Tag Archives: arts

Beautiful Spiritual Murals by Native Artists

30 Nov
"January" by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

“January” by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

Sometimes we find ourselves touched in a profound way by the work of another artist. During the two weeks I taught in Joe A. Ross School, I had such an experience.

The school is shaped like an eagle, with wings outstretched for young learners to take flight. The hallways are structured off of a central square area and each of the four hallways is decorated with three large circular paintings that represent the spiritual transition of the months. Every day, as I entered the school, I walked past January, February, March….

"February" by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

“February” by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

I found myself affected by the art, absorbed into the artists’ dreams. The images made me feel connected to the land surrounding the school as well as to a spiritual vision of our human place in nature. I was busy with teaching young students, but finally, in the staffroom, I asked the questions that had come to mind. Who was the artist, Sydney Kirkness, who signed the paintings back in 1991? Some of the paintings were unsigned. Were those Sydney’s paintings too, or was there another artist? I was told the unsigned paintings were done by a very fine artist, Moses Bignell.

"September" by Moses Bignell

“September” by Moses Bignell

A kindly man, Pat Young, said, “If you want to know about Sydney Kirkness’s art, ask Agnes Kirkness, the painter’s wife. Sydney passed away two years ago. She’s over at the Otineka Mall.” The next day—my last day at the school, I was able to go over. I found Agnes, a beautiful woman with a soulful face, having lunch with family in the food court. I explained that I was visiting Joe A. Ross School for Artists in the Schools and had become interested in her husband’s art. She told me I’d been teaching her grand-daughter who had an artistic gift too. Later, when I knew which girl she meant, Cynthia Halcrow, I was delighted to realize I’d already spoken to Cynthia about her gift, noting a subtle confidence and charm in her illustrations.

Cynthia and Tricia, two wonderful artists

Cynthia and Tricia, two wonderful artists

Agnes kindly said she’d meet me back at the school at the end of the day, with articles on Sydney, so I would understand his work more. That night, in the little cottage on Clearwater Lake in which I was staying, I read the articles before sleep. Outside the cottage was the dark of night and the rippling blue lake while inside, I put on a fire in the wood-burning stove and I read about artist, Sydney Kirkness. As I pieced together his story, my understanding of North deepened.

"March" by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

“March” by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

As a child, Sydney was taken away from his family to be taught in the Birtle Indian Residential School, a tragedy experienced by Native Canadians until 1996. In an article, “Native artist reclaims his heritage,” by Jim Mosher, Sydney is quoted as saying “When I attended boarding school I lost my culture, my language, my native teachings.” Even so, at thirteen, a charcoal landscape won Sydney his first ribbon in the school art contest, and he realized that he might have a career in art.

Evening Comes to Clearwater Lake as I Read Onward

Evening Comes to Clearwater Lake as I Read Onward

In 1969, he ended up walking away from his art after graduating with a certificate from the Banff School of Fine Arts. “I just gave up…because my feelings were hurt,” Kirkness said in an interview, “I paint what I feel and when that’s destroyed, my painting is destroyed (“James Risdon, “New art techniques challenge Kirkness”). Sydney left art and drifted for ten years, during a desolate and lonely time. “I just felt empty without painting…I felt useless.” Then he returned to the place of his birth, Koostatak. “I had been lonesome. I wanted to return to my roots. (Interlake Spectator, Dec. 12, 1994)

Reading by the Wood Stove

Reading by the Wood Stove

As I sat in my cabin by the light of the fire, reading those words, I felt so moved. Such was the experience of the big-hearted man, Sydney Kirkness, who painted the beautiful spiritual murals I had walked past every day for the past two weeks. I could relate to his temperament. As so many artists have experienced, deep hurt can trigger self-denial and denial of one’s art and can create a perversion of one’s creative path. Sydney wandered lonely and broken for ten years. But the Good Red Road is always there, waiting for the traveller to return, and luckily, Sydney returned to his artistic path, a joy that I will delve into tomorrow….

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Creative Immersion

7 Nov
Evening on Clearwater Lake

Evening on Clearwater Lake

As artists, we are always interpreting our world, perceiving the beauty that surrounds us at any given moment. During my visit to Joe A. Ross School in The Pas, Manitoba, I helped student create with joy during the school day, after which I was immersed in the beauty of my surroundings on Clearwater Lake—a pattern lived everyday by teachers in the area!

Reading My Illustrated Fairy Tale Pod the Wood Elf to Students

Reading My Illustrated Fairy Tale Pod the Wood Elf to Students

During my visit to Joe A. Ross School, I had single sessions with the Grades One to Five. I read my picture book, Pod the Wood Elf, to Grades One to Four and lead students in lively illustrations of emotions.

