A sulky sled and its rider makes its way through the snow, pulled by a chestnut horse. The stunning fabric imagery, created in 1983 by Jane Dixon is featured on Sienna’s 2020 Holiday Card. Winter Sulky Rider is part of a two-piece exhibit at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, ON. The other piece in the set, Summer Sulky Rider completed in 1984, depicts a summer scene, which is more typical for sulky riding.
“I saw a sulky rider in the snow in Port Perry,” Jane said when asked about her inspiration for the piece. She’d been on one of her many walks with her husband, Angus. Sulky riding is a primarily summer sport, and so she’d found it interesting that he was out in the snow. “I get inspiration by just being in life and hiking in the zoo or the country.”
Jane was born in 1929 in Toronto, ON. At the time, her parents lived in Hamilton, but her mother was originally from Toronto and made her father drive to a Toronto hospital to give birth. Jane grew up in Hamilton, and her love of art materialized quickly.
“I was always interested in art, always drawing faces on books and places I should not have been,” Jane said. She was fortunate to have a private art teacher growing up. Eleanor lived within walking distance of Jane’s house and the duo would go out sketching often.
Jane skipped several grades in elementary school, and started university when she was only 16. She took an English and Literature program at Trinity College at the University of Toronto. She had originally been hoping to do an art program, but her parents, who were paying for her education, thought this would be a more suitable choice. Jane graduated in 1951.
After school, she worked at the University of Toronto library. One night, she went to one of the university dances. During a Paul Jones dance, in which dancers change partners at random, Jane found herself in front of a “very handsome man.” She later learned his name was Angus Dixon, a professor at the university. The happy couple were married in 1953.
When the couple moved to Oshawa, Angus became a vice-principal at a local high school. Together, they had three children, two girls and a boy. “We were so happy together,” Jane said.
Jane was first introduced to fabric art when she was in her 30s. She remembers seeing it in a magazine. “I liked the look of it, and there were so many different textures,” Jane said. “You can make your sewing machine draw.”
She took classes on embroidery, both by hand and using a sewing machine, at Sheridan Collage. She took so many courses that she was invited to teach. Jane taught many art classes all over Oshawa. She has also sold over 40 of her paintings and fabric pieces. Her artwork hangs in government buildings, libraries, and in several permanent art galleries around Oshawa, Port Perry, and Whitby.
Each of Jane’s fabric creations takes about six months to complete. She thinks about the real-life feel of the objects she is trying to recreate, and tries to match them as closely as possible. “[In Winter Sulky Rider] the horse’s skin, for instance, looked like velveteen to me, so that’s what I used,” Jane said.
“I feel very fortunate that people encouraged my artwork,” Jane said. “Maybe art school would have ruined it.” She went on to explain that her creations are considered ‘primitive’ because they don’t follow the structure laid out in traditional schooling. However, the ‘primitive’ side of her work is exactly what people seem to enjoy.
“I just enjoyed doing it and people seemed to like the way it looked,” Jane said. “So what’s not to enjoy?”
Jane moved to Court at Laurelwood Retirement Residence in Waterloo, ON to be closer to family. She continues to enjoy art, and goes to the weekly art sessions held at the residence.
“I always feel happy, because I really enjoy doing it. I’m lucky, because the women living [at Court at Laurelwood] enjoy doing art too,” Jane said. When asked about how she felt being featured on Sienna’s 2020 Holiday Card she said, “It’s all been a nice surprise. I’m lucky to have people who encourage me.”