Anonymous from Lethbridge, Canada
Anonymous from Lethbridge, Canada
The Textile Surface Design Guild of Lethbridge marks and celebrates its 35th Anniversary this year, 2016.
The Program Committee (Deb Williams, Lynne Hunter-Johnston, and Cheryl Atkinson) was charged with the task of identifying a theme for the year, a theme that would be concrete enough to enable all guild members to participate in some way, no matter what their skill set, and also broad enough to encompass several different projects. The theme became “Single Stem, Branches Spreading”, a celebration of leaves, trees, nature, life, growth, the tree growing in your back yard or the mythologies surrounding trees, even extending to the Tree of Life.
Once the theme was established, the committee brainstormed a plan. An opportunity came up to apply to the City of Lethbridge for a Small Public Art project grant which allowed the planning to be a bit more adventurous and expansive. One of the conditions of the grant was that several groups or agencies would collaborate to create the public art pieces. Deb Williams works at the Ability Resource Centre and saw an opportunity to get the clients/artists there to be involved. With the theme of “trees”, the Helen Schuler Nature Centre seemed a perfect fit as a partner, and ARC clients already volunteer there on a regular basis. Lynne Hunter-Johnston pursued internet research to discover ideas and inspiration and found Pamela Paulsrud’s Treewhisper project. While introduced initially as an example of “what is possible”, it soon became a project to which the guild decided to commit as one of three major grant related projects. Cheryl Atkinson presented the ideas at the first guild business meeting of the year and received membership support.
Here, in Cheryl Atkinson’s own words, is a more detailed story about the initial stages:
Prequel by Cheryl Atkinson
My memories of the initial stages are starting to fade.
I remember the initial planning with the program committee. We knew we wanted to do something “big” for our 35th anniversary and that we really wanted to connect with a group who we didn’t currently see in our cozy little surface design world. Several different ideas were presented (high school art classes, post secondary students) but initial contacts through various channels went nowhere. It wasn’t until the City of Lethbridge announced a brand new public art grant (small projects) that everything came together in a hurry. The Allied Arts Council issued a call for entries in late summer of 2015 with a very short application deadline. With various executive members on holiday, we learned about the call just a few days before it was due. On the tightest of deadlines, the Guild executive were consulted and the program committee was asked to come up with a project that would meet the criteria of the grant and could also serve as the “big” event to honour our anniversary.
Available program committee members plus other interested and available TSDG members met for a brainstorming session and the Branches Spreading theme was chosen. Several community groups were suggested as “partners” and I was asked to call each suggested group to see if there was any interest in working with us and if there was any possibility of getting a general letter of support to include with our grant application. It turned out that all three groups I contacted (HSNC, Ability and the Shakespeare Society) were brave enough to jump right in and support our application even though the actual art projects were as yet undetermined! The project with Pamela evolved through my conversations with Jessica at the HSNC. Our basic idea was to do a tree themed activity with the HSNC and since the other two groups seemed to be more interested in fabric as a medium, Jessica and I thought that we could use paper as the medium at the HSNC to recognize those TSDG members who enjoy the book and paper arts.
Initially, I had been asked to contact a paper artist out of Calgary, Dea Fischer, to see if she would be willing to give us a workshop and coordinate some kind of paper based project that would lead to an artist book being created as a legacy for the HSNC. After trying to drum up TSDG support for several suggested workshops we were unable to find the right fit with Dea. Lynne H-J was actually the person who connected me to Pamela’s work via a link to the Treewhispers website. Lynne had been part of the brainstorming process and knew I was looking for project ideas for the grant application. It was meant as a suggestion of the type of project that we might consider, but the more I looked at the website, the more I thought we should try to be a part of Treewhispers.
In the beginning, we planned to do some kind of paper based public program at the HSNC; probably in the summer. Somehow in my discussions with Jessica, I mentioned our two other partner groups and Jessica told me that they also had groups from Ability who regularly volunteered at the HSNC. She wondered if we might want to meet with one of these groups on a monthly basis as part of our project? As I was struggling to find a suitable fabric based project to tackle with our partners at Ability, I thought this was a marvellous idea and would give us a “back up plan” for working with the special needs community in case our fabric project didn’t get off the ground. So I added a monthly component working with special needs adults to our plans for summer programming at the HSNC plus a culminating exhibit linked to the Treewhispers project. In my thinking, only one of the two proposed branches working with people from ARC was likely to go forward.
