Frances Dorsey

About the Artist

Frances Dorsey moved to Ontario from the United States during the Vietnam war and has lived in Nova Scotia with partner and children since 1995, teaching at NSCAD. A childhood spent moving around the world offered her wonderful opportunities to observe humanity and nature in a range of situations that still influence her ideas.  She holds undergraduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Ontario College of Art, and an MFA from the University of Michigan. Her work has shown in Canada, the United States, Australia, and Korea, and is held in private and public collections including the Nova Scotia Art Bank, the Canada Council Art Bank, the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery Collection, the Cambridge Gallery Collection of Contemporary Textiles.

Artist Statement

When I was eight my friend Bill and I each built wooden boats from scraps of wood and nails grudgingly handed over to us by his older brother. I tried to layer up my boat superstructure so that it would resemble an actual boat and remember being acutely aware that engineering the upper levels was critical if the boat were going to float and not just flip over. We filled his bathtub with water and put our boats in, and they floated! I stared at the tub, the toilet, the faucets and the sink and realized with a revelatory jolt that everything I was looking at was made by someone - a person - that in fact there was not only a natural world of animals and plants and stars but also a built one, made by humans just like me who could build boats and evidently so much more.

I began to try to make anything and everything I could think of, including diamonds, food, clothing, paper, string, books, shoes, simple tools, and imagined that if I washed up on a desert island I could, like Robinson Crusoe (a hero right up there with Annie Oakley who could stand up on a galloping horse and shoot a bullet through the ace of spades) make out alright, actually.

When I finally stumbled upon weaving, I realized I had hit the motherlode and fell in love. Cloth speaks so eloquently perhaps because it receives one’s impulse and then always replies, pushes back - often in an unexpected way. Working with the material itself becomes a conversation, it is a receptive surface upon which to record the thoughts and experiences of ordinary daily life while it answers back in sometimes surprising ways. The saturated colour possible with dyes is unparalleled. It responds to gravity, it is tactile, it is a physical and emotional medium, it talks to the human body but retains its own voice, resisting domestication.

For me, cloth offers a kind of language to help figure out the world and reflect upon seemingly inexplicable events. It offers a way to respond to the historic events that encompass my life—a personal, unpretentious way that acknowledges how everyone is included and implicated in the larger political picture. For example, I have traced the line of damages that war (WW II initially) can mark onto subsequent generations, later the beginnings of the Vietnam war, and tried to understand how all of these big events penetrate into the smallest corners of our lives.

Lately, however, I find myself tired out by war, this seemingly unstoppable avalanche of misery, cruelty and stupidity that is incomprehensible in its endlessness. Rather than absorbing the weight of sorrows of wars past and losses made no less poignant by the passage of time, I am drawn to how simply beautiful a colour is, how seductively lush is the heft, surface and texture of an old linen damask tablecloth, how satisfying the touch of a beautifully woven piece of cloth; the miraculous minor details of existence. I am stopped in my tracks by the sight of a field of goldenrod in full bloom.

The new works I have been making are in a sense about gratitude for small blessings. While continuing to work with no-longer usable table linens, they have become the sites for the pleasure of colour more than regret for things left unsaid, and more of the colour comes from local plants, or sustainably harvested materials. I love the proposition that one could go out and get colour for free, whether by gathering or growing plants and sticks or digging clay out of the ground, that in fact one could be back on Crusoe’s Island and still bring outrageous colour into being. The feeling is not that different from pounding together nails and bits of board and fashioning a boat.


