Canadian Crafts Federation: Placemaking Conference, October 2018

Last December, as I reflected on the year that had passed, I came to the conclusion that an overarching goal in 2018 would be “to learn how to be an artist.” Let me now qualify that with an adjective: “To learn how to be a professional artist.” One of the things that has struck me in these last few months is how little I know about my local network of artists and arts organizations. I am not a Nova Scotia native nor was my formal education leading me to become an artist per se. I have so much to learn about the structures, the funding, the networks, and the rich talent and arts and craft community that has to offer — both locally and nationally.

I have been a member of Craft Nova Scotia for the last couple of years. This organization, along with parallel regional organizations across the country, supports craft artists in exhibiting and selling their work, their professional development and advocates for fair compensation for their time and work among other things.  I am fortunate to be able to attend this October’s  craft conference put on by the Canadian Crafts Federation (CCF/FCMA), the national organization that brings together the country’s regional bodies. The theme of the conference is Placemaking: The Unique Connection Between Craft, Community + Tourism. The notion of placemaking has been close to my heart throughout my career(s) in architecture, museum design and education, and now as a textile artist. (In fact, I wrote a lengthy post about placemaking in the context of urban architecture in Halifax last year.)

What is placemaking? According to Wikipedia, placemaking is “a multi-faceted approach to the planning, [urban] design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well being.” So how does that apply to craft?

The CCF/FCMA conference will explore this question: “What does craft look like in relation to community? In order to create a craft identity, artists and organizations are engaging and experimenting within culture and community in an effort to attract and retain tourist audiences, and to improve quality of life for all. Placemaking will highlight the role of contemporary craft culture in strengthening and encouraging community development. By exploring the positive impact of craft practice on both physical and virtual communities, we’ll share information on craft’s role in enhancing the sense of belonging, understanding, and appreciation of community members, leading to happier, healthier, more positive social interactions” (emphasis mine).

Cultivating: Entrepreneurship, Community, Industry. CCF/FCMA Conference, Alberta, 2016.

Last year’s opportunity to be the artist-in-residence at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 gave me a close-up perspective to the impact of collaborating with the public to form a tourist community of sorts. The project gave us – both the artist and the participants – a shared sense of belonging, conversations about personal experiences above historical narratives, and a way for the visitors to the museum to process the information presented to them and see it through a personal lens. These identifiable but intangible products of the work are ones that I want to continue to fold into my work moving forward. But I can’t do it within the four (or eight) walls of my studio.

Being an artist can be solitary and perhaps an introvert’s ideal scenario. However, when conversations happen between artists, community, arts organizations at a regional and national level, a larger impact can be had. Support, willingness and funding can make imagined projects become a reality.

Robert Jekyll Award for Leadership in Craft ceremony, 2016. Gilles Latour, CCF Past President; Robert Jekyll; and Michael Husalok, 2017 RJA recipient.

If you are making or looking to make a career as a craftsperson, craft artist, textile artist, quilter, textile designer, quilt designer — whatever you call yourself — I encourage you to seek your local, regional, or national crafts and/or arts organization. You will find mentors, curators, and collectors; you will find colleagues inside and outside your artistic discipline; and you will find fruitful conversations that will push you forward.

Here’s the abridged 2018 conference lineup:

October 12, Halifax
  • Keynote Speaker : 2017 Sobey Art Award recipient Ursula Johnson on Indigenous Placemaking
  • The Craft Social celebrating the 2018 Robert Jekyll Award for Leadership in Craft
  • Gallery and shop visitations
October 13, Halifax
  • Halifax Feature Speaker: Jenna Stanton, Craft and Creative Placemaking
  • Panel Discussions:
    • Artist & Gallery Panel: Creating Space
    • Educational Impact: The Ripple Effect of Craft School
  • “3 minutes of Fame” rapid-fire presentations from craft organizations across Canada
  • International Guest Speaker: Annie Warburton, UK Craft Council Creative Director
  • Nocturne, Halifax’s all-night city-wide culture crawl
October 14, Lunenburg
  • Lunenburg Feature Speaker: Senator Patricia Bovey, National Placemaking in Canada
  • Panel Discussions:
    • Contemporary Craft Practice: Thinking Big in a Small Place
    • Community Practices: Leveraging the Allure of Craft
    • Guided Walking Tour of Lunenburg Galleries