Little did I know what I had gotten the Guild into! Our grant application was successful, and all three “branches” came together in the end. Of course, the grant committee asked us for more specific details so that a contract could be prepared. Well, that set off another flurry of activity! There were endless emails between me and our three partner groups as I tried to flesh out plans and of course there were many, many changes and adaptations. In my haste to try and design three separate projects in such a short time window, shortcuts were taken. I did not fully understand how the lives of the folks at Ability are so highly scheduled. Neither did I fully appreciate that the clients and support workers were not used to working with “outsiders” and needed to get to know us better before trusting us to coordinate such an ambitious program.
As it turned out, the first group of ARC volunteers who were approached to work with us on Treewhispers turned us down. They were just not prepared to try something so new and different with people they didn’t know. So it was back to the drawing board and after further discussions with Rene at ARC, I was invited to make a proposal in person to a second, much smaller group of ARC clients who volunteered at the HSNC. This approach turned out to be much more successful and the Thursday pm Mosaic group agreed to partner with us and make paper discs.
Once our partners were confirmed, I had email discussions with Pamela on her experiences working with the special needs community on Treewhispers and she suggested the paper making sessions and directed me to the website for the nuts and bolts of how paper making worked. I made inquiries on how we might bring part or all of the exhibit to Lethbridge but events in my life changed course before I could make many further arrangements. Though I had a suspicion that things in my life were changing, I only had one paper making session with our friends from ARC before I learned that my husband had Parkinson’s disease and that I would be moving from Lethbridge to Edmonton. I think you know how the project unfolded from here on in. I alerted Pamela by email that I was going to have to turn the project over to a new coordinator and you so kindly agreed to take the lead. Without you and Janet, the whole program could have just died when I left, but thanks to the two of you, it thrived! I could not forsee all the trials and tribulations that were to come after I moved, but I am so grateful you found the strength to go on.
I also need to express my thanks to Deb. Williams. She was part of the project from the very first. Deborah was a member of the program committee and suggested the special needs community as a potential partner from the beginning. She suggested ARC as the specific partner group and put me in touch with the right people there. Deb encouraged me to keep trying when it looked like plans were likely to fall apart because people were afraid to try something new. She embraced the Treewhispers concept and championed the idea of ARC artists participating in an internationally acclaimed exhibit. As Deb was employed at Ability throughout our project year, she had to ride out all of the bumps that were encountered as the TSDG and ARC learned to trust each other. There were many times it would have been so much easier to give up, but Deb didn’t give up. She would call and discuss the situation and try to find some way to make things work for “her guys”. It was a steep learning curve for all of us, but Deb was the one caught in the middle and I think she deserves a good bit of the credit for the final success.
Deb Williams – She is wearing a shirt from ARC!
I hope some of this is useful to you. Thanks for giving me the chance to look back on my small part in this project. I am so proud at how it all turned out. I know lives were changed for the better because of it. I hope the branches keep spreading and spreading.
Cheryl purchased the netting, gathered the embroidery hoops, and constructed approximately 12 hoops of various sizes; she purchased blenders at the local charity stores and collected paper from guild members and various other sources. The project as negotiated with the HSNC included a commitment from guild members to volunteer for two full days at the youth programs in August which for one week would be related to trees and to the Treewhisper project.
To work with ARC clients and with children, guild members were required to complete police checks, paid for by the ARC. In January, for the first session at HSNC, Cheryl gave an introduction to the paper making process to the ARC artists, their support staff, and to the various HSNC staff present that day. February saw the first actual “production” of paper. Tweela took over the meetings and the process continued monthly until the end of June. The staff at HSNC also had a day devoted to making paper circles. From the guild, regular monthly attendees were Lynn Stevens and Pat Greenlee. Marie Gomez also contributed occasionally as her many other volunteer activities allowed. Four ARC artists participated regularly with 8 showing up in March. That day, with Lynn Stevens’ assistance, special circles were made with flower petals, confetti, metallic thread and other special embellishments. These special circles were made at the request of the ARC artists who wanted to have circles they could display at ARC or at their personal residence. Each of the artists had an opportunity to add water and colored shredded paper of their choice to the blender, to blend it, and to add it to the large pans. They used the hoops and completed the rest of the paper making process independently. The artists were always accompanied by two to three staff from ARC who were also encouraged to make paper circles and were eager and enthusiastic participants.
