Sunday, September 27, 2015

Laying Down to Perish

The guild I am part of, the Montreal Modern Quilt Guild, will be putting on a modern quilting exhibition in February of next year, and I will be submitting two quilts for it. The first one is done and ready (mostly), but the second one I've been wrestling with for months... I just couldn't decide on what to do! Well, the deadline is fast approaching and finally I just had to make a decision. I had been toying around with designs that were nods to artists like Rothko and Calder, and really overthinking both the design and color palette. All the while, I had in the back of my mind a story that I just couldn't get out of my head...

Last winter we went to see Alan Doyle perform live here in Montreal, and before one of his songs, he told a bit of a story behind the reason he wrote it. It took place on Fogo Island, an island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, in the spring of 1917. The spring is an especially harsh time of year in northern climates because the winter stores of food are dwindling and there is nothing yet to replace them with. Early in April of 1917, four men went out onto the ice to hunt in order to feed their families... and never returned. There was absolutely no sign of them until months later when a fisherman found a gaff washed up on a beach and noticed the wooden handle had words carved into the side that read "Lay down perish April 11 J.J.". The date was a few days after the four men had set out on their hunt, they would have had such a gaff among their hunting gear, and the initials matched that of one of the men. So far as anyone could figure out, the men had either found themselves adrift and unable to get back to shore, or some other misfortune had befallen them. They would have survived for a few days before carving a last message on the one item they knew would be most likely to make its way back to land, then lay down to perish. 

The gaff was returned to the family of the men and is now in a small museum on Fogo Island. Doyle came across it there and when he learned the story behind it, he wrote this song:

Ever since hearing the song and the story behind it, I've not been able to get it out of my head. And then it dawned on me... to hell with all the artsy-fartsy stuff, this story had to be my second quilt. So I've chosen a background of different shades of white, off-white and pale grey punctuated by a few small elements in shades of blue (and maybe a bit of green): 

I will be sure to post pictures of it, and my first quilt, once they are done :) 


  1. What a sad story! I am sure though that it will inspire a great quilt. Their spirit lives on!

    1. It will certainly make me a little more grateful the next time I have to run to the grocery store on a blustery winter day!