Before 2010, Bonny Gorsuch had never created a garment. But that year, she won a grant from the Cannon Beach Arts Association to create 24 outfits for 12 models.
“It was something I wanted to challenge myself with,” Gorsuch recalled. “I was very rough and tumble about it. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t know how to sew, and I didn’t know how to construct garments.”
She literally pieced thousands of recycled fabric scraps together, sewing many onto existing garments or creating clothing from scratch. Words, patterns and drawings on the materials illustrated newspaper stories she had collected.
Her latest exhibit, which also includes paintings by her husband, Richard Gorsuch, is at the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum through September.
“I got a little taste of it and realized I really liked creating these garments,” Bonny recalled about her earlier fashion show.
She took her first adult sewing class only last year, but, she admitted, “I still don’t know how to put in a zipper or button holes.”
“I don’t like following patterns; I just want to be random and free-form … Each (garment) is totally one of a kind.”
The works in the show, called Random Sampling: Fabric, Wood, Metal, demonstrate how Bonny takes odd fabric pieces and transforms them into collages, smocks, skirts or shirts that say something, either literally or figuratively.
The smock she wore recently said “I wish.” The background behind the words showed a fish, and underneath the words, Bonny sewed a fabric gull, sun, girl with balloons and butterfly.
“Originally, the words on the fabric were ‘I fish,’ but I put a ‘w’ where the ‘f’ was,” Bonny said.
“I just take a bunch of weirdo stuff and I just cut it apart. I never use brand-new or in perfect condition. I just use stuff that’s discarded in one way or the other.”
“Fabric is her passion,” Richard said. “She just loves fabric. She’s got a flow of really quality fabrics, a lot of tasteful things from different generations.”
Colorful materials are stuffed into 20 cubbyholes in a floor-to-ceiling shelf, as well as drawers and baskets in her studio that has gobbled up the living room in their sunny Cannon Beach home. They are given to her by friends and shopkeepers who collect scraps.
Along with her fabric collages and garments in the history center exhibit are three collages composed of wood and metal. Selected recently as an artist in residence for the Coastal Oregon Artist Residency, Bonny embarked on a project called “Junk Elevated,” where she used materials scavenged from the local transfer station. The residency program was sponsored by Astoria Visual Arts and Recology Western Oregon. Her 15 collages were shown at Vintage Hardware in Astoria.
While Bonny works upstairs in her home studio six days a week, Richard paints in his downstairs studio.
A retired illustrator and designer, Richard spent every day throughout 2002 painting 365 scenes of Haystack Rock. They captured national attention from “Good Morning America” and The New York Times. A few of those paintings, as well as other Cannon Beach locations, are included in the history center show.
“Painting and drawing is really my purpose in life,” he said. “I’m totally at peace. I’m happy, I’m content, I’m right in the spot I’m supposed to be in.”
When he and Bonny moved to the coast from Eugene in 1999, he became intrigued with the small community. He sought to capture the “spirit of Cannon Beach” in his paintings of village life.
“The feel of a small town community – no matter how long I live, I think I will always find plenty to paint. Cannon Beach is a source of inspiration,” he said.
Like Richard’s paintings, which evoke an appreciation of a place, Bonny’s fabric art also delivers a message. A visitor to the history center recently bought a collage with Jack London’s book title, “Call of the Wild.” She wrote to Bonny, telling her the piece came at the right time in her life.
“It says something to them,” Richard noted. “The material is beautiful, the clothes are put together, but what they say … the words strike something in people’s lives.”