I have spent some time speaking with three Métis artists who either live in St. Albert or within the Edmonton region. Each encounter was different and left me thinking about the information they shared with me. What began as an exploration to discover what indigenous artists were living in and around St. Albert turned into a wonderful educational experience for me.
Jody Swanson is a member of the Arts Development Advisory Committee in St. Albert. The Arts Development Advisory Committee is a panel of citizen members along with a city council member. The Committee provides advice and makes recommendations for policy development which supports the development of the Arts and Artists in St. Albert. They provide input to ensure that the Arts and Arts development are integral components of City strategic and business plans. The Arts Development Advisor Committee also looks after the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts.
Jody is an accomplished pottery artist. For her business, Red Hot Pots, Jody creates pottery pieces using Alberta clay, infusing sweetgrass, sage, or lavender into her creations. Her artistic perspective is that each of us have talents that are gifts from the creator, but these gifts are not owned by the possessor. Jody stated that when she creates something, she is using energy to transform her clay into pottery and she infuses energy the creator has given her into the pottery pieces.
Val Daniels, a Métis beader and pyrographer, has had an interesting journey into artistry. She graciously and openly shared some of her family history, much of which I could relate to. Having not been raised within the Métis culture, she felt that something was missing and so she began spiritual work ten to fifteen years ago to help her discover her past and help her heal. This led her to Bearclaw gallery in Edmonton where she met an artist who helped her along the way. Val’s activities are often by word of mouth. She hosts drum making workshops, hosts drumming circles for women, and facilitates labyrinth walks.
Val finds enjoyment in creating art. She finds that beading and jewelry work slows her mind and has a grounding effect for her. Art has become her downtime. Val has a quirky style that makes a statement and her jewelry has a spiritual feel to it. She said that pyrography is a dying art and it takes a special knack; everyone can do it, but not everyone can do it well. Val said she still feels like a beginner when compared to others even though she has been actively practicing the art for the last four years. To Val, something homemade means more that something that was store bought. The love and attention given in creating the item is important, and to her this is why she likes to share her gifts: it’s the understanding that something homemade is more than just the time spent; it’s the giving of yourself.
Val’s pyrography can be found on her Facebook page.
Grace-Anne Grant is another Métis St. Albertan. She was connected to Michif Cultural Connections by her Grandmother, and this was where she was taught how to bead. She started with beadwork and finger weaving when she was around six or seven years old. As she grew, she continued to create artwork, but it wasn’t until this past year had she considered herself an artist. She has completed her first year in the Native Arts and Culture Program out of Lac La Biche. She said that the program has helped her to understand the word “artist” more. Grace-Anne said that her beadwork has her heart in it, so she never beads when angry or frustrated. She explained to me that “beading should be a healing practice.” She also went on to explain that “fault” bead work is done to show that we are not perfect. This may be as simple as a single different colour bead in the beadwork, and is not likely to be seen without a trained eye.
Grace-Anne was patient and took the time to show me different pieces of her work while explaining some of the processes and materials. She brought out a doll made of long prairie grass or raffia that does not have a face. Grace-Anne said that these dolls were made without faces so that the parents do not give their children a perception of what beauty is. The pair of gauntlets took her about six hours to create, and she makes them as custom orders. Because of the hand work, each custom order may take longer or shorter depending on the details requested. I noted that many of her pieces had bees in the design. When I asked her about the theme, she said that bees are nature’s hard workers; small and nobody sees them, but the work gets done. She has great respect for nature and the work they do. Her mukluks that she shared with me took about 24 hours per shoe to create, but each creation takes a varied amount of time depending on how intricate the details are. The ones she brought had her family’s birth flowers stitched on to them, and as such, they have significant meaning to her. Grace-Anne said that because her family birth flowers are on her mukluks, they signify that her family always walks with her.
As a young female, Grace-Anne wants younger people to have connection to the community. Even though it is the elders who traditionally have these artistic skills, she is more than happy to share her knowledge. It was an inspiring hour and a half spent with Grace-Anne. Her willingness to share her teachings with me was valuable. Grace-Anne’s work can be found on her Facebook Page and her Instagram Page.
I am grateful for the openness and willingness that all three women had to share their time, knowledge and artistic talents with me. It has encouraged me to learn more about the cultures around us, and to dig deeper into finding my own past as well. Thank you to Jody, Val, and Grace-Anne. It was a pleasure to speak with each and every one of you.