Coat of Unity - an artistic collaboration
By Nathalie Thirlwall
This year is the centennial of
the passing of ʻAbdu’l-Bahá, the head of the Baháʼí Faith (1892-1921).
To mark this year, Louise Profeit-Leblanc, an Indigenous friend, came
up with the idea of creating a coat (an ‘abá) here in Centretown.
It would be embellished by an Indigenous style of beaded flowers to
honour his teaching and declare, “We are all flowers of one garden.”
A call went out to many friends requesting small beaded flowers to
decorate this special coat. When I was asked to sew the coat, we
discussed what type of fabric would be suitable. A sturdy-weight linen
in a mixed natural colour was selected because of its similarity to
what ʻAbdu’l-Bahá had worn. It would be durable and able to keep its
shape with all the flowers that would embellish it. I cut and sewed it
as close as possible to the style of what he wore.
Some 50 floral-beaded creations arrived, demonstrating exquisite
workmanship in a wide range of colours, shapes and designs. Each was
done with attention to detail and appreciation of this artwork, as well
as expressing their love for ʻAbdu’l-Bahá.
The beaded works were sewn onto cloth, felt, or leather. The work was
pains taking, arduous on hands and eyes, and required many hours of
labour. The beading on each piece was so tightly placed together that
one friend thought the flowers were embroidered rather than beaded, a
testament to the artistry and workmanship.
One elderly contributor had a medical condition that affected her
hands. Despite this challenge, she completed her lovely flower, which
was placed in a prominent position on the robe. It was the first to be
received and inspired others to participate. She said it would be the
last beading that she would do in her lifetime.
The placement of the flowers was in keeping with an Indigenous, yet
universal, all-embracing and dignified style. Not all the flowers found
their way onto the coat. The remaining flowers will be displayed on a
linen table runner with the garment.
Forty-three of the flowers were painstakingly hand appliquéd by Louise
and me over a period of two full days, outside in my garden in
Centretown during some of the hottest days of summer. Louise and
another Indigenous collaborator, Shirley Hunter, then beaded the edging
of the coat. The coat formed part of an Indigenous art
exhibition‒Chaga-Nolosan‒at Green Acre-Bahá’i Center of Learning in
Elliot, Maine. This Coat of Unity was motivated by love and brought
together the work and artistry of many collaborators.