Material Witness will focus on extreme textile process. Images will be posted here showing the history of my work, new work, developing projects and inspiration.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Capable and Admirable

I neglected to mention the remarkable partners my kids have chosen when I talked about influential relationships yesterday. Both women are incredible and have been in my family for a few years with status of the significant other in my son and step-sons lives.

Vashti is a powerhouse who has studied archaeology and works in extreme environments. She operates from horseback, underwater, off of ATV's and does surveys in the Far North. She is soft spoken, democratic and intelligent. She can bake bread, fell trees, garden and makes Chris happy with an active and exciting life.

Brendan's partner Megan is a student at three different schools at the same time and studies design and art. She does very well! She is a kick ass bartender who can run in high heels. Meghan is also a boxer. She is a cultural duplicate of Brendan. Her father comes from Irish Montreal and her mom hails from the same town as Tim's family in England. They make the same noises when expressing pleasure and displeasure. Very unnerving. We call them the "twins".

Think I might offer to teach them how to make gooseberry pies.

Felted and felted and felted last night. The yellow mushrooms are coming home on the plane in two days with my Tim! Card in at London Drugs for rescue. Pictures when accomplished.

Monday, September 27, 2010


The single most poignant imagery I have seen in awhile is a beautiful phone captured video of my dear friend Vivian's mother and grandmother making pies. Floured surfaces, rolling pins, crust all handled deftly by a woman who had been making pies for more than eighty years.
The women together in perfect harmony at a loving and repeated task. A rhythm travelling through generations.

I sat and watched my mother, grandmothers and aunts all do this. I do this.

Vivian and I share a prairie farm childhood. I find this is the time of year when I miss it most. Harvest time. Canning time. Putting things by time. I get some satisfaction picking my garden and fruit. But it isn't the same. The effort is minuscule in contrast. The camaraderie from shared effort and reward is only a memory for me.

I make chutney and saskatoon jam, I freeze berries, rhubarb and peas. Potatoes grow and get eaten. I make my Granny's gooseberry pie. I just don't use the lard. So it never tastes the same. Never like hers. The last gooseberry pie she made me was 25 years ago. I ate it on a mountain side and gave a tiny bite to my baby son who Granny Blanche called Mickey Drippings. I didn't know it would be the last one. My grandmother was only able to use one arm but could still whap the dough around, roll the crust and put it in the pan in one quick swoop. Never dropping or tearing the dough. Making her own rhythym.

I don't have a daughter or a sister. No grand daughter yet. I am alienated from my mother. I have tried to pass some of this knowledge to my sons and nieces. Hopefully some of it remains after I don't.

There is something to be said about mitochondrial DNA and experience.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Oh No!

It looks like my camera card might be permanently screwed up. All the hours of research.! All the pictures of the caribou and Fort Nelson! Trauma.

Have finished laminating the little forms and will show you when the light table and camera are fixed.

Such a beautiful day in Vancouver. It looks like Tim has finally got an apartment in Fort Nelson so I should be able to come back and forth. In the meantime I am unpacking the house and trying to put things back in place. Then I work flat out for the East Side Culture Crawl.

Tim should be able to fly with the mushrooms and I found about forty similar ones at the post office around the corner in Vancouver. Will try to dye with them and see what happens. They don't have the rich yellow which appears to be the result of the muskeg swamp the Fort Nelson mushrooms grow on.

Will use the Muskox batt to do some felting and picture making tonight. Off to buy some forms for the larger globes I am making for Celine and Numen Gallery. Will also start working on some new panels for the Crawl and for Numen.

Still regenerating after my travels. Find that coffee with Bailey's works just fine for that. And am eating all vegetarian all the time. So very easy to do in Vancouver. Laughed at my son Bren, this morning. He came flying in to borrow the van because he is touring the Head of City Planning from some city in Australia around Vancouver. I made a breakfast smoothie with wild blueberries, carrot, parsley, flax oil and ginger. He gulped it down wide eyed and said, "Comfort food Mom!" Must have done something right.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Back in Vancouver

Got on to the scary little plane in Fort Nelson and flew home. It was the most comfortable flight I have ever taken. The weather was gorgeous when I left Fort Nelson and gorgeous when I arrived in Vancouver. The flight included 17 other passengers and included landing in Dawson Creek for a "security check". Bags taken off, run through machines and passengers wanded. I had to put my metal crochet hooks and little embroidery scissors in the check in bag. I am obviously a person who would pull off a hijacking with needlework implements! Imagine...

