The Symbiosis of Art, Culture, & Community

The ways in which Art creates community, and the symbiotic nature of Art and Culture, never ceases to amaze me.

When I first spoke with the group at Muskoday’s Culture Camp I told them about Marvin’s, the Camp Director’s, request that we depict one of their Clan Mothers: the Wolf.  So as to create discussion about the imagery we’d use in this depiction, I asked the youth group, “So, I’d like you to tell me what the Wolf Clan means to you.  Do you have any stories you could share?  Any information that would help us?”

Nothing.  Complete silence.

So then I asked,  “Okay, let’s back up a bit.  Does the Wolf Clan mean anything to you?”

Again, nothing.  The youth did not know about their Clan System.  They did not know about the role of Clan Mothers.

At this point Marvin intervened and imparted a little bit of information and said that he would invite someone out that night to tell the group about the Clans.

And so he did.

The next day when I arrived I took my cup of tea and walked over to the Archery Area to visit with the girls.  And sure enough I could hear them speaking and retelling the stories they heard the previous night, about the Clans and how they worked.  When I asked further questions about the stories they were told the girls would confer with each other to make sure they had their story straight.

And, just like that a decayed portion of Muskoday’s Culture is reignited via the creation of a tile mosaic.  It is the spark that starts a wildfire of cultural transmission.

So here’s what the process of making of this large broken tile mosaic looks like: I usually arrive at the Culture Camp around 8:00, 8:30.  Most times I get a big smile on my face when I pull up to the camp, because there is someone (if not two or three) working away already.  I grab a tea or coffee, put on my apron, and join them in figuring out the puzzle.

The day is filled with the constant stream of tea, glueing, and conversation.  Some work on the piece for hours at a time.  We stand beside each other and dance around the bucket of tile and the pan of glue, and talk…. and talk.  It’s amazing the conversations that come about.  Some of it is just fun: silly stories and anecdotes.  But some of what is said is serious and morose: kids tell me about deaths in the family, sickness, and injuries.

Everyone takes breaks from glueing and breaking tile to go participate in other activities: canoeing, swimming, biking, archery.  And of course there’s mealtime!  But, eventually, they come back to the tile pieces either in groups or solo and the conversation begins again.

Most nights I quit around 9:00.  But, one morning I came back to a finished wolf.  So I know the kids don’t stop. Some continue even when I’m not there.

All those conversations, all that sharing, all that trust that occurs while co-creating art is building community.  We are becoming friends….And that is the elusive, subversive, magical potential of community art.



Muskoday’s Tile Mosaic

Before July15, most (if not all) of the ceramic tile work I had done had been executed in a clay studio, my studio, or at my make-shift outdoor studio (which really is a big table under a canopy ten feet from my actual studio). Now, however, I can say that I have co-created a very large (four by eight feet, to be precise) broken tile mosaic in the bush alongside the Saskatchewan River.

Awhile back, Marvin Sanderson, of Muskoday First Nation, invited me to work with a youth group during one of their Culture Camps.  After discussing a few different options, Marvin asked that I facilitate a tile mosaic of one of their Clan Mothers (the Wolf Clan), with the future intention of then installing said mosaic at Muskoday’s Powwow Grounds, in the picnic area, during Culture Days weekend.

So, on July 15, I was taken down a very bumpy dirt road to Muskoday’s metaphorical “Island,” which is where the camp is located.

They’ve nicknamed this space “The Island” even though it’s still connected to land.  But, after spending some time there, I feel it is aptly named.  It is a distinct place where the youth and children of Muskoday can come and camp for three days in the middle of the week, during the month of July.  They have fun and celebrate and engage in their Culture.  There’s archery, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, story telling, talking circles, fishing, and more.

Shortly after I arrived, Marvin gathered the group so I could speak with them.  I shared with them my story of how I became a full-time Visual Artist, showed them some photos of my artwork, some photos of examples of what I hoped we could achieve, and then we quickly got to work.

I set up three wood panels of plywood that would make up the entire mosaic on empty coolers in their ‘kitchen’ area, and asked for a volunteer to draw the wolf image we had decided to use.  I also did a demonstration of how to break the tile, and asked a group to begin that task.  And, lastly, I showed them how to glue the broken tile onto the plywood.

And that was it. For the next three days, kids came to the panels and worked on them when they wanted and could.

Some worked in small groups.  Others would come in solitary fashion.  But, indeed, they did work.  In three days they finished the entire foreground: the wolf, the ground, the moon, and the clouds.

