Submitted by Astrid Greene. Over the past few years we’ve been fortunate to see exhibits of weaving with cedar and spruce roots. Gladys Vandal’s ‘Weaving Joy’ is a fine example of where dedication and willingness to experiment with contemporary forms may take an artist. The sixty- three pieces displayed at the HG Museum range from mats, baskets, rattles, dolls, hats, bottles, red cedar bark roses and lilies, to ornaments and even a mask woven of red cedar bark with eagle feather and opercula shell for eyes. This weaving of Xaaydaa Sgaana or Scary Person challenges a viewer’s gaze. Traditional Haida hats of red and yellow cedar bark, some with ermine, are twined, plaited and open-weave. For storage, a hatbox twined and plaited of red cedar bark embodies the notion that everyday objects deserve to be beautiful. The twined handmade dolls of red and yellow cedar bark including human hair have arrested many a viewer’s attention. Not confining herself to trusted moulds, Gladys has added other head coverings: a fedora, a top hat, ball caps, and a golf visor.
Weaving involves countless hours of plaiting or twining. From gathering materials to the finished product, there’s an immediate, some say a spiritual connection, to the forest. Before gathering Cedar bark, Gladys Vandal gives thanks. Photos document the gathering, how narrow strips of cedar bark are pulled away from the tree, no more than two strips are taken per tree, to help regeneration and growth. Separation and slicing of the bark continues in the studio.
Gladys Vandal whose Haida name is Jiixa belongs to the Skidegate Gidins (Eagle) clan, which came from the Naikoon Big House People. She is the daughter of Kathleen (Young) and Isaac Hans. Her father was an argillite carver and she recalls weaving with her mother. A spruce roots purse woven by her grandmother, Fanny Young, speaks of the family tradition. Despite Jiixa’s growing business, she still attends the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program regularly to increase her competence of the Haida language. The show is dedicated to the memory of her mother Kathleen Hans (1900-1999), who spoke Haida fluently.
At Friday’s opening reception, the artist’s nieces, Jackie Hans and Beverly Parnell, sang the welcome song and Haida love song in memory of Kathleen Hans.
The display of the show alludes to a continuation from the traditional to the contemporary and to the importance of teaching the craft. Curator and photographer Sandra Price has taken a picture of the artist weaving surrounded by her finished products in front of Bill Reid’s dogfish pole. Tinted in sepia brown, the picture bears an uncanny, albeit deliberate, resemblance to the picture of an Old Masset weaver taken by Edward Dosetter in 1851. The artist had wanted a picture of herself surrounded by her pieces “like they do in Alaska,” and the idea for this composition was born. The productive collaboration between artist and curator has shown itself elsewhere in the arrangement: as they were preparing to set up for the show some of the art was placed close to a wall before it should have been moved across the room. The decision was made to paint that wall a rich green, a unifying backdrop for the hats and ornaments. A cedar bark frog leaps up that same wall trying to reach a dragonfly. In the corner across, other tree frogs leap up an alder trunk. These playful elements never overpower the display of the art or the documentation of technique.
Jiixa’s business card shows her as a Haida Weaver and teacher and photographs on the wall document her showing the craft to students of all ages. Gladys Vandal is a woman of great poise and in her teaching she will only give direction when asked, letting the student develop a feel for the material. On her part she gratefully acknowledges the influence of her teachers: Haida weaver Delores Churchill and her daughters April, Holly and Evelyn and Virginia Hunter, who was present on opening night, for spruce root weaving. Gladys Vandal is observant of protocol and will not pass on a technique or a trick learnt from another weaver unless given permission to do so. As a teacher, she never ceases to learn and has also taken an interest in weaving techniques from other cultures. A recent course on weaving taught by an instructor from Salt Spring island lead the artist to include two baskets in this show. Since 1997 she has had regular exhibits and now looks forward to attend a weaving conference in Seattle. Most certainly she will delight us with new creations some months from now. The show runs until July 26 and is well worth a visit.
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