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Associate Professor, Textiles,

Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, NS


2009 SAIGON Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Yarmouth, NS.

2007 SAIGON Mount Saint Vincent University Gallery, Halifax, NS.

2004 STILL Anna Leonowens Gallery, Nova Scotia College of Art, Halifax, NS.

1999 TWELVE FLAGS FOR A WAR eyelevel gallery, Halifax, NS.

1997 WAR STORIES Eastern Edge Gallery, St. John’s, NL.

1995 RECENT WORK Rail's End Gallery, Haliburton, ON.

1994 RECENT WORK Manitoba Printmakers Gallery, Winnipeg, MB.

1994 THE WAR SHOW Anna Leonowens Gallery, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, NS.

1994 BLACK FLIGHT White Water Gallery; North Bay, ON.

1994 DARK FLIGHT Artspace; Peterborough, ON, (and residency).

1988 PRISONS Indusmin Gallery, Artspace; Peterborough, ON.

1981 REMNANTS FROM THE SAIL CULTURE Artspace; Peterborough, ON.



2010 LILLIAN ELLIOTT AWARD WINNERS Tugboat Gallery, Lincoln, NE

1997 IMAGE RITES Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, Halifax, NS.

1995 REMEMBRANCE Forest City Gallery, London, ON.

1994 NEW WORK Open Studio; Toronto, ON.

1993 NEIGHBOURS Museum for Textiles; Toronto, ON,

1983 TWO PERSON SHOW Powerhouse Gallery; Montreal, QC.

1979 FABRIC, FIBRE, CLAY Art Gallery of Peterborough; Peterborough, ON.

1976 A TEAR IN THE FABRIC OF THE UNIVERSE two person exhibition, 567 Gallery; Toronto, ON.



2014 PEACEWORK The Mary Black Gallery, Halifax, NS.

2014 BIG Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, Halifax, NS.

2011 FIBRED OPTICS The Richmond Art Gallery, Richmond, BC

2009 FIBRED OPTICS The Ottawa Art Gallery, Ottawa, ON

2008 TATTERED CULTURES; MENDED HISTORIES, Honolulu Academy of Art, Honolulu, HI.

2006 ABOUT JACQUARD Centre des Textiles Contemporains de Montreal, Montreal, QC.

2006 ROOTS AND SHOOTS Mount St. Vincent University Art Gallery, Halifax, NS.

2004 NICE TO MEET YOU Hyundai Gallery, University of Ulsan, Korea

2003 8th INTERNATIONAL SHOEBOX SCULPTURE EXHIBITION University of Hawaii Art Gallery, Honolulu, HI.

2003 IF IMAGES SPEAK A THOUSAND WORDS? in conjunction with Convergence, Vancouver, BC.

2000-03 e-textiles - JACQUARD 2000 Centre des Textiles Contemporains de Montreal, traveling in Canada, Australia.

2001 LANGUAGE OF MEMORY New Bedford Art Museum, MA. U.S.A.

2000 FAR AND WIDE Culture of Display, Stellarton, NS.

1999 7th INTERNATIONAL SHOEBOX SCULPTURE EXHIBITION University of Hawaii Art Gallery, Honolulu, HI.

199 CONFRONTATIONS Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, Halifax,  NS.

1998 IN MEMORIAM Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University, MI.

1996 FAR AND WIDE Visual Arts Nova Scotia (travelling).

1994 CHATAUQUA INTERNATIONAL for FIBER ART Adams Gallery, Fredonia,  N.Y.

1994 FIBREWORKS juried exhibition of contemporary fibre art; The Library and Gallery Cambridge, ON.

1992 FIBREWORKS juried exhibition of contemporary fibre art; The Library and Gallery; Cambridge, ON.

1991 MFA EXHIBITION Slusser Gallery, School of Art, University of Michigan;  Ann Arbor, MI.

1991 PERSPECTIVES FROM THE RIM; THE NEXT GENERATION National Surface Design Conference, International Juried Student Show; Seattle, WA.