 

This video, from the 2015 CCF/FCMA’s conference, features interviews with previous conference attendees:

Pier 21: Quilt as Infographic

Data can become art when a layer of interpretation is added, like the colourfully arranged temperature quilts or Libs Elliott’s limited edition Canada 150 Absolut vodka bottle. Part of The Here & Elsewhere Bee was collecting qualitative data to tell contributors’ narratives through the quilt. I was excited to see what data groupings formed as I listened to visitors’ stories.

The Here and Elsewhere Bee in its final form. Photo: Deborah Wong

As I began collecting bear paw blocks, I arranged them geographically by country of origin. The result was relatively uninspired  The grouping of European stories grew rapidly, indicative of a large demographic of people that came through the museum – people or their parents or grandparents) who came through the Pier 21 port from Europe as they settled in Canada.

The swath of prints was unsettling to my personal aesthetic and I had to remind myself that the point of this project was not about my work as an artist or designer, but about facilitating other people’s stories. It was uniform across its surface, and although it aimed to unify the multitude of stories, it was hard to focus on anything in particular. There was no differentiation, no place for the eye to rest, no direction.

As Canada Day approached and I knew that a large volume of people would be coming through the museum, I scaled down the blocks to 2.5″ square and reduced the single colour paired with white. About 200 blocks into the project, I looked back at my notes and reclassified the units according to things that kept recurring: ocean journeys, coming for a new future, freedom, nature, agriculture. I grouped them, but the result again, was unsettling.

I opened up a jelly roll of Elizabeth Hartman Rhoda Ruth Coordinates provided by my fabric sponsors, Patch Halifax and J.N. Harper. They were all Kona Solids, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

People chose colours that made a lot of sense to represent aspects of their stories: yellow and earth tones for agriculture, blue for water, orange and green for new life, pinks and reds for love. It was easy to choose the colours that would represent each theme. Organizing the blocks around these stripes broke them up and gave the pieces some articulation instead of getting lost amongst each other.

Up until this point, I gave visitors a bit of blank slate, and they could piece their story together as they wished. But some were a bit lost. Although the technical process of ironing on precut fabric onto a background was not daunting or difficult, often non-artists or people who do not identify as creative had a hard time starting off. What should I talk about? What colour should I use? What part of my story is significant? If they needed some prompting, I could point to the themes that people had already talked about, and it gave them a departure point. They were able to have the quilt speak to them first and fit their story into a larger narrative. A dialogue started between themselves and the work, rather than the quilt silently receiving their story.

This became a pivotal point of the project, where the stripes became tree trunks and a forest emerged as the “leaves” grouped around their theme. The multiple prints that people chose in the bear paw block phase were given breathing room amidst a mass of stories that focused on a singular aspect of an individual’s immigration story, told in a single colour. The quilt became an infographic.

I continued to jot down notes about each block and catalogue them. The documentation process was by no means a rigorous collection of data, but it certainly guided the process. These 54 pages were a record of qualitative data and contributed to a deep qualitative understanding of what was being told.

Although 1200 participants is a large sampling, it is clear that there are gaps in the larger Canadian story. The participants are a self-selecting group: They came to the museum of their own volition, paid admission, stopped at my workspace and chose to engage. Many of the people that came through were removed from their story by at least five years, unless they were international students. There was only one family who were recent refugees from Syria in the last year. Their sponsor family brought them to the museum from New Brunswick, a four-hour drive away.