Was surprised to discover my little blog was posted to a local information blog in Fort Nelson.

The Fort Nelson cab driver, Erin, told me about some dyers in Watson Lake who used berries and plants. She also told me about the Mukluk Mamas. I will try to find them.

Arrived home to mixed news and a big moving mess. A friend who was my cancer survivor mentor, has been diagnosed with recurrence. Crap. My tenant is leaving the house in Winnipeg. Crap. My huge fibreglass globe got crushed by a falling box. Crap. Got hired to teach a few courses. Waiting for two new relatives to be born. Son got a great place overlooking the ocean. Got some money in the mail.

Finished crocheting eight little forms and am laminating them this morning.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Breath In Breath Out

Tim and I went for a Sunday Picnic near Summit Lake and took a few hundred pictures for visual research. We got caught in a snowfall. The forest are northern with pine, spruce, birch, alder and plants that I will need to learn.

The area surrounding Fort Nelson is extreme in all ways. The environment ranges from little ranches and farms to high mountains. The views go for miles and there are cuts in the earth that expose the formation of mother earth.

We were stopped on the highway by caribou licking the pavement for salt. A large buck and his harem surrounded our car. Healthy, beautiful animals. The experience was primal. We didn't move or breath so they would stay with us for awhile and they did.

We drove back to Fort Nelson and found hundreds of mushrooms at the side of the road in the cut area. We picked one and discovered it bled the most delicious yellow colour which stained Tim's palms. We picked a few for the dye pot and put it in the large jars we keep in the car for samples. I can't wait to try it on silk or leather. The stains are a deep tumeric yellow. It doesn't look transitory because it was so hard to wash off. Can't wait to see what will happen with different mordants.

While picking the mushrooms we were visited by a little mole.

No house yet so I am flying out today. Have to prepare for some gigs and for the big show at the East Side Culture Crawl in Vancouver. Am returning home with a head burning with ideas.

I hate leaving Tim for this. He is doing so well that you would hardly know he has come through such an extreme cancer experience.

Sorry no pictures until I get on to my computer at home. The card failed and I have to get someone to pull them off. Hopefully some will be recovered. The place changes daily and will not be like this again until next fall. When I return it will be colder and with snow. Might be back in a couple weeks.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Home Sweet Home

The housing situation in Fort Nelson is really a nightmare. We thought we had been accepted for an apartment but found out we weren't a day after we arrived. It probably won't be until November or later before one is made available. If we cross all of the hurdles.

We are currently staying at the Super 8 Motel and were upgraded to a nice family unit with a kitchen, fireplace etc. all because I let a very upset, tired and pushy man go before me in-line at registration time. I talked him down a little from his rage and it was clear to me he wasn't used to getting or giving kindness. He didn't thank me at all and this meant a two hour wait in the long run. The staff doing registration didn't forget my act and rewarded me with an upgraded room with all the lux! All this because I thought the guy was going to hit someone and I am an old street social worker with three honkin' big brothers and four sons.

Tim and I have now seen the beautiful Old ALaska Highway part of Fort Nelson and were blown away. It overlooks a beautiful valley that stretches through foothills, other valleys and mountains. Spectacular. We were invited to a steak dinner at the Golf Club. Piles of meat, potatoes with sour cream and bacon and cabbage salads containing cream. Mountains of food on a plate. We are used to stuffing ourselves with fish, grain and vegetables as a habit. Meat is more of a condiment so we were shocked. All was really well prepared and the deserts were decadent and super sweet. Vegetables are harder to get up here. There are little farms and a farmer's market that will close soon. I noticed that the local grocery store is pretty well stocked this time of year. The prices aren't terribly high yet and basic food is available.

Tim saw a huge beaver crossing the road yesterday. He also saw a moose on the way to work and the school was visited by a bear. The wolves surround the town. You know they are around when the coyotes disappear. Enormous mushrooms are popping up everywhere I walk.

Spent the afternoon in the local laundromat and met some Old Order Mennonite women and kids. I had a blast with them as they had teenagers and toddlers in the group. We talked kids and cloth and they showed me the free clothing exchange when I told them my coat had been "disappeared". The aboriginal women up here are gorgeous and tall. I am going to see if I can approach them to model some of my garments.

