Spotlight on... Louise Hayden
By Ren Tomovcik

Ottawafocus Spotlight On: Louise Hayden

Ottawa-based artist Louise Hayden is a lady with vivid dreams and a big imagination. But she is also possessed of something much more rare: the sharp artistic eye and the talented hands to bring the stuff of her imagination to life in the physical world. 

Louise's artwork is inspired by the ethereal, the historical, the decadent and the beautiful, and her work has deservedly been catching the fancy of Ottawa art lovers this past year.  Already acclaimed for her work as a costume designer, Louise has begun attracting attention as an innovative visual artist working in fabric and fibers.  And with a passion for beauty and fantasy like hers, it's not hard to see why.

Lou HaydenLouise's background in both visual and performing arts made costuming a natural progression for her.  After graduating with a degree in fine art from the University of Humberside in England, Louise spent time working with fabrics in a variety of different ways, including installation art and soft sculpture.  Since relocating to Canada a few years ago, Louise has designed and created costumes for several local theatre companies including the GCTC, Theatrophy and Company of Fools

This year, Louise is twice-nominated for Best Costume Design in the 2009 Rideau Awards, which celebrate achievement in professional theatre in Ottawa.  Her first nomination comes for her work on Theatrophy's Moribund, her second for the Company of Fools'  Richard III in Bouffon.

While she has worked extensively in contemporary theatre, Louise is definitely enamoured of the whimsical wardrobes that adorn the characters in Elizabethan period theatre.  She finds herself most inspired by the clothing of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries - a time when even the men were decked out in the most flamboyant of fashions.  Louise has designed costumes for several Shakespearean productions, and loves costuming for plays that evoke an ethereal, fairytale world. 

Fairytale - Lou Hayden

Most recently, her imagination has been at work dressing up the Company of Fools' production A Midwinter's Dream Tale. Working in collaboration with a team of volunteers, and exchanging creative vision with set designer Ivo Valentik, Louise outfitted the players in this surreal 'grown up fairytale' with costumes that are both visually stunning and functional.  When a production involves a lot of movement and physical theatre, Louise explains, costumes need to be strong, flexible and practical as well as beautiful. 

But costuming isn't her only passion, and outside the theatre house, Louise has been dedicated to raising the profile of fiber art (also known as soft sculpture) in Ottawa's visual arts community.  While many people associate 'fiber art' exclusively with more utilitarian creations such as quilts, fiber art actually comes in many different forms and can involve a variety of textiles including fabric, cotton, felt, yarn and rope.   Working with a small community of fiber artists in the Ottawa area, Louise has been drawing attention toward the art form, most recently with her exhibits of beautiful handmade shoes.

Louise Hayden - Lost Shoes
Louise Hayden's Lost ShoesLeft to right: "Flag Boot," "Feather Shoe," "Prince's Boot."
[Photos by Jesse Hildebrand]

While working in costuming, Louise discovered that shoes too often found themselves ignored.  Even in period plays, special shoes are seldom handcrafted specifically for a costume.  Few costume budgets allow for the luxury of handmade shoes, and although Louise draws each costume with shoes to match, she never actually gets to create them.  Saddened by her inability to give her shoes life on the stage, Louise was inspired to bring the forgotten shoes into being anyway, and more than that, to honour them as the works of art they really are. Louise's fanciful shoes are not meant for mere mortals' feet; they reside on cushions and dangle suspended from fragile threads, each one frozen in its own little 'world' of Louise's creation. 

Lou Hayden - Lost Shoes

Unlike the practical work of costuming for theatre, Louise's Lost Shoes collection is one place where functionality most definitely plays second fiddle to aesthetics. Her pieces are all about fragility and decadent, delicate beauty.  Inspired by characters from fairytales and the lives of royalty in bygone days, each shoe in the collection is handcrafted by Louise from found and repurposed materials and is absolutely unique. Louise has yet to craft an identical pair - in fact, she has turned down several requests to make a matching duo. 

There is something mysterious and magical about a lost shoe, she says, and she envisions each one as a treasure that has been squirreled away and has somehow survived its passage from a forgotten time - the fate of its mate unknown.

Raw Sugar Cafe - Lou Hayden
The Lost Shoes are currently on show at Raw Sugar Cafe in Ottawa.

Louise's self-described 'compulsion' to make new shoes shows no sign of relenting, and she has several more already in various stages of completion around her studio.  She uses a variety of media including feathers, buttons, wire and sisal rope to make her creations.  Many of her materials are remnants from the making of other costume pieces, but Louise is also a collector of vintage and upholstery fabrics, and always has her eye out for that perfect scrap.

Last fall, two of Louise's shoes appeared in the Fritzi Gallery, an art exhibition space in the GCTC devoted specifically to work that reflects on the themes in the play being shown.   Louise's shoes accompanied the GCTC production of Zadie's Shoes - a story about family, faith and loss.  She was invited to create the two shoes especially for the production, and crafted two (different, of course!) gossamer-thin slippers which she suspended in webs of the slimmest thread, embodying the play's themes of fragility and the impermanence of the human experience.

Louise sometimes finds it difficult to explain that she makes shoes not for wearing, but purely for art's sake.   However, just one look at her work will more than explain things - it will transport you to the world Louise sees, a world where every shoe has its story, and its secrets.

Lou Hayden - Lost Shoes LOUISE (LOU) HAYDEN,

Lost Shoes - Feb. 18-28th
The Lost Shoes exhibit will be on display at Raw Sugar Cafe until the end of February.

A Midwinter Dream's Tale
is playing at the Gladstone Theatre until February 21st.

Lou Hayden's Visual Arts Blog
Lou Hayden's Set & Costume Design Blog


Wendy Feldberg  •  Karen Goetzinger  • Karina Bergmans
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