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July 1st Celebrations with LMLCC


Preparing to make pinch pots!


Crowd gathering around the demo!










I spent July 1st with LMLCC (Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre) at Regina Beach, for the Canada Day Celebrations.  I helped them prepare for their upcoming “Pit Firing,” which will take place on July 12.  In doing so, I invited people to come and make a pinch pot, which will then be fired in the pit firing.  I also encouraged them to come participate in the LMLCC event and claim their pot.

The pit firing will begin around noon with the digging of  ‘the hole’ at Regina Beach. Jay Kimball, LMLCC Artist in Residence, will facilitate this process.  As he describes it, after the pit has been dug, he lays a bed of firewood in the pit, and covers that bed with the clay pots that have been made and bisqued in previous weeks.  Other ‘elements’ are added (like iron, chrome, and copper) which  create colour on the pottery, he says.  Another layer of wood is added and then the fire is lit.

It takes about four hours for the fire to burn out.  At that point, the clay pots are pulled from the ashes and laid in the sand to cool.  Once that’s done people are then encouraged to find their piece and enjoy their creation.






Tire Planters Set in Place

It was the second last day of school, so I was anticipating the work ethic might be weak.  But, boy! was I ever surprised!

A small group of senior students of JH Moore Elementary worked tirelessly to get the planters in place before their summer break.  A couple of the boys dug dirt for four hours straight!

In brief, we moved the tires into place, starting with the first layer, filled them with dirt, put the second and third layer on, lined them with tarp and then filled them with dirt.

How wonderful it was that when we finished an educational assistant and student came out of the school right away and planted rose bushes into three of the planters.  Then the principal informed me that a grandmother from the community was coming the next day to plant flowers.

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Windscape Kite Festival

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If you haven’t been to the WindScape Kite Festival in Swift Current, you really must go!

I had an incredible time, and I didn’t even take in any of the awesome nighttime concerts.

Although my days were filled with volunteering (face painting and kite making), I did get some time to peruse the grounds and was completely taken aback by all the activities: a Kinetic Sculptural Garden, whimsical characters on stilts, a hay bale maze, hourly shows of humour and dance, juggling and balancing acts, bubble stations … and more (so much more!).

For me, the highlight was arriving on site.  There was something so thrilling about following the signs through the city, anticipation mounting, to finally come around a corner and see such enormous kites flying high in the air.

My days with the kids and volunteers were equally satisfying (although also very exhausting). I have done face painting before, but never to that extent. What a lesson in culture that was.  Although there were pages of photos the kids could choose from, inevitably there were those who wanted to choose something different.  And some of those choices required a bit of education (on my part, not theirs)!  I learned much about the latest trends and fashions.

And in my last volunteer shift at the kite-making station, I learned about the heart of this festival… and I guess, one could say, the heart of Saskatchewan culture in general.  I have heard that we are the volunteer capital of North America.  But until this festival, my understanding of this claim was purely intellectual, not visceral.

Many interactions brought about this understanding.

One was learning that a guy named David single-handedly prepped all the kite materials for this festival.  And he did it via volunteering.  He cut every template, prepared every board of tape, and cut (and shaped) every piece of doweling.  After my one shift, I am estimating that’s approximately 1500-2000 templates cut from garbage bags, and therefore 3000-4000 sticks of doweling.  I’m not going to do the math on how many pieces of tape this man cut.

Then in my last hour of volunteering, there was the lady (twice my age) who told me that this was her sixth year volunteering.  My feet were killing me and here she was smiling away telling me how she did it because she loved seeing the kids so happy. “Not one bad kid in six years. Not one!” she said.

And these are just two examples.  This whole incredible cultural event is founded on volunteers.  I heart culture, indeed!


A Forest of Local Folklore

Driving back from my second visit to Waldheim, my traveling companions and I decided to take a little detour.  We veered off course a bit to visit a place I have been wanting to see for years: The Crooked Forest.

Adding to my own anticipation, the detour took us down two unmarked dirt roads–the latter significantly narrower than the first. And then, all of a sudden, in the proverbial ‘middle of nowhere’ was a grove of unusual trees, with a small sign designating that we had reached our destination.

The Aspen in this bush are crooked, gnarled and shaped in such a way that they are worth the trip just for the visual experience alone.  In some places the trees twist along the ground, and then in other places they coil through the air.

