Beading to build community

(Left to right) Judy Anderson, Catherine Blackburn and Katherine Boyer pose with one of Blackburn’s pieces after artist talks on Oct. 20, 2018 (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Bead-in workshops and artist talks help share message of fall exhibition beyond the gallery’s walls

A final beading workshop and a third and fourth artist talk Saturday capped off what has been a community-focused fall exhibition for the Mann Art Gallery.

The bead-in workshop and artist talks were held in conjunction with Catherine Blackburn’s exhibition, New Age Warriors, which is presented in partnership with the Indigenous Peoples Artist Collective (IPAC) and runs until Thursday.

This weekend’s guests were Judy Anderson and Katherine Boyer. Anderson, who is Cree from the Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, teaches at the University of Calgary. She fuses her beading with graffiti art drawn by her eldest son, Cruz.

Boyer, a former student of Anderson’s, is a Métis artist and curator of the First Nations University of Canada in Regina. They taught peyote stitch techniques, allowing workshop participants to either make a chord or some edging to finish off the medallions they had worked on in the prior two workshops.

In the afternoon, each artist spoke about her work.

Boyer said she hoped people took away the idea that identity and family relationships aren’t necessarily clear-cut.

“They have a lot of complexities,” she said.

“ It is my personal job as an artist to explore that and to not stick within a binary way of thinking, but to represent complexities.”

Anderson’s work also looks at family relationships. A self-professed traditionalist, she headed into the wilderness to fast, where it was revealed to her that she needed to honour her eldest son.

“When I was told I had to honour my oldest son, it was ‘what am I missing as a parent, what am I doing wrong?’ not realizing that he was going through a hard time,” she said.

“I’d ask questions:

‘Are you OK?’

‘Yep, I’m OK’

“But not reading through that maybe something might be up. By building strong relationships with my children, then we can build a stronger family and they can hopefully build strength within themselves, especially when they feel low.”

That approach guides her work as she examines our relationships with each other.

‘The reason I make my work is I want to talk about … how we feel about each other,” she said.

‘In this world, we don’t walk around telling each other how amazing each other is. We’re founded on too much negativity, and I think that we forget.”

And like Boyer and Anderson, Blackburn’s work focuses on celebrating community. It features beaded garment-wear and photos of inspirational women from her life wearing the pieces, taken in front of a variety of backdrops.

At the time of the opening, she said the exhibition was designed to celebrate her identity and her roots.

The show has expanded beyond the art on the wall to the lessons taught at the workshops and artist talks.

Saturday, the artists also spoke about the importance of passing that knowledge down to others who want to explore the art of beading.

“We both do a lot of teaching in different capacities,” Boyer said.

“It’s something that, as much as I want to dedicate time to my art practice, I really, really enjoy passing along what I’ve learned to anyone, really. It’s always important to keep coming back to the standard foldout table, foldout chair type of workshops where it’s just people …. Coming down to learn something. It’s important for me to keep doing that.”

Teaching at those sorts of workshops carries a special significance for Anderson.

“I wasn’t raised in my culture because of colonization,” she said.

“When we’re doing workshops like this and when we’re teaching in the capacities that we do at the university, or wherever we are, we’re passing down this knowledge that is hard to attain for some people. There are people who have families where they pass that down, but there are some of us who don’t. “

Anderson said she was lucky enough to have Sheila Orr teach her in a class at the First Nations University of Canada. Now, Anderson said, it’s her turn.

“Now it’s my duty to pass along what I learned, especially to people who don’t get that chance. That’s why it’s important for me.”

Blackburn said that the idea of community is an integral part of beading.

“There’s not a huge contemporary beading community,” she said. “To bring it all together and see all those different perspectives, and to have that presented to the public and to not just have the local artists who are well-known but to include others within that realm, is a nice treat for Prince Albert.

“I think that feeds into the sense of community that was at the forefront of my work, but it’s also what beadwork is all about. It’s about that community-building.”