Among the thousands of colourful clothing labels Suzanne Picot has sewn together over the years, one in particular stands out to her.
It reads “Shut up and work,” and it came from an ugly vest her sister-in-law sent to her from the Virgin Islands.
“It really got me thinking a lot about sweat shops,” she said.
“Is that the story behind it?”
The label features prominently in the middle of a large quilt, over six feet long and four feet wide, that Picot has on display in the foyer of the Yukon Arts Centre.
Her new exhibit, called the Packrat’s Dilemma, opens today and runs until Sept. 29.
Born in Bathurst, N.B., Picot moved to the Yukon in 1980. But she’s been exploring the fine line between being a packrat and a hoarder since childhood.
“The idea being what do we do with all the things we collect?” she asked.
For most of her life, Picot has been collecting stamps and clothing labels.
Whenever she travelled to places such as South America or Western Africa, she’d bring her collections along the way because it was easy and convenient.
When word spread of her hobby, she began receiving stamps from around the world, she said.
Sometimes she’d even get them in mysterious envelopes from unknown senders.
“I wasn’t a true collector of stamps, I just thought they were all little pieces of art.”
After putting down roots in Crag Lake, near Carcross, she had a dedicated working space in which to turn the stockpile into art.
The first quilt she made was completed in 2005 and named Motorcade. It’s made up of about 6,000 labels, she estimates.
There’s one from Togo, where Picot spent time working as an English teacher. Another is from the makers of the Yukon Parka, the Yukon Indian Arts and Crafts Co-operative, which closed down its doors in 1997.
Picot remembers the year the closure happened because it was the same week Princess Diana passed away, she said.
Another reads, ‘Do not remove from the aircraft.’
On the other side, the quilt features an Acadian flag, a tribute to her heritage. She’s hoping to bring it back home when she goes there this fall, she said.
It was completed around the time Acadians celebrated the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadie.
The second quilt, a slightly smaller one named Underdog, was completed earlier this year.
“When I was working on this one the Joe Fresh scandal in Bangladesh was all over the headlines,” she said. “It’s actually part of my statement here, about our excessive desire for cheap goods.”
In 2013, the roof of the Bangladesh factory where the clothing line made its garments collapsed, killing more than 1,100 workers.
A third quilt, named Unlearn, is made entirely of old doilies. Picot said the work represents “the importance of rethinking women’s handiwork,” and the need for it to be recognized.
“There’s a certain attitude that this is stuffy old lady stuff, but I recognized that they’re all actually intricate pieces of lace,” she said.
The purple ones came from a pair of older women who were travelling through Whitehorse years ago.
One of them had inherited a roadside motel in the southern United States, and decided to embark on a cross-country tour with her friend to sell the furniture along the way.
By the time they arrived in the Yukon, “they only had ugly stuff left,” Picot said.
“But it’s a great story about what a person does when they inherit stuff they don’t really want.”
Picot’s stamps cover chairs, cabinets, mirrors, frames and even a two-sided bread board she still uses at her cabin.
The Horse’s Ass chair features fake stamps from one of her favourite curiosity shops, Solomon Gundy’s in Vancouver, which isn’t there anymore.
Placed in a row, they read “Zer’s More Horse’s Asses in Zee World Zan Zere is Horses,” a saying Picot also reproduced on the Horse’s Ass mirror.
“We sure talk a lot lately about narcissists, and it makes me think about that.”
She’s keeping the quilt with the Acadian flag, but she plans on selling everything else once the exhibit comes to an end.
Even packrats have to let go of their belongings at some point, she said.
She’s already excited about her next exhibit, called the Packrat’s Delight, which will feature her collection of cigar boxes that she plans on turning into tiny suitcases.
Contact Myles Dolphin at