According to the sign the trees are “a botanical mystery.”  And indeed they are.  But I mention them here for another reason.


In the Crooked Forest!

After posting this photo on Facebook and describing my own experience–bodily sensations, batteries being drained, cell service immediately ending, etc. – I received numerous replies telling similar tales. People not only shared their experiences but they also explained their rationale for the mysterious trees.

A Google search amplified the plethora of local folklore ten-fold.  The explanations for said forest ranged from alien urine, to energy vortexes, to bacteria.

Regardless of the reason why these trees grow they way they do, the effect of their peculiarity in terms of culture, is a stark reminder of the importance of place in local folklore.  In this instance, this tiny grove of trees is the source of countless stories and tall tales.  This grove of unusual trees is a microcosmic example of how local folklore defines a people and community.

The stories we tell about geographical phenomena, old buildings, landmarks of various sorts, places of significance in general, all help to form and define our communities.  They tie people together via experience and belief and create micro-cultures that contribute to  a larger, more diverse macro-culture.



Making Origami Boats at “Arts in the Park”

One of the Culture Days projects I am facilitating is a collaboration between Rockin’ Beach,  Arts in the Park Festival, Rockglen Library and Rockglen School.  We are going to make origami boats during the summer and early fall.  Then on the Culture Days weekend, we will put a small candle in them and set them afloat on Fife Lake during a dusk gathering at Rockglen Beach.

The kick-off for this project took place at the Arts in the Park Festival (June 14) at Rockglen School.  This wonderful little festival included all genres of art: live music, award winning authors, painters, knitters, quilting, photography and more.

I nestled in between an incredible Fibre/Earth Art display that investigated the aesthetics of decomposition on fibre and a young entrepreneur who aspires to be a ‘nail artist.’  And judging from the continuous line of customers I’d say that ten year old is well on her way to actualizing her dream.

I had approximately 20 people stop and make a boat, and I’m sure I talked to at least another twenty about our endeavours.

Many from an older generation stopped to tell me they had made such boats in school, and that they could remember it clearly.


Making origami boats!


Even fun for the boys!

I have made plans to return to the community a couple more times to carry-out more workshops: once in the Regional Library and once at the School.

Come join us!  And watch for the boats during Culture Days!


Planting the Pallet Garden

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(photo credits: Kim Wilchynski)

Once the pallets were set in place, the Grade 1 & 2 classes of JH Moore set about planting the seeds they had sprouted the previous month, as well as new seeds from packets.

Low laying plants or ‘greens’ (such as lettuce, swiss char, spinach, beets, etc.) were planted in the horizontal pallets. Trailing or ‘vine’ plants (such as peas and beans) were planted in the vertical pallet planters.


Painting Tires

Painting tires by Karlie King Painting tires 3 by Karlie King Painting tires 2 by Karlie KingYesterday and today we are painting tires!

It’s been raining the last couple days that I went to Lashburn, so we haven’t been able to work on our vegetable garden as planned. So we changed our focus, moved indoors, and began painting tires in preparation for our tire planter garden.

But, first the students needed to learn some colour theory: primary colours, colour mixing, the colour wheel, cross-complimentary, etc

The Pallet Garden Takes Shape

The pallet garden at JH Moore School in Lashburn is coming together.  Despite the weather, we carried on in our endeavour June 6, 9, & 10.

First, we laid out the pallets on the front lawn and organized them according to colour, shape, and wood type.  Then, after watching a demonstration on how to turn the pallet into a planter the students broke off into groups of four or five and began to emulate the demonstration they just witnessed.  The lessons learned in this simple demonstration and reenactment were many–simple things like how to lift, how to hammer, how to measure, how to cooperate, and so on.

I’m guessing the students would say the highlight of this phase of the garden was hammering.  They were thrilled to learn and ‘be allowed to’ use this hand tool.  So enthralled were they with this aspect of the project that the slight hail storm went virtually unnoticed.

In terms of intangible culture, I underestimated the significance of things like hammering.  A few of the students had held a hammer before, had struck a nail.  Most, however, had never done such things.  In terms of heritage, where would we be without ‘hammering’?  Many, if not all, of the heritage buildings on our prairies (old barns and farm houses) were constructed by hand.  And the early fences that shape and define this province, they too were constructed with hammer in hand.

Bearing this in mind, it gave me a strange feeling of nostalgia to watch these youth eagerly learn to hammer.  To try and try again without frustration, to strike that tiny spoke of metal.

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