All of the works in The Antiquarian’s House series were completed in Northern Italy between late 2019 and early March 2020. The works were in transit to Montreal, Canada for BACA 2020 when the Covid-19 shutdown took place. The video below documents the guiding ideas, the site, and the evolution of the project.
In Over Our Heads, original designs are beaded onto bonnets, caps, and headpieces. When selecting objects to work with, 4 pieces of women’s headgear seemed to fit together somehow. My first thoughts were about oppression, in that these are objects designed to cover the head. Mennonite women traditionally covered their hair and, being a Mennonite woman on my father’s side, I think that was the association. The more I work with the pieces, the more they become about empowerment, and less about oppression. I’m imagining zooming around the countryside in the racing bonnet, dreaming big in the nightcap, dancing up a storm in the flapper hat, or taking on a very powerful persona in the theatre mask. The works were originally scheduled for exhibition at The Reach Gallery in Abbotsford, BC, Canada for the spring of 2020; however, due to the Covid-19 emergency, I have them for a few more weeks and I’m currently working a performance piece that incorporates these pieces.
ArtFarm Pilastro 2019 (June 28-30). In this project, a rustic niche in an outbuilding of a 17th century farmhouse in the low country of the Italian province of Verona was temporarily transformed into a little chapel dedicated to the other than human. The exhibition was part of an international residency hosting 35 artists working across a wide-range of mediums.
Works included in this exhibition:
Glass beads on birch veneer, 20 x 24 inches
Shrines to the Waters/The Font
Glass beads on a copper armature, 8.25 x 8.25 x 1.5 inches
This body of work combines photography and performance in an ongoing conversation about relevant discourses in contemporary practice and art history, specifically by reflecting our current time of uncertainty and environmental decline in conversation with the Baroque period. Current events bombard us with images of disaster, war, and suggestions of our impending demise as a species. Our human hearts are calling out for beauty, spiritual connection and, at times, even the need to celebrate our collective imperfection. The project title plays upon the word “baroque” with its relation to the meaning of an imperfect pearl.
Over a year in the making, this is the most ambitious work I’ve ever taken on. It is a chronicle, of sorts, of my adaptation to my new home city of Brescia, Italy. The birch used to form the path is something from my homeland, the foundation of the composition, and the material onto which I have beaded the plants I’ve met on my daily walks in Brescia and its hinterland. The stones were salvaged from old jewelry, much of which was donated. As a special note, I received a beautiful gift of incomplete beaded flowers started by a local Nonna whose eyesight has failed. With my relatively young eyes, I’ve completed one of these flowers and included it in this piece. I’ve put so much of myself into this one- time, my own experiences, and even drops of my own blood, which is a constant hazard with beading.
Threads that run thought this project include the tradition of beading; migration as territory; homing beyond the homeland; kinship with other humans and other than human. The body that beads, that makes a home, is also a theme of this piece. Because of their love of colourful beadwork the Métis were known as the “Flower Beadwork People.” This excessive display of labour and love of beauty continues in this project. The resulting aesthetic of combining many elaborate beaded works into a larger work recalls the Baroque-period and offers a commentary on the human desire to collect and possess beauty and the devasting impact that has had on the other than human. The frame choice is in reference to the Baroque period and underlines the fact that, until recently, bead artists rarely saw their works framed or shown within a gallery setting.
Below is a process diary of my work on this project.
February 25, 2018
A cold Siberian wind is blowing outside today, but spring is starting to bloom inside the studio. This is the start of a large beaded work on 174 x 45 cm panel, the middle section of a recovered privacy screen. I will be using glass beads, bark, and natural pigments indigenous to Northern Italy to honour some old relatives in this work. The living materials I’m using have been responsibly harvested and other materials recycled.
Audio books providing studio inspiration include Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben.
March 7, 2018
I received a beautiful gift this winter, a box of incomplete beaded flowers started by a local Nonna whose eyesight has failed. They were entrusted to me and my relatively young eyes to complete, modify, or refurbish for inclusion in my current screen project.
March 16, 2018
A sensitive and intelligent relation for my screen:
Interesting facts about the mimosa flower, the symbol of International Women’s Day here in Italy:
It is sensitive. in the lab it closes its flowers when subjected to new stimulus such as water droplets. It is intelligent. Once it understands that the water does not harm it, it remains open to the droplets = it learns
April 15, 2018
Coming along….stitch by stitch…bead by bead as Easter approaches. Today a friend asked me how many hours I spent beading. Hours….oh my…..many, many, many. I try to keep a regular schedule and treat my studio work as a full-time job. I can only spend 4-6 hours a day actually beading, and the rest of the day is spent researching, writing, and drawing. Each beaded fish from The Feast of the Seven Fishes, 2017, as an example, has taken three to four months, working every day. This project is my largest ever and I imagine it will consume all of 2018. The fingers suffer, that’s for sure! Sitting hunched over is also quite hard on the body. Yoga helps a lot. So does knowing it’s a great gift to be able to dedicate myself to this work.