It doesn't look like I can stay for long this time. I am going to have to go back home because I am not covered on Tim's expenses. Most people fly in and out where he works.

No access yet to a scanner and haven't been able to download any photographs. But am going out today to buy some paint and play with my embroidery floss. I have been crocheting little forms when inspired. Will have to show you later.

I thought I was going to be able to get home soon to pack up. Can't get out of here yet. Talked to my chamber maid this morning and she told me that she came five years ago and has never been able to leave. The buses leave at 3 am. The planes are a little scary. I think I might get Tim to drive me to Fort St. John tomorrow so I can get back to Vancouver. Otherwise I will have to wait for another two weeks when he is driving home.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What Have We Done?

I am sitting near an open window on the third floor of the Woodlands Inn in Fort Nelson, B.C. Canada. The town may sound bucolic but it may be one of British Columbia's scariest example of a town run by big oil and gas companies. It is not pretty here. The town appears to be made up of muddy parking lots stuffed with trucks and equipment.

Our comments to one another so far is on the lines of "What have we done?!!!"

It is so much colder than Vancouver and we have put on our coats. Snow is expected in a few days which will mean the ruts will freeze and the walking will be very treacherous. Our new vehicle , which is white , is covered with a grey gumbo and an oily dust. The last mosquitoes are desperately buzzing at the window.

I expected to see wild plants or something to distract me. The District has decided to mow all the little nooks and roadsides bald to prevent "weeds". The bald will soon be covered by snow.
Tiny children fly around the town on ATV vehicles and little motorcycles.

We went to see the apartment we are moving to and it is a big, charmless, boxy example of an 2 storey ATCO trailer. The lease isn't signed yet and the only natural food store has just gone out of business and is for rent. Tim and I might be in for another live work space.

I am too tired to feel too much. Tomorrow will reveal more truths about the town. It is surrounded by forest. There must be a way to get to it!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ebor Mills Fire

Our family is personally devastated by the news of the terrible fire at the Ebor Mill in Haworth, England. The mill was owned by our Merrall family and was once reputed to produce the finest worsted in England. It also made sure the workers prospered and paid the highest wages.

Someone named borrat contacted me via this blog to let me know about the devastation. It was only by accident that I was looking through the blog archives and discovered the post.

The mill is a wonderful example of Victorian Architecture and will be a huge loss to the Haworth community and to textile history.
Archival Photo of weavers employed by Ebor Mills.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tile Trauma

Rolling Thunder Mountain, Nevada 2010
photo Tim Hurley
House put together with stuff and bits.

I spent the day today preparing for my Northern Adventure. The kitchen and bookshelves are full of stuff I don't use or read. Packing boxes arrived and I just started chucking things like camping waffle irons, plastic bowls, duplicates, pots without lids, lids without pots and old jar lids. This effort yielded four huge boxes of stuff. The book shelf revealed 20 useless catalogues and dozens of magazines my mother shuffled off her shelves a few years ago. I also discovered at least five old phonebooks and a mess of past date flyers and coupons. Out, Out, Out!
Check Spelling
Yesterday my closets and drawers revealed a disparagent collection of underwear and painting clothes. I have allowed myself two sets of studio clothes and got rid of anything stained and torn beyond repair. Any underwear that was saggy, baggy, too tight or scary was also chucked.

I clearly had a fetish for some yummy black Lacy's once. Don't think it will work with my long johns in F-ing Fort Nelson. I have trunked anything business and have only packed one dressy outfit. Am trying to decide whether to pack or give away my vintage and antique stuff.

I am rather dispassionate about what I am getting rid of. The goal is to fit into a smaller truck because I don't want to have to deal with driving 1000 miles with something loaded and too big for Tim to manage. He has done very well and purchased a big, white Northern SUV. much to my horror. We will drive up to deliver Tim and his supplies on Friday. I will return after checking out the apartment and pack up the house alone.

Tim and Brendan managed to pull all kinds of stuff out from under the house and haul it to recycling and the landfill. I had been collecting and saving broken tiles for years for a mosaic patio project for my yard including sidewalks, benches a patio, a pond and raised garden beds.
Most of the tiles were sorted and ready to go this summer. But...Tim got so sick and I was otherwise occupied. Long story short. Tiles hauled off and dumped! Gahhh! Just stuff right?

