Winter is for Stories*

I do love the smell of ink and was planning on some more printmaking over the holidays. Thanks to the extreme cold weather (-32ºC here in Calgary) and my determination to get some fresh air, another smell caught my attention. The smell of pure lanolin took me on a completely different tinkering session.

Knitting sample of hand spun yarn, resting on hand card. B. Wanhill. December 2021. iPhone X.

I purchased this lanolin from a Canadian shop a couple of years ago and I had forgotten about its magical properties to heal cut hands. Smearing it across cheeks, lips (and up one’s nose!) is a great way to fend off wind chill and frostbite. Some people think it smells like sheep barn and this (along with donning a beautiful sweater my mom knit in the ’60s) was exactly the sensory experience I needed to help me reconnect with family memories and return to a session in fibre exploration.

In this video Etienna Moostoos-Lafferty shares with us that winter is traditionally a time for First Nations people to tell stories. It was a time “to sit down and listen” as there was not as much work to do compared to the busier seasons of “trapping, hunting, harvesting, building and sewing.”

As I transform the fibre given to me from my mom – fibre that belonged to sheep she and my dad raised, fibre that was given to them by family friends, I am grateful for time to slow down, sit and listen. Sometimes the stories I hear are from memories I play back in my mind. Recently, I am contemplating stories I’ve heard while learning about Canada’s vast history of Indigenous cultures. And I am building a new story collection as I connect during this pandemic via phone with my family a province away or chat with my husband across the room; connect with people I don’t even know through social media or soon, back to the busy, chaotic, joyful personal story connections I make with my students.

For me, making things helps me make sense of a world I often don’t understand and gives meaning to who I am and where I come from. The stories I hear and think about are embedded into the items I make. Lately, I’ve been pleased that the items I make are filled with more peace and contentment.

Happy New Year and may the stories you hear and make this winter be peaceful and happy.

* Etienna Moostoos-Lafferty is an Indigenous education coach, educator and has been sharing her engaging resources with others. Her work has benefitted my students and myself in the elementary art room. You can find her on Twitter: @EtiennaLafferty

Tripping on the cosmos

You know you have a solid and helpful family when they save you from yourself and gently encourage you to move away from personal ranting on social media to other, more productive pursuits. That is what happened this week and I am pleased to say I began the long over due catch up on some personal creative time during November break.

While I was doing some quick research for this post I stumbled upon Neil deGrasse Tyson. Even more appropriately, he seems to get that people – for whatever reason – including those expending Herculean energy on not ranting about professional and moral injustices – are in a hurry.)

I was looking for a quote on cosmos (not necessarily the flower – but I will get to that in a minute) and instead I found this quote which sums up both what has been on my mind professionally and what gives me mental strength as I go back to work next week:

“You’ve never seen me debate anybody. On anything. Ever. My investment of time, as an educator, in my judgment, is best served teaching people how to think about the world around them. Teach them how to pose a question. How to judge whether one thing is true versus another.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Keeping in mind that making art, thinking about art is different than astrophysics in that there is often more than one true answer, this stumbled upon piece of literary information affirms my core belief. My job as an elementary art educator is to help children build curiosity about their visual world and build personal capacity and a visual vocabulary to express the truths they discover.

So, there are lots of quotes on the universal COSMOS. I will let you look that up if you like and with that I will move on to COSMOS, the flower and my quick little foray back into printmaking this week.

This was my first year growing cosmos, the plant. A gift of mixed seeds from my mom. Out of the mix, and out of power of deduction, I believe the one that produced for me is called Bright Lights.

The plant structure itself was airy, the flowers visually interesting in their variegation. They added large shape colour blocks in cut bouquets and stronger colour hits in the garden.

More interesting to me was their seed formation and the beautiful and delicate skeletal spikes that formed in the autumn. (No photo, because I’m in a hurry.)

These unique and lovely seed pods are what inspired the linocut study below:

Linocut studies. B. Wanhill, November 2021. iPhone X.

My visual question was: Could I create an image that would capture the fragile beauty of these forms?

I was hoping to use this image as my annual Christmas card but I feel there is an imbalance between background and seed heads. The two seed heads in the centre are heavier than I would like and I don’t want to hurry a resolution. I feel that I have somewhat answered that visual question in the bottom three, but as my personal week draws to a close today and I have to go to school to prep clay for next week and finish up report card marks, any further investigation on this matter will have to wait.

And now I have another book I want to read…

Dahlia study

This year I was inspired by the work of local, sustainable florist, Becky Feasby, to grow dahlias. I chose ‘Chilson’s Pride’ from Stone Meadow Gardens for its naturalistic appearance and subtle colour. Below, a few photo studies I took from the last bouquet I picked before the frost ended this plant’s season. Even as they have withered, I am intrigued by their beautiful form.