The Great Coat and the White Cat

Jun 4, 2016 | 0 comments

 The overcoat is a garment with a long and rich history, playing a central role in the material culture of western tradition since biblical times. Joseph’s unique multi- coloured coat announced the favoured place he held in his father’s affections; Samuel’s torn coat symbolized the sundering of Saul from the kingdom of Israel. In mythology and fairy tales, the overcoat’s naturally protective features expanded to confer such enhanced magical powers as disguise, invulnerability, invisibility, swift travel and the ability to read thoughts and understand foreign or animal tongues. In society the overcoat was originally worn largely by members of a particular caste, such as the priesthood or the aristocracy, before being taken up by the military as the great coat, a garment widely in use up until the mid-20th century. Featuring a majestic yet whimsical great coat as a pivotal focus, Toronto-based artist Jacqueline Treloar builds a powerful and moving exhibition dedicated to the exploration of loss and the celebration of memory.

The exhibition commemorates her mother Lucy Treloar, and centres on the Great Coat, a fabulous and dramatic floor-length double-layered garment embellished with beading and decorative trims, adapted from a Herbert Sondheim long full coat pattern from the 1950’s. It evokes the sheltering and protective elements of the large 18th- century overcoat designed for warmth and protection against the weather; the large and wide collar and cuffs can be turned out to protect the face and hands from cold and rain.

The coat is also a vehicle of recognition and thanks.

The coat is made of various synthetic translucent fabrics. The outer layer carries images of the memorial cards our family received upon the death of my mother on September 9, 2010. The inner layer carries the personal written messages and texts from inside the cards. Along the inner right side of the coat are the names of the art students at the Mimico Adult Centre whose card images are amongst those to grace the coat. The curving embellished beaded collar bears the name of our general practitioner who so caringly assisted our family during and after my mother’s illness, and the large matching cuffs carry the names of our family beaded on the left and those of my mother’s family on the right. The left sleeve bears the names of the family friends who attended the memorial service. The right sleeve carries the names of the caring and kind people who were part of my mother’s everyday life at the local cleaners, hairdresser, coffee shops and restaurants.

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break. ~William Shakespeare

The accompanying paintings complement the coat, portraying places and times experienced with my mother and family in England—a country my mother never really left. Many pieces represent estates and holdings of the National Trust, and others, moments of her youth and the great rolling moors close to her native village.

Jasmine, the white cat with the yellow eyes, came through a small window the morning after my mother’s death and decided to stay. He gave me immense comfort and solace and I gave him care, food and lodging when he wanted it. His was a very beautiful and totally free spirit. He was diagnosed with feline immune virus in the spring and I carried him, still well but not for much longer, in a blanket to animal services where he was put to sleep.

He takes the place of my mother in many paintings and represents her inquisitive spirit and open, childlike curiosity. Her joy in the adventure of discovery is also reflected in the images where he plays and sleeps on colourful ribbons and fabrics.

Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard; And sore must be the storm That could abash the little bird That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land, And on the strangest sea; Yet, never, in extremity, It asked a crumb of me. – Emily Dickinson

The Great Coat And The White Cat

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