In July, the TSDG had an evening program devoted to the process of making paper circles. While Tweela introduced the basic process, guild members immediately began to experiment and “push the envelope”. There were more than a dozen participants and, while not all of the experiments were usefully successful, the group had a lot of fun and over 80 discs were made that evening alone.
At the HSNC in August, programs were planned by Jessica for various ages of youth. Jessica is a qualified teacher and created wonderful detailed education plans for each age group. On the first day, there were two one hour programs called Big Bird Little Bird for pre-schoolers accompanied and assisted by parents; there was a 90 minute program for 6 – 10 yr. olds called Trailblazers. The following day, these two programs were repeated and a third 90 minute program for 11 – 15 yr. olds, called Extreme by Nature, was added. All the participants were guided and inspired by HSNC staff to create poetry, stories and art on the paper circles. The teenagers were also involved in making paper circles and were able to take them home. ARC artists also embellished several of the circles at HSNC in a separate program on this second day.
Big Bird Little Bird (parents and preschoolers) – 86
Trailblazers (age 6 – 10) – 27
Extreme by Nature (age 11 – 15) – 17
4 – 5 guild members assisted at each class.
Janet Thompson continued a regular correspondence with Pamela Paulsrud, by email and telephone, to arrange for the larger Treewhisper exhibit to be transported to Lethbridge. Pamela usually accompanies the exhibit as it travels and provides on-site instruction about constructing the strands and preparing the exhibit itself. This was not possible with the constraints of our budget. Janet discovered that just bringing part of the exhibit to Lethbridge and returning it to Pamela would cost more than $2000.00. A new plan was established about how to best showcase what our local groups had created to the best advantage despite the smaller scale. Pamela’s video slide show was most helpful in showing how other groups had displayed their paper “trees”. Pamela also most graciously re-worked the slide show to include local ARC artists.
Janet Thompson, taken at our Christmas potluck.
In late August, the TSDG held another program, led by a talented, internationally known local artist and calligrapher, Connie Furgason, on “mark making”. She adapted her presentation specifically for adding art and writing to the paper circles. The 17 participants each took several of the circles remaining from the HSNC summer programs home to create and add art, poetry and stories. An additional 40 circles were taken to ARC for the artists to embellish them, as time allowed, following their other regular art activities. All completed paper circles were collected and a “work” night was held on September 28th to construct the strands and choose paper discs for the wall display. Lynne Hunter-Johnson, Alvina Roberts, and Janice Brown joined Tweela, Deb Williams, Christine Pook and Pat Greenlee for this work bee. Altogether there were approximately 200 completed circles! Deb previewed the circles and chose those that would be used for the wall display.
Tweela and Deb met at HSNC on October 2nd. HSNC staff, Marianne Virag, climbed the ladder and attached the strands to the ceiling while Deb and Tweela tried not to change their minds too often about where they should be hung for the best “artistic” effect. Then the process began of building the wall display, a process which took several hours as we looked at size, color, design, texture, placement for best view, and construction of a pattern on the wall. Marianne was most helpful in providing an additional set of eyes and perspective in this process and was most cooperative and positive in this role.
The display was officially open to the public on October 4th. HSNC staff did an incredible job of adjusting the lighting in the gallery room to the best effect for the display. On October 6th, TSDG held an opening reception for ARC artists, friends and staff and 20- 25 people arrived to enjoy the video slide show, the exhibit and the snacks. When our local ARC artists appeared in the slide show, the whole crowd clapped and cheered, a very touching moment. Local media supported the project, notably Lethbridge Living Magazine and Global News. Our thanks to HSNC, Jenn Schmidt-Rempel and Erik Mikkelsen for the shout outs.
After a successful exhibit, the display was taken down on November 27th with the help of HSNC staff Curtis Goodman. It was packed according to Pamela Paulsrud’s suggestions and sent to her to join the larger exhibit.
By Tweela Houtekamer
Artwork by Linda Lanza, North Brunswick, NJ (Yasutomo vermillion ink and Fine-tec inka-gold watercolor was used to letter lines from W.S. Merwin’s poem “Place” with a Soennecken 808/7 nib.)
Handmade paper by Stephanie Kulak Sager
Artwork by Patty Pape, Winston Salem, North Carolina
Artwork by Joyce Teta