1981 REPEATS Juried Surfacing Exhibition; Toronto, ON.


1979 HAND TO HAND juried, in honour of the XXI Olympiad, KOPEC, Kingston,  ON.

1979 CONQUEROR WORM PLUS ONE invitational, Glendon College Gallery, York University; Toronto, ON.

1975 MONUMENT TO MINIATURE invitational, Artspace, Peterborough, ON



2012 JUROR/Spokesperson Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Arts Award Winner Kim Morgan, Halifax, NS

 2012 PRESENTER Getting Through the Day; Textiles and Politics, TSA Biennial Symposium, Washington DC.

2011 CO-ORGANIZER of FAND (Fibre and Natural Dye Forum) Nova Scotia,

2009-10 CHAIR, Division of Craft, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

2009-10 PRESENTER, Saigon; Visions of War: the arts represent conflict; National Conference on Liberal Arts and the Education of Artists, School of Visual Arts, New York, NY

2008-9 CHAIR, Division of Foundation, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

2008-9 PRESENTER Tattered Cultures; Textiles as Cultural Expressions, TSA Biennial Symposium, Honolulu HI

2006-10 BOARD MEMBER Textile Society of America; Program Committee and Awards Committee.

2007-8 MENTOR, Visual Arts Nova Scotia Mentorship Program.

2007 NEOCRAFT conference presenter “Slow Craft”, Halifax, NS.

2006 SYMPOSIUM CO-CHAIR, Textile Society of America 10th Biennial Symposium, Toronto, ON. October 2006.

2005- present ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, continuing appointment.

2000 - 2005 ASSISTANT PROFESSOR Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

1993 - 2000 VARIOUS PART-TIME AND LIMITED TERM APPOINTMENTS Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

1998 – 2002 BOARD MEMBER Eyelevel Gallery

2002 VISITING ARTIST University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, MA.

1999 PROGRAM CONSULTANT Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery,  Halifax, NS.

1993 ARTIST IN RESIDENCE Artspace, Peterborough, ON.

1993 VISITING ARTIST Sheridan College, Oakville; Fleming College, Peterborough,  ON.

1992 INSTRUCTOR (Surface Design) Sheridan College, Art and Art History Program, Erindale College; Oakville.

1989-91 TEACHING ASSISTANT, INTERN TEACHER, GRADER School of Art, University of Michigan; Ann Arbor, MI.

1976-93 ART TEACHER Ontario Art Council, Creative Artists in Schools.

1989 INTERIM DIRECTOR, Chairman of Board, Artspace, an artist-run centre, Peterborough, ON.

1987 – 1989 BOARD MEMBER Art Space Artist Run Centre, Peterborough ON

1977 CO-CURATOR Artspace, a parallel gallery, Peterborough, ON.



2014 Juror’s Choice, Peacework The Mary Black Gallery, Halifax, NS.

2013 SSHRC Connection Grant led by Robin Muller; Sow to Sew: Re-imagining the relationship between textiles, fashion and agriculture in Nova Scotia. co- researcher, collaborator.

2012 President’s Award for Research and Creative Practice, NSCAD, shared with Gary Markle and Robin Muller

2011 Textile Society of America travel grant to attend ISEND 2011, La Rochelle,  France

2004 SSHRC-NSCAD research grant

2002 Canada Council travel grant

2001 Canada Council travel grant

2001 Nova Scotia Arts Council creation grant

1998 Canada Council creation grant

1995 Lillian Elliot Award Berkeley, Ca.

1994 Exhibition Assistance Grant Ontario Art Council Crafts Grant Ontario Art Council

1993 Exhibition Assistance Grant Ontario Arts Council

1992 Sheila Hugh Mackay Foundation Research Grant

1991 Rackham Graduate Research Grant Rackham Graduate School, University ofMichigan School of Art Scholarship & Fellowship University of Michigan

1991 Dybvig Award for Outstanding Student School of Art, University of Michigan Research Grant Office of the Vice President for Research; University ofMichigan

1991 Center for the Education of Women Scholarship University of Michigan Alumnae Council Scholarship University of Michigan

1990 School of Art Scholarship &Fellowship University of Michigan

1990 Handweavers Guild of America Scholarship

1989 School of Art Fellowship University of Michigan Colour in Textiles Award Ontario College of Art

1988 Samo Textile Design Award Ontario College of Art

1974-88 Visual Arts Awards Ontario Arts Council (seven)

1981 Explorations Grant The Canada Council

1981 Award of Merit Surfacing "Repeats" Exhibition



  • Canada Council Art Bank;
  • Nova Scotia Art Bank;
  • Cambridge Library and Gallery Collection of Contemporary Fibre;
  • Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery Collection;
  • private collections.