What other gaps could I identify? Someone who came from afar and became disenfranchised with what they found here would certainly not make their way to a national museum. Some more difficult stories of racism and xenophobia, such as the M.S. St. Louis — a boat of Jewish refugees during WWII that was rejected at Pier 21 and had to return to Europe to face doom — are not captured in the Here and Elsewhere Bee. The result was a quilt that celebrates the immigration stories of a select group. These are stories worth collecting and celebrating, and the museum of does a great job of filling in the other gaps.

The academic side of me really enjoyed listening, digging, and analyzing the data in this project. I felt like a researcher with the opportunity to interpret my data and present it in a visual and tactile manner.

#elsewherebee #atelierailleurs

Read the other posts:

RJR What Shade Are You: Where Do I Begin?

We often freeze in the face of limitless options – a new canvas, a blank page, a single vacation day, or a beautiful collection of RJR Cotton Supreme colour swatches. What will be the absolute best thing I can do with this opportunity? One could ponder endlessly… and then completely miss the chance to accomplish anything. So where did I begin?

For the What Shade Are You blog hop, RJR Fabrics invites designers to choose any quilt backing from an RJR or Cotton + Steel collection. I am not one to use many prints in my work, but Cotton + Steel’s Wonderland Collection were simply irresistible! The print I chose incorporates various characters and motifs from the story of Alice in Wonderland on a periwinkle background.

I wanted to depict the Queen of Hearts’ crown using one of my foundation-paper-pieced patterns — “Princess Cut” — scaled at different sizes. As I flipped through the Cotton Supreme solids swatch book, the rich reds really stole my attention and the saturated blues were a suitable companion, while a navy blue background was the perfect royal backdrop.

I wanted to juxtapose the paper pieced jewels with some traditional piecing set on point. These form smaller jewels in the crown. The top and bottom borders seems like an appropriate nod to tradition, as well as an opportunity to showcase the beautiful reds and blues together.

Background: Indigo #191

Greyscale, from lightest to darkest:

  • Swan #370
  • Argento #362
  • Silver Screen #380
  • Silver #125
  • Gale Force #282
  • Chalkboard #382

Blues, from lightest to darkest:

  • Carolina #313
  • Cornflower #94
  • Lancaster Sky #316
  • Electric Blue #296
  • Night #280

Reds, from lightest to darkest:

  • Beach Coral #355
  • Moulin Rouge #356
  • Scarlet Letter #325

From the outset, I had in mind that I would endeavour into free motion quilting for this project. I wanted the jewels to be “set” in intricate metalwork, formed by the swirls and leaves in the negative space around them. In contrast, I used dot-to-dot ruler work in the jewels themselves and switched to a walking foot for radiating lines that shone from the crown. Some wobbly bits and not-so-straight lines, but I was pleased with the overall end result.

As the quilt approached completion, I knew without a doubt where I wanted to have it photographed. Completed in 1912, Dingle Tower is designated as one of Canada’s Historic Places and is a prominent landmark in Halifax. The two large bronze lions at the base of the tower were donated by the Royal Colonial Institute of London in 1913 and their design was influenced by the monumental lions at Trafalgar Square in London.

One of my favourite things is coming up with parameters – constructing a design problem out of endless possibilities or nothing at all, so that I have something to work around and something to solve. I am so happy that the Wonderland gave me an inspiring starting point, and subsquently opportunities to explore designs and techniques that were new to me.

Do you feel paralyzed when faced with too many choices? Jump in. Start somewhere. At worst, you will accomplish something mediocre — and at best, something wonderful.

Photos: Shaeline Faith Photography

Pre-Shrunk 2017: Argyle Fine Art

Entitled “Soft Cut”, this little 4” x 5” piece is on exhibit at Argyle Fine Art in downtown Halifax from January 20 to Feb 11, 2017. Over 300 works are in this annual curated show, now in its 11th year. The submission called for works from both established and emerging artists. Although I am not sure about how I feel about any of those words describing me – “established” or “emerging,” “artist” – I was happy to respond to the call. I had some experimenting I wanted to do, and this was a great opportunity. All pieces are for sale, all for the same price and can be shipped worldwide.

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