This move is complicated but less upsetting because my inner rain man will have time to sort and let go and also have a safe location to store. I also get to do the basement when Tim is working and I am home alone!

The big move is on the first week of October. My son Brendan and his spouse Megan move into the house for a year.

I have this great recycling technique. I take a box and fill it with stuff that isn't really needed but still good. Place the box on the front sidewalk near the house and put a sign on it the says "Free". Instant disappearance.

Spent part of yesterday crocheting little forms and felt laminating them. Soft and clean hands today. Packing art supplies according to planned and unfinished projects. Have even selected a palette for the year based on memories of other Northern journeys. Will be disciplined regarding supplies. I brought too much stuff with me to Wells last year and felt overwhelmed.

Am still trying to convince myself this is exciting and fun. Not so much!

Saturday, September 4, 2010


I completed the little panel for the Numen Gallery. It took an incredible effort but I like the results when all the little works hang together. Will keep my commitment to Celine for other globes and panels before I leave.

Bridget Catchpole is my favourite jeweler and we are going to trade work. I am beyond excited.

Christine Hatfull brought me some new photographs today and they are so amazing. Shots taken that are like archaeological digs through this ever changing city. She was born in Vancouver and seems to recognize when change is about to happen to a place or surface that is ingrained in our memory landscape here. Liminal space ... just before change. Sometimes her images sting me with a sense of loss. Walls I have walked by a thousand times. Old doors and rooftops I loved but took for granted.

Karen MacKenzie Brydon has agreed to sell me her amazing wrapped books. They are transparent and to die for. Haunting layers of images that tell so many meaningful stories for my life. She lived as part of me since the age of eleven and many memories are shared. She has created images like amber fossils revealing ghosts and whispers of the past. Photographs of some of my early crafted dolls and embroideries show up.

All of my friends are important but my artist realm friends truly allow me air in my lungs.

Hilary and I skipped out yesterday for a few hours and lolled on the beach after a yummy lunch at Foundation. She has traveled so far and grown so very much since the loss of her little baby, Molly. Women are so strong. She is starting to make art again.

Every day a few more trunks are sorted. I am keeping the studio and not bringing everything. Will be returning every month or so for a week or more. This is one of the benefits of Northern work. Concentrated periods in camp and paid transportation and time out.

Arlee Barr has kicked up her natural dyeing experiments a notch. Google her. She is showing up everywhere and is becoming a new textile super star. She is even on You Tube. So very personable, good crazy and funny!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ever Evolving

I spent the last few days looking for 4"X6" canvas to finish a small series for a commission.
Not one to be found anywhere!
Used another canvas that had a burnt work on it but also had the African paper that was so important to the little work. So I scrapped and peeled for two full days. Hardest thing I remember doing because I was trying to preserve the paper border which would not even steam off. Blue sweat!

Finally finished scrapping and picking with no canvas shredding. Will never do that again!

Result is that the new primer has worked very well and covered up any burns and flaws.
The new emulsion is drying well and should be ready to reburn tomorrow.

Got my apartment in Fort Nelson today. The housing authority kept trying to negotiate newly improved basement suites! One snowfall and no windows so I negotiated a second floor with a balcony and a mountain view and a tree. Made my first northern fumble when I found out the building is pet friendly and in an innocent but concerned voice inquired about a flea policy. I am allergic to fleas and hate them. Voice on the other end of the phone burst out laughing. She, in a stage whisper, asked her co-workers if they had a flea policy and the room roared with laughter.

"Honey...we don't have fleas, head lice, bed bugs or cockroaches up here. They freeze to death! So do the house flies! So do half the people for that matter!"

Rumour has it that the black flies and other vampires make up for it in the summer and fall.

The Vancouver kitchen and bathroom are now finished. The home and studio sorting is underway and I pack to leave for the first visit on the 9th of September. We drive up and I leave Tim and fly back to pack for real.

I am trying to figure out what to do with 13 hole punches, tea tins, old dyes, empty paint bottles, 4 pin cushions, a trunk of old chinese papers and trunks and trunks full of cloth. A whole lot less stuff than before I moved to Wells last year. Will have to decide about the library, looms, drafting tables and extra sewing machines.