So too with our community.

The people we choose formally or informally as leaders – or in quilting terms, the piece-makers of our valley – will be the ones guiding the decisions about what fabric goes where. Being a leader in a small town is an unenviable, complicated, but critically important task. The success of our patchwork depends on their wisdom. They preserve our diversity, keep our rhythm, and avoid too much repetition so we can work towards being healthier. It takes trust, understanding, patience, and self-reflection to acknowledge our own place in the quilt. 

A beautiful quilt is made up of all kinds of colours, prints, and shapes of fabric. Our community echoes that diversity: new side, old side, cisgender, fluid, tall, short, gay, straight, left, centre, right, indigenous, immigrant, brunette, ginger, artsy or sporty – we are all important pieces of fabric in the emerging Fernie quilt. Without that diversity, Fernie would be a boring place to live. To thrive, we have a responsibility to continue to find common ground on which to build our vast patchwork into some kind of unified whole. 

As people descend into our valley, my hope is that they find an organic, growing, healthy network of people who thrive on the rhythmic thrum of diversity and acceptance. It’s tempting to wish for homogeneity and comfort – but that doesn’t help us grow. We are all unique. We are all connected. We are more alike than not. We are here together, so let’s make something beautiful out of it.