Several weeks ago, the Director of the Manitoba Crafts Council, Tammy Sutherland, asked me if I would be interested in being a facilitator for The Love of Craft members exhibition. Even though there are regular critiques that I lead in my university classes, I wondered if I was up to the job. There was such diversity in the participants – well, it was a bit worrisome. All of that disappeared when, to my surprise, a former student was standing in the gallery, Erika Hanneson. I had seen her name on the list of those that wanted to be part of the afternoon discussion but, there could have been many Erika’s as Manitoba has a sizeable Icelandic community. But, it was her. There is something beautiful about teaching, and it is seeing the students thrive and prosper when they leave that is the most rewarding. I am afraid that my photograph of Erika’s work does not do it justice. At first glance, most of the visitors to the gallery thought that the large plate had been entirely wheel thrown. But, it isn’t. The body of the vessel is a manipulated slab over a slump mould. On the reverse, there is a wheel thrown foot ring. The base is heavily gouged with the lines filled in with a dark slip. There are subtle transitions in the glaze towards the rim giving the impression of a fall prairie landscape. She has recently moved her studio to Gimli, Manitoba and no doubt the colours of the Lake Winnipeg and the summer sky will provide more inspiration.
Like many of those that come to the School of Art, Erika was a nurse, but her passion was art. She was enrolled in the Diploma programme, but shortly after beginning her classes, Erika discovered that she liked the academic courses and did well in them. She went on to get her BFA degree while raising children and working. An excellent role model. Now she devotes most of her time to her craft. I wish her every success in her new studio and am anxiously awaiting the end of winter to go and visit.
I intend to write about all of the women who I met on Saturday. Each and everyone is doing something they are passionate about, and there were so many similarities in their stories. Each tries to give voice to their experiences, they appreciate different materials and processes while acknowledging that one must practice a craft, ‘the verb’, and do things well. One other thing we discussed is the need for meeting new people, the sharing of ideas, and the importance of positive support.
The other talented woman I would like to introduce you to is Judith Rempel Smucker. Judith is also a graduate of the School of Art here in Winnipeg where she studied graphic design and the Basel School of Design in Switzerland. She lived for some years in Pennsylvania where she taught graphic design. The featured image is a photograph of a mixed media collage, one of 28 originals, that form the pages of her book, RE-encounters. Views from the Field. Here she has used vintage material, repurposed letters from the newspapers, and bouncing images of sheep. Judith took 28 words that begin with ‘RE’ and gave them to 28 individuals who are part of her daily life. She asked them to provide her with a text. Re-count, re-direct, re-fresh, re-new are amongst the words chosen. It is a delightful book and is available at the Manitoba Craft Council Shop on Cumberland.
Thumbing through the pages of RE-encounters made me recall part of my life tas a rural potter. I lived in Graysville, Manitoba. It is roughly eleven miles west of Carman Manitoba. There was grain storage, a church, a school, and the general store run by Ada and Howard Stephenson. The railway line that went all the way to Snow Valley had been removed. The young people were leaving. Most of the farms were getting larger and larger. Some, like my neighbours to the east, used an old tractor and didn’t spray. None of the ‘new fangled’ technology there. I loved Graysville and the people who lived there. And there are times when I miss them all. I had a marvellous friend, Walter Toews. He lived with his family near Graysville. Walter was a teacher, and in his spare time, he raised sheep. It has been so long ago now that I have forgotten some of the details but..in a nutshell. Sometimes Walter’s ewes had twins. And sometimes the mothers didn’t want to have to contend with two sheep so they would push one aside. At other times, ewes whose lambs had died decided to literally butt in and try and take those of another mother. Looking at their faces and their soft woolly bodies one would never imagine such things. They are so cute. Walter had heard about me from someone, perhaps his daughter who used to come and babysit my children, Cris and Jaine. At any rate, it came to pass that Walter would give me the orphan lambs. He didn’t have the time to deal with them. So, they went in my basement at the beginning because the barn was too cold. Yes, you read it right – lambs in the basement. They were fed with bottles of milk from Elsie, the cow. We were all gleeful when they were around. The idea was that they would become outdoor pets used for their wool, and die of old age. Then one summer, the vegetables in the garden were getting eaten by some kind of worm. It was taking its toll but, looking up and down, produced no sight of caterpillars or any other insect crunch a munching on the broccoli. Ah, but one day Jaine and Cris came to tell me that they had seen something so ‘cute’ – it was the word they used. Little Cindy was in the garden eating up all of the green beans! Cute I asked myself. Cute?! This garden had been years in the making – getting rid of all the weeds and then having it killed by the farmer’s spray the second year. This year there would be vegetables…an electric fence had been put around the area to keep the calves out. But apparently, that lovely wool insulated the sheep. They could go in and out. We did get to eat those green beans one way or another…but I must thank Judith for bringing back those memories. Someone asked her why she chose sheep and Judith replied it was because they were innocuous. I smiled and didn’t say anything. Shrewd might be the word I would use!
I want to thank the Manitoba Craft Council for inviting me to be the facilitator of the discussion. I gained more having met three talented women previously unknown to me and become re-acquainted with a former student. It was my pleasure.