2014 War Imagery in Women’s Textiles an International Study of Weaving, Knitting, 

2014 Sewing, Quilting, Rug Making and Other Fabric Arts; by Deborah Deacon and Paula Calvin MFarland and Company, North Carolina, 2014.

2011 Surface Design Journal “Canadian Perspectives” feature article by Suzanne Arney

2010 Surface Design Journal Review, photographs of Saigon exhibition; review by W. Landry

2009 Fibred Optics exhibition catalogue, Ottawa Art Gallery, Andrea Fatona curator

2007 Saigon exhibition catalogue, Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery; wrote 18 brief stories for catalogue; Ingrid Jenkner curator.

2007 Stephanie Dean-Moore’s Quiet Prayers: Talismans, Contemplation and the Quest for Peace; guest writer for catalogue published by the Mary E. Black Gallery of the Nova Scotia Centre for Craft and Design.

2006 Roots and Shoots exhibition catalogue, Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery.

2006 about jacquard exhibition catalogue, Montreal Centre for Contemporary Textiles

2005 American Craft article featuring Lillian Elliott Award winners.

2004 Fiberarts Design Book Seven, Lark Press, NC.

2004 Nice to Meet You exhibition catalogue, University of Ulsan, Korea.

2003 ARTSatlantic no 74; Spring 2003 “Looking at Textiles” by W. Landry, and review of "e-textiles " by same author.

2002 Textile Society of America publication-article about textile program at NSCAD.

2000 ARTSatlantic no. 66; Spring 2000 review of 12 Flags for a War by A. D. Christie.

1999 12 Flags for a War exhibition publication, eyelevel gallery, essay by P. MacKinnon.

1999 Confrontations: unquiet images from the university collection exhibition publication, Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery publication essay by P. MacKinnon.

1999 Cover Image. Narrating Utopia by Christopher Ferns; Liverpool University Press, Liverpool,

1999. Surfacing Journal spring 99; “The Storied History of Cloth” an interview with Dr. Elizabeth Barber while she was in Halifax.

1998 In Memorium eight artists remember. Exhibition publication, Siena Heights University, MI.

1997 Image Rites exhibition publication, Mount St. Vincent Art Gallery.

1995 Fiberarts Magazine vol. 22, no.2; Sept/Oct 1995; photograph of Dragons' Teeth p. 28.

1993 Signs and Symbols African Images in African-American Quilts by Dr Maude Wahlman; Studio Press, Museum of American Folk Art, NY. quotes, footnotes.

1991 For John Cox' Daughter Exhibition Catalogue; catalogue article and biographies; African American Quilts from the Southeastern US.

1991 Shuttle Spindle and Dyepot Magazine; photograph.

1986 Craft Focus 2 Ontario Craft Council publication; photograph.

1979 Canada Crafts Magazine interview, photographs.



2013 A Very Long Engagement Dalhousie University Art Gallery, Halifax, NS

2002 Material new textile based work by Noreen Battaglia, Anna Biro, Anke Fox, Sook He Park; eyelevel gallery, Halifax

1991 For John Cox' Daughter African- American Quilts from the Southeastern United States;  John Paul Slusser Gallery, University of Michigan School of Art, Ann Arbor; Center for Creative Studies Detroit; Contemporary Gallery, Museum for Textiles, Toronto.



M.F.A. School of Art, University of Michigan, A.O.C.A.(honours), Ontario College of

Art, B.A. (honors), University of Pennsylvania