May 25, 2018
Relations….old and new.
May 31, 2018
Hands of my hands. On a recent trip to Limone sul Garda, I visited the historic lemon houses and learned that lemons sometimes grow in the shape of hands. It is not sure why this happens, but it believed that an insect sculpts the forming fruit by pulling on it. This rare occurrence is very much appreciated and an entire cultivar, called Buddas’ Hands has been developed.
The audiobook providing studio inspiration this week is Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit.
June 5, 2018
Sleep in the veins….
I work with two artisans who harvest the birch – one in North Dakota and one in Siberia.
July 15, 2018
While out for an early morning walk I stumbled upon the entrance to a rose garden dating back to the Renaissance period. The garden was a labyrinth, winding up a hill. The scent was intoxicating, sweet and thick, choking the throat and calling forward memories and nostalgia. Thorns and dark leaves punctuated vibrant shades of pink, yellow and red. Climbers clung to overhead trellises, brushing against the top of my head. Shrub varieties outlined the winding trail, up and up to some central place. Delicate ground cover kinds rested on the earth below. A gentle wind carried cooling moisture from the lake and took tired petals for a spinning dance before laying them on the path below. At the pinnacle I found a bench, its wrought iron bent to echo the intertwining vines around. Intermingled with the soft pedal debris lay rubbish from an scavenged bin. Bottles, cans, old clothing, fruit peels, a shoe, remnants from a frenzied search. On the bench, a figure, bent in a tortured slumber, brought on the Sirocco and laid here amongst the roses.
July 16, 2018
Working with malachite, turquoise, and birch skin this morning….starting to see my vision for this piece come together. Lots of work to do, but now I know it’s possible. The malachite and turquoise I’m using have been reclaimed/reused. There is a lot of old jewelry here in Italy made from stones mined in Africa and Turtle Island. I’ve been slowly collecting some of these pieces to take apart and include in this work, either through donation or purchase. The malachite beads, for example, have tiny holes, drilled by hand. Imagine the work involved.
July 27, 2018
No matter what, make art. I remember a particularly heinous year in high school, I spent hours and hours in the safety of the Mount Royal art room making a mosaic from tiny pieces of paper. It was a woman in a field of flowers. So here I am again, working on this beaded mosaic as I think about my brother and his all too early death. Today I’m working on forget-me-nots.
If you happen to see a gofundme page regarding David Wollf, I ask my friends not to contribute. We are able to pay for these expenses from within our family. It was set up with the best intentions, but it is not what I would have wanted for him. I want him to know that his life was so valuable. I wish we could pay for the stable home, the chance to go to college, and all the other things he deserved. It’s too late for those things, but our family can take care of the material things as he leaves this world. He did great things and he was loved. All the thoughts, prayers and memories shared are so appreciated.
In 2017, I started incorporating beading into sculptural works. The resulting series of fishes reflects my personal study of the Mediterranean Sea and Italian lace-making, combined with a long-standing interest in beadwork. Materials are central to this series. Copper was selected for its conductive properties to form the skeleton of each work. Even though the armatures are completely encased in glass beads, the copper structure adds lucidity, buoyancy and energy. There are unique technical aspects to this work in that traditional beading methods were combined with an Italian lacemaking technique called “threading on air” which allowed me to sew the beads onto the copper armature.
During the creation of this work I was researching Métis identity from a visual perspective. I was looking closely at the work of numerous contemporary Métis artists as well as historical family photos. In those photos several women, my ancestors, took the stance that you see The Woman in; a strong stance with one hand on the hip and the other in closed in a fist at the side, looking directly at the camera. It is important to know that the original work is large, slightly larger than life-size, so Sohkahcahkwew and her Wolf command a great deal of space when exhibited. All of the flowers and symbols on the dress and the wolf are related to my own personal history and experiences. For example, the wild rose on the chest was my Grandmother’s favourite flower and the leadplant on the skirt was in honour of my Grandfather who was a WWII veteran. The dandelion in The Woman’s hand is a reference to the Métis, who were historically know as the road allowance people. There are numerous other references to the Métis including the red river on the Wolf.