3 min

Fantastic fortunes

Carl Stewarts's tiny predictions become larger than life

Credit: Peter Knippel

When Carl Stewart was a young boy growing up on his family’s Prince Edward Island potato farm, he would often help out by stitching together the sacks that contained the latest crop.

The Ottawa-based artist has been weaving his creative magic through his provocative, intelligent and carefully crafted work ever since.

“I still love everything about it now as much as I did then,” says Stewart of his 20-year career as a textile-based artist. “To take a jumble of what could be a bunch of bad ideas and work it out – I couldn’t imagine not doing it.”

The award-winning artist and filmmaker’s latest project is a new textile work entitled: f o r t u n e.

The project features five fortunes taken from actual Chinese fortune cookies that are reproduced in cross-stitch.

Stewart says the original pinkie-sized messages have been “made monumental” with the finished cross-stitch pieces measuring 12 inches by 58 inches.

“I wanted to reproduce these things and it would have been interesting to reproduce them in a number of ways. But what I do is textiles,” he says.

The fortunes, which will be mounted and framed for display, are currently on exhibit at the Shanghai Restaurant, located at 651 Somerset St W, and runs through to Dec 31.

Stewart says the restaurant is not only the perfect venue for the exhibit, due to the project’s subject matter, but also helps to enhance the “fun and playful” nature of the pieces.

“And it gives the artist an opportunity to reach a bigger audience and a different audience than would go to a gallery,” he says.

Stewart says the idea for the project came together after he took a papermaking class, and then created a “bookwork” that infused the eternally optimistic messages, randomly, into his handmade pages.

From there, he decided to take the tiny fortunes and blow them up to a larger-than-life size.

“Mostly, this work is fun,” he says. “Everybody has gotten a fortune cookie, and so it is something that everyone can relate to in some way, shape or form.”

He adds, however, that the cross-stitch work itself has been, at times, tedious and labour-intensive.

“I have been working on this pretty much non-stop since August,” says Stewart. “I find that some times the work goes really, really quickly and other times, to get a word done, it takes forever, and I am not sure why, it just does.”

Stewart has been collecting the fortunes from Chinese fortune cookies for more than six years. Many of those he has gathered – some 200 in all – have been passed on to him from a family member or friend who thought they had run across a particularly interesting one.

“I knew at some point I was going to do something with fortunes, but I was never quite sure what,” explains Stewart. “And so I just started collecting them and entering them into a database after I got the idea for the bookwork…. I actually keep a spreadsheet.”

Stewart says he chose the fortunes reproduced in the exhibit by focussing on those most frequently entered into his database, or those that he found particularly “ironic and fun.”

And the accomplished artist’s personal favourite? “You have the potential urge and the ability for accomplishment.”

“Which I think is one of the most hysterical, backhanded compliments I have ever heard,” he says with a laugh. “It’s just this great thing: you have the potential urge, but, you know, it’s never really going to be realized. And you have the ability for accomplishment, but you are never really going to accomplish much. And I just find that one really funny.”

F O R T U N E.

New textile work by Carl Stewart.

Until Dec 31.

Shanghai Restaurant.

651 Somerset St W.

Hours: Closed Mondays. Tue & Wed: 11am-2pm, 4:30pm-11pm. Thu & Fri: 11am-2pm, 4:30pm-1am. Sat: 4:30pm-1am. • Sun: 4:30pm-11pm.

Info: 233-4001 or