Always Asking What If? The Artwork of Pam Godderis Dangerfield

15 March 2023

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“We learn to conform to survive and learn to mistrust our creativity. I am advocating finding safe and reasonable places to exercise our creative muscles… Places where we ask, ‘What if…’ and a variety of answers are permissible because we are using our imagination, our creativity.”

Ideas for Inspiration, Pam Godderis (1990)

My mom, Pam Godderis Dangerfield, was enthusiastically devoted to creativity—in herself and in others. She saw creativity everywhere and believed passionately that every single person was creative. For my mom, creativity was about the process not the product, and the more you engaged in the process the better. One of her most famous ways to inspire people to build their creative muscles (a term she loved to use!) was to ask “what if…?” questions. She did this in her workshops, her lectures, and in her self-published book, Ideas for Inspiration, in which she motivated people to engage with their creative spirit by playing with art materials. The book includes chapters with titles like “Viewfinder,” “Rubbings,” “Button, Button,” and “Drop Painting.” Each chapter finishes with a series of ten “what if…?” questions like, “What if you used only half of the picture you drew and interpreted it in embroidery as if the person were peeking around a door?” and “What if you arranged your drawings of a particular theme into a composition entitled fractured?”

While she emphasized process over product, my mom was also an incredibly prolific artist. A typical Sunday conversation between us involved her telling me she had completed an art piece and I would say something like, “Oh, the one you were working on last week?” but it was, in fact, a new piece. Given how often we had this conversation, I knew that her catalogue of work was significant, but I don’t think I truly grasped the extent of how prolific she was until I began to make decisions about what to include in this artist’s profile and photo essay. Between the work she was commissioned to complete, which included dozens of liturgical pieces for churches in Alberta and British Columbia, her art quilts and free machine embroidery work, her embellished clothing, and her incredibly intricate beaded jewellery, she easily produced well over 500 pieces of art. Her work was widely exhibited in Canada and around the world, and several of her pieces are in private collections nationally as well as in the United States and Japan.

Images courtesy Rebecca Godderis. 

Copyright © Rebecca Godderis except as indicated.
image description: a portrait of a white woman; she is wearing glasses and a brightly coloured short-sleeve shirt; she looks directly into the camera with a half-smile

About Rebecca Godderis

Rebecca Godderis (she/her) is a bi/queer feminist sewist and academic. She was taught to sew at a young age by her mom, and then took a long break to focus on her academic career studying gender, health, social justice and community building. She rediscovered her love of sewing in her 30s when she began making her own clothes that were full of colour and actually fit her body! As she continues to embrace the joy of sewing, she is expanding her making beyond garments to include quilting and other textile art and needlework. You can find her on Instagram @im_in_my_studio.

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