Woven & Sewn in Time is an extraordinary collection of woven and sewn artworks created by artists living predominantly above the 49th parallel across North America.
The works of art originate from Alaska in the west, through British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Arctic Canada in Nunavut and Nunavik, to Ontario and Labrador in the east. The only exception is the inclusion of works by Maori artists from Aotearoa (New Zealand) in our quest to continue our cross-cultural connection across the Pacific. Several of these artists, Jayme Anderson, Stacy Gordine, Teri Rofka, Loa Ryan, Cheryl Samuel, Preston Singletary, William White, and Christina Hurihia Wirihana, have over the last ten years worked together, exchanged knowledge and shared cultural values.
All weaving, whether utilitarian basketry or the decorative wearable chilkat and ravenstail robes, were extremely labour intensive projects. It has been only over the past decade that exhibitions in weaving and basketry have evolved from historic, anonymous, utilitarian objects to named artists making contemporary artworks. Many of the artists in this collection had both the passion and conviction to revitalise these art forms, as well as striving to be recognized as artists. They have studied in the museums learning the old techniques and understanding the use of traditional materials. These artists have been honoured during ceremonial events: robes have been danced, hats worn with pride and as statements of rank, and vessels used and presented as prestigious gifts. At the same time, they have been included in many exhibitions and permanent museum collections, achieving international recognition. Spirit Wrestler Gallery has included weaving in many of our exhibitions and books to support the careers of these deserving artists. It seemed timely, if not overdue, for our gallery to curate an exhibition that highlighted and promoted new ideas and directions in weaving.
The original idea of this exhibition was to support exceptional woven Inuit grass baskets being made in the Canadian Arctic. The collection grew through a series of baskets coming into our hands through circumstance from Alaska and Labrador. The focus broadened even further when we discovered other woven and sewn containers, Innu tea dolls from Labrador, Dene birch bark baskets from the Northwest Territories, and Ojibway quill baskets from Ontario. We decided to take some further liberties with the ‘loosely woven’ theme to include many varied contemporary interpretations on traditional containers. We encouraged artists to have fun, stretch their imagination, to take tradition in a more contemporary direction by utilizing new materials, colours and designs. The result is this inspired collection that includes many beautiful, innovative, often unfunctional art objects ranging in materials from glass, silver, stone, brass, merino wool, jade to caribou tufting.
We have had many wonderful surprises arrive, including the basket by William White utilizing red cedar with ravenstail and chilkat weaving techniques, woven silver and copper kete by Matthew McIntyre-Wilson and the two unusual flax weavings from Maori master artist, Christina Hurihia Wirihana. Michael Massie, a Labrador Inuit, renowned for his teapots forged in silver, has produced an inspired woven teapot in brass and caribou antler sewn together with sinew, to appropriately introduce the disappearing art of tea dolls, once carried by the children of the nomadic Innu people. These dolls, despite being functional objects, were made with individual personalities that endeared them to the children that carried them. Billy Gauthier, another Labrador Inuit, has interpreted his appreciation of Labrador weaving with an intricately carved stone basket with a tiny portrait of a woman weaving on top. His serpentine basket mirrors the look of the Alaskan baleen baskets by James Omnik Sr. and Elmer Frankson with ivory carvings on the lids that he respects and admires. The art of the Athabascan people is reflected in the two ornate caribou tufting boxes by Selina (Alexander) De Wilde and the rarely made traditional birch bark baby carrier by the elder, Margie Sparks. The cultural use of birch bark is further revealed in the collection of Dene birch bark berry picking baskets, all delicately designed and decorated with dyed porcupine quills. The use of porcupine quills in basketry is taken to the ultimate artform with three remarkable quill baskets by the master Ojibway artist, Lorraine Besito.
Grass weaving is the common thread linking the three major regions of Alaska, Canadian Arctic and Labrador, and each area is represented by their master weavers, Garmel Rich in Labrador, Betsy Meeko Sr. in Sanikiluaq, Evelyn Douglas and Sharon Kay in Alaska. Alaska has a rich tradition in weaving with so many great weavers; Sharon Kay is especially known for her miniature finely woven Attu masterpieces. The use of spruce root, red and yellow cedar weaving has always been a tradition on the Pacific Northwest Coast and is represented by many creative weavers, Teri Rofkar in Sitka, Diane Douglas-Willard from Ketchikan, Loa Ryan from Metlakatla and Isabel Rorick from Haida-Gwaii. Most of the artists in this exhibition are also teachers passing on their knowledge to others: Cheryl Samuel, Sharon Kay and Suzan Marie have all written publications on their weaving specialties. As this exhibition bridges Alaska to Canada, we have also included two formline blown glass baskets by Preston Singletary, an Alaskan Tlingit artist, who for almost twenty years has led the native glass blowing movement and has a special affinity for representing and honouring basketry in his glass creations.
This exhibition was an adventure for our gallery, broadening our knowledge into the weaving world. We discovered a wealth of talent creating the most beautiful woven and sewn art. The variety, quality and originality of the artworks have surpassed our expectations. We know that there are many interested collectors around the world who will be as surprised and excited as we are.