Louise Pentz tears and mends old blankets as a metaphor for lost comfort and a call to act for social change. Her powerful and political show, Making It Right, shared with potter Carol Morrow, is a plea to fix the hurt in humanity and the Earth as she addresses war, climate crisis, crushing economic systems and gender differences.

Given the rawness of her imagery and her stitches, Pentz is a remarkably quiet, gentle person sitting on a sunny back deck in Halifax a month before she and her husband, artist Don Pentz, move to Australia near Perth to be close to their son. But she feels the pain in life strongly and always has. “I am aware of our vulnerability and our brokenness. We are all broken and cracked in different degrees and ways.”

She believes people are smart enough to solve the world’s big problems but, “decades after decades nothing changes. I just want to scream, ‘Come on we can do this!’” The blankets are her screams made visible and yet they hold hope. They are about damage and healing.

The exhibit opens with The Apology, a blanket with two mirrors like giant eyes that asks viewers to look at themselves and admit their role in others’ pain. 

“The first thing you need to do is say, ‘I wronged you. I acknowledge that and I’m sorry and I regret it’, and then  begin to repair.”

For her beautiful, sorrowful piece Unceded she used a shotgun to shoot buckshot into a blanket. She burnt the holes with a blowtorch to make them more visible. The blanket’s surface is painted with images of land and water, overlaid with spray-painted hands. “It’s a long-term human expression of ‘Here I am’,” says Pentz, as she refers to cave paintings around the world. “People have always been fighting and killing each other and often it has to do with land.”  In this case, the antique store blanket told her what to do. It’s stamped with “Loanstores,” which led Pentz to consider how land has been “loaned” by one people to another. 

Pentz explores the human cost of capitalism in Capitalism – Profits and Losses, a blanket with a flag at each corner representing four colonizing countries (Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Spain), and a central image of a pyramid topped in a gold triangle. Blood spills out at the sides of the pyramid representing, “the sacrifice of others or the land.” The pyramid is a snakes-and-ladders labyrinth suggesting that many stumble and fall between the cracks.  “We’re still told if you work hard and get a good education you can make it to the top. The gold at the top represents the one or five percent who do make it.”

Pentz was a production potter for 30 years until 2006 when she shifted into smoke-fired clay sculptures of scarred yet resilient female figures. “About 2015 I said, ‘OK I’m done.’ I felt I had said everything I had to say in clay, but I knew I would continue to create.” She and Don left their home of 43 years in the community of Pentz near the La Have River for Halifax. She started figure drawing and working with paper and textiles.  

Triage, 148 cm x 193 cm, wool, cotton, polyester, pins, staples, felt, gesso, Louise Pentz
Jaha Dukureh, 13," stoneware, Carol Morrow. Dukureh is a Gambian women's rights activist.

Pentz will often draw and stitch at night as she watches TV. Her fabric scraps of figures representing communities and texts representing communication are messily stitched onto Triage, her first piece in the two-year-long Blanket Project.

Triage is a fierce and frightening expression of a devastated, war-torn land. Pentz roughly applies red band aids and bits of fabric using ragged stitches, staples, and pins in a desperate attempt to fix what’s been destroyed.

She tackles climate emergency in There is No Planet B, a map of the world with fiery lava lines for the tectonic plates, spray-painted signs jettisoning off the blanket’s sides and a sweet drawing by a child of a parent,  child and a pet. This image is heartbreaking because the climate crisis is being left to the younger generations to fix and to suffer from.

There is also a collaboration with gallery curator Brandt Eisner. Undercover expresses the reality of growing up gay in rural Nova Scotia as a camouflage blanket bejeweled in pinks on its underside. As the blanket covers a body, “you don’t see the stunning beauty,” says Pentz. “That’s the story.”

Pentz chose to work with blankets because they symbolize comfort, security, and healing. “By damaging our environment and hurting each other we are metaphorically destroying our fragile but vital blankets.”

Exhibiting with Pentz is Lunenburg potter Carol Morrow, whom Pentz first met as a student in her smoke-firing workshops. Morrow’s engaging, expressive and empowering stoneware vessels represent female activists including Nellie McClung, Sojourner Truth and Mary Walsh’s persona, Marg Delahunty, Warrior Princess. Each vase is dressed in signature clothing and incised with a key quote.

Nobel Peace Prize award-winner Malala Yousafzai is represented  by a green, glazed scarf at the vessel’s neck and the quote, “When The Whole World is Silent Even One Voice is Powerful.” 

Making it Right was at the Ice House Gallery, Tatamagouche, N.S., June 25th to July 24th.