Artist/cyclist profile: Janet Morton

By Tammy Thorne
Photo courtesy of the artist

Janet Morton has been using knitting as part of her art practice for close to 20 years.

But she’s been biking for even longer.

Morton made this delightfully dandy sweaterbike in 1994 for a bike art auction organized by the City Cycling Committee. Morton was involved in the planning and creation of art bikes for three similar auctions (In 1992 she made a kids Troll bike, and in 1993 she made a birch bark canoe bike). Jack Layton, lover of bikes, auctioneered the sweaterbike off. A friend of Morton’s–artist April Hickox–thought that Morton should have the beloved sweaterbike as part of her own stable. So Hickox went to the auction and bought the bike back for Morton as a gift as Morton was tree planting at the time.

Morton’s intimate act of knitting a sweater for what would become her bicycle is a classic Canadian love story.

“I love bikes!” said Morton, who lived in Denmark at a teenager, where she learned to knit. Living in Denmark solidified her view of cycling as a viable year-round transportation option.

“I’ve always been a cyclist,” said the artist. “When I moved to Toronto to attend York University, I used to cycle from the Annex to York on a regular basis. Then, in 1992, I moved to Ward’s Island and got my first bike trailer. I didn’t buy my first car until seven years ago, when at age 41 I moved out to the country. (I used to swear I’d never own one!) I now have two young kids, live in Guelph, Ontario, and pull a WIKE trailer behind my dear red Devinci hybrid bike (bought at Reba Plummer‘s Bike Ranch, Toronto). WIKE is an awesome bike trailer company right here in Guelph.”

Morton also famously knit a ‘cozy’ for one of the quixotic island cottages during her tenure as a resident on Toronto’s largest public park.

“I do look forward to becoming a non-car family again someday! I was riding and doing errands in the snow today and miss seeing other cyclists on the road in the winter–it’s not a common site in Guelph…yet.”

Since 1992 Morton has used knitting and sewing symbolically and subversively; as blatant low-tech metaphors. By employing these stereotypically domestic techniques and materials, she shifts the axis from private to public, from mundane to monumental, and attempts to address the confounding and complex ways that “value” is assigned to both objects and time investment. Through public interventions, relentless recycling and by investing a sense of care, her work examines the ways that aesthetics are imposed on nature, and it playfully points a finger at excess.

Paul Petro shows Janet’s work in Toronto.

Knit your own u-lock cozy with this dandy pattern from Knit Cafe in Toronto.

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