Much of my work has centred around connections in everyday life, those building blocks of ordinary people and actions. I mainly sculpted faces but, since my residency in Alberta, I became interested in hand sculptures to tell stories as well.
Hands and books have so much in common. Cradling, comforting, sharing, revealing, promising stories, holding secrets, offering strength and teasing curiosity, leading to knowledge and adventure.
When I met book artist Debra Frances Plett in a Creative Manitoba class I knew I had found a kindred spirit. We left the class saying we should definitely collaborate on a piece at some point. As so often happens, time slips away and a year or so went by. We would see each other at show openings or events and say: “We should really do something together”.
The ideas had been percolating. One slow step led to another and the next thing you know we were moving forward. We set a date to meet in Debra’s studio in January. I drove into Winnipeg and, after a lovely lunch and lively discussion, I left on a cloud. We were both inspired from sharing ideas and building on each other’s thoughts.
Debra’s workmanship is exquisite. She infuses each one of her creations with history and meaning. Our practices, book-binding and needle-felting, are very different yet there is a profound connection between our individual work. There is warmth and appeal of natural materials, and the strength imparted to them in the slow, careful, knowledgeable making. We each build pieces full of meaning. Together we wanted to build a more powerful image in these vignettes to evoke a strong emotional response from the viewer.
We mapped out concrete ideas for a number of collaborative pieces. The first would feature cedar bark that Debra collected in British Columbia. The curled bark fit so well in the palm of a hand. We chose a couple of pieces to work on separately and planned to meet again soon. There is nothing like a blanket of snow to encourage us to hunker down in the studio.
It wasn’t the snow that was going to keep us apart. The pandemic hit before we got into a rhythm of working together. Having started though, there seemed to be no stopping the ideas and desire. We weren’t stuck at home, we felt safe at home and privileged to have a studio to work in and a connection with another artist to share thoughts, inspiration and issues.
Texting helped – about 800 of them!!
A few Facetime chats are great to share smiles and shining eyes.
We did the porch hand-off with a long chat across the lawn. It was weird and somehow seemed adventurous. But reality set in and the distancing was to last a long time.
We have adapted to the distancing with technology and, the Manitoba weather has allowed for backyard work sessions.
This pandemic certainly gave the collaborative project more poignancy. It speaks to the isolation of artists, the rural/urban divide, the possibilities of bringing together very different perspectives. It speaks to our longing to hold and touch when we are unable to do so. It speaks to the solace and diversion that books can bring and to the comfort of words and a loving hand.
Meeting and working with another artist compounds the creativity. It feeds the work we create. There are two worlds of experience that meld. The ideas/messages are stronger in the telling; stronger for each of us who bring our experience to the making and for others who see them through their own experiences.
Thanks to the generous support of the Manitoba Arts Council through Connecting at a Distance grant.