This is why my art is important to me, and why I am driven to elevate the beauty of this place.
|Waking up at Cranberry Flats|
I was born and raised in Saskatchewan by a landscape artist. That's a solid start! Mom spent her life barefoot on the land, between the acrage and lake, always with her pastels and paper. Through the 70's, 80's, 90's, mom was successful with her own business, always had her own vehicle, and her own way of doing things. I remember dad complaining one summer that he didn't approve of her hanging out with those hippies so much. Mom was a free spirit. Mom was a creative soul. If we needed something, she'd find it, make it, barter for it. I learned everything I know from her. In fact, I was born on her birthday. We enjoyed reading horoscopes together through my young adult life.
As her child, I was born in North Battleford, then moved out to Baljennie, spent my formative years on an acreage in Hamlin. After she left her husband, we lived in a cabin at the Provincial Park where I went to school in Vawn, and then back to North Battleford through my teen years.
As a treat, we would make the trip to Saskatoon now and then. Sometimes we did this in her baby blue Valiant. Later, the trips happened in her purple 'Heavy Chevy' truck. That was fun because she got a cab on the back and put a red braided oval rug in there, so we could hang out and read books, play, colour. Just us kids and mom. We never had air conditioning and I remember it would be swealtering and loud with the windows down. I'd count bird houses along the ditches to stay awake. Watching the wires in the air dip and crest on the post tops along the way was too relaxing.
In Saskatoon, we would do the same thing each time: stop at Army & Navy Department Store, ride the elevator and then eat in the 2nd floor Ship cafeteria. This was fantastic when we were little. We would go to the Mendel Art Gallery, and then cross the river into Nutana to visit Great Uncle Fritz. He was my mom's mother's brother, and also an artist. He kept 2 pet turtles in his bath tub, and would bring them out on the lawn for us to see. Sometimes mom would make her uncle sketch me. He was a good portrait artist and often worked in oil.
I was surrounded with a lot of nature growing up, and a lot of art. Our neighbor at the lake and mom's closest friend was Anne, a gallery owner in North Battleford. She came to our house every day to get her hair done before she went to work. Mom was a hair stylist working out of the house when she could (we were homeless at times or lived at a cabin without water so she would rent a chair at a commercial salon). Mom would sculpt flowers or butterflies into her bleached, roller-set hair. It was a work of art. Anne loved it. Anne was magical, always wore shiny, draped clothing and teeny, tiny, sparkly high heels with high, arched drawn on eyebrows. She would read tea leaves for people, but never mine because I was still to young. That's what she told me.
Allen was friends with mom too. He used to come over for coffee now and then. He has since passed away, and is well known as a Canadian Indigenous painter. My mom was so chatty and he was so quiet. He was the tall man with the big car and the big hat. "Here comes Allen." We would see his car first. It was very long. And he was very tall. I think, with his hat, he would duck to enter in through the doorway. That's mostly what I remember. We always noticed him because the salon was rarely visited by men. Allen would bring Margaret to get her hair done but always stay and talk about art.
Our home was a very social place with people coming and going all the time, but the lake was entirely different. The cabin was her private space. This was her down time where she would create and just be and find herself and connect with the elements and O MY GOSH, I GET IT. I get it. As an artist, I NEED to be alone. I need to hear my thoughts and feel my feelings and no one else's. Mom never wanted anyone out there, and not everyone understood why. When I'm there, it's me and the earth, me and the wind, me and the water, me and the fire of the sun on my skin. It's so important.
Fast Forward: I'm an adult.
I moved away from the Prairie to pursue a career (Social Work, Advocacy for Trauma Survivors). I was so homesick. You know how they say you never know what you had until it's gone? Oh my. I lost my sunsets. I lost my 4 seasons. I lost my spring thunderstorms. I cried a lot. I needed my prairie back for my health. It was that overwhelming. I had not realized how misplanted I was.
After becoming a mother to 3 children, the stars aligned and I was moving back! I was so happy. I told all my friends I was going back home! They matched my excitement and asked, "where's home!?" "Saskatchewan!" I replied while hopping up and down, flapping my hands like little wings, ready to take off.
The responses ranged from surprise to confusion and disbelief, to outright laughter and then shaming. "WHY would you ever want to go there???" or "The most BORING place on Earth," to, "I'm so sorry for you. My sincere condolences."
When I speak to groups about my art, I describe this moment as the same feeling as being told, "wow, your baby is SO UGLY!" It really hurt. I was not prepared to hear those reactions, especially in my state of ecstatic flutter. I was SO unhappy in that place for ten years, it was unbelievable. Moving back was like getting my spirit back. And so, it became my mission to prove that my baby is not ugly. Quite literally, my art began out of spite. I'm a Taurus, like my mom. I couldn't help it. "How dare you. I'll prove you are wrong." Off I went, photographing and stitching once settled back in Saskatoon. This morphed into my new fulltime career while home raising children.
Honestly, I sat down and wept tears of joy and inner peace the first time I saw a comment under one of my blog posts which read, "I had no idea the prairies were so beautiful! Next time I drive through, I'll have to stop to take a look." I did. I cried. I wept. Someone sees what I see. The Prairie is loveable. The part of me that stomped, "you take that back!" was vindicated.
And today, after almost 15 years of my life as a mother, a woman and an artist, I understand this deeper now. Shaming a landform for not being enough? WHY would we do that? How similar is that to body shaming? And what of comparing the flowers to each other. Is a tropical Bird of Paradise more significant to this planet than a Hawkweed growing on the side of a slough by a dirt road in 'the middle of nowhere'? That's like comparing a woman's value in one country to a woman's value in another country. Let's not. Let's not do that.
My point to prove has clarified into, "How can you insult living things that have done nothing to hurt you?" I live that. I live that with people, and now I see that connection to plants. Plants serve us with their very existence. I hope my art helps you to see them, and then also honour them. Regardless of where they come from. Regardless of age. Regardless of form. (ie: the charlie brown christmas tree)
Maybe we'll learn a valuable lesson with people too, like my work with art... slow down and look. Slow down and listen. Take some time. Pay attention. Don't assume. So many times I start stitching from a source photo and discover more in there than I noticed the first time. It's the same way when you spend time finding out about people. There's so much beneath the surface.
I'm so grateful for my connection and acceptance of plants because it's like osmosis for connecting and accepting my own physical form. I would never shame a plant. I have a long hard history of shaming my own body. (READ THAT AGAIN. Same for you?) This is changing quite easily now. I thank the prairie and my art practice for this.
I'll wrap this up here. I need to find some lunch now, and the last dribble of my coffee is cold. If you read this far, thank you. This isn't what I planned to write. Oh well. (I was going to tell you all about my Canada Council for the Arts Research portion of the grant that will be starting on May 5th / My birthday, Mom's birthday too, and also Red Dress Day xo).
I'll save it for next post.
Take good care,