Artists at Work

Artists at Work

Careful Creators

Careful Creators

A Fine Illustrator of Emotions

A Fine Illustrator of Emotions

Artists and their Art

Artists and their Art

Cree Immersion Students and their Proud Teacher

Cree Immersion Students and their Proud Teacher

Artists Share their Work

Artists Share their Work

All Smiles

All Smiles

A Lively Display of Emotions

A Lively Display of Emotions

What a joy to work with students at Joe A. Ross School as they created illustrations of emotions with such care and creativity! In my next entry, I will share more about the creative process….

Creative Anti-Bullying Immersion

3 Nov
Pillars Representing the Stages of Human Life from Infancy to Old Age

Pillars Representing the Stages of Human Life from Infancy to Old Age

In my post yesterday, I wrote about how I visited Joe A. Ross School in The Pas, Manitoba, and the architecture of the building beautifully embodies concepts significant in Cree spirituality. In such a meaningful setting, I was privileged to teach enthusiastic students from Grades One to Six.

Vibrant Sky and School

Vibrant Sky and School

A highlight of my visit was that students in the three Grade Six classes began my novel, The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach, and the accompanying Novel Study and Anti-Bullying Guide, with the help of three skillful teachers, Crystal Ross, Myrna Ducharme, and Michelle Edwards. Together, over the two weeks we engaged in a variety of activities. We read the first five chapters which immediately engaged students as every kid has experienced the bullying scenario, whether as bully, bullied, or bystander, a major theme in the novel. A big plus is that the book is humorous, which draws in more young readers, and there is social intrigue and romance, always captivating themes.

Teacher Myrna Ducharme Reads The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach to the Class

Teacher Myrna Ducharme Reads The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach to the Class

More Students Involved in  the Reading and Listening Process

More Students Involved in the Reading and Listening Process

The World of Big Water Beach Comes to Life in the Mind's of Students

The World of Big Water Beach Comes to Life in the Minds of Students

The following synopsis will give blog readers an idea of what these Joe A. Ross students read in these chapters. The first chapter of the novel sets the stage for the bullying theme as we discover that the main character, Munro McLean, has been bullied all through Grades Five and Six, and that he has been called a nerd, dork, and geek, and has been thrown around, ridiculed and generally made miserable at school.

Teacher Crystal Ross and Students Immersed in Novel

Teacher Crystal Ross and Students Immersed in Novel

In the next chapter, we discover that Munro is popular at Big Water Beach, a great relief, but in order to stay popular, he has to avoid Cassandra Beech, an elderly woman who is a hermit and an artist, nicknamed The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach, and her grandniece Alison, who have decided they want Munro to create art with them.

Attentive Readers

Attentive Readers

In the following chapters, as Munro’s typical beach life unfolds, with swimming lessons, a game of Truth or Dare, a dog show and more, we are introduced to the fun-loving kids of Munro’s peer group, who we discover have a dark side, in that they begin to pick on Alison, the outsider. Munro, on the other hand, starts to secretly hang out with the Beech Nut and Alison to make art, and tension deepens and high antics increase as Munro madly tries to keep his life as an artist with the Beech Nut and Alison separate from his life within his peer group.

The Plot Thickens

The Plot Thickens

An activity that the teachers and I used was to allow students to draw ten pivotal characters in the novel. When students draw and visualize the characters, they engage more with them and can see them in their minds’ eyes more easily. Some students are visual learners who relate strongly to having the chance to draw.

Character Images are Projected and Students Immerse in Drawing

Character Images are Projected and Students Immerse in Drawing

Concentrating on Artwork

Concentrating on Artwork

Teacher Michelle Edwards Joins Students in Art Activity

Teacher Michelle Edwards Joins Students in Art Activity

In my next entry, I invite you to come with me to my lodgings during this Northern visit, a little cottage on the shores of the third clearest cleanest lake in the world, Clear Water Lake….

Heather Bishop Hosts AMYC Barbeque

5 Jun

On Sunday, June 2, 2013, Heather Bishop, renowned singer, songwriter, and painter, hosted her annual barbeque for the grads of “The Art of Managing Your Career.” The barbeque was a celebratory gathering of individuals who had taken the AMYC course, taught by Heather Bishop and offered in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

With Heather Bishop

With Heather Bishop

The premise of AMYC is that artists are often brilliantly trained and self-taught in their disciplines but have little or no training in the critical business aspect of their careers. AMYC addresses this gap, focussing on the need for business training for self-employed artists in all disciplines. The course runs once a week in three hour sessions for thirteen weeks; the workshop style format offers artists the chance to explore a great variety of topics: developing career goals, vision statements, promotion and publicity; social networking; researching; action planning; marketing; financial planning and management; bookkeeping, negotiating; learning about legalities; and completing a business plan. As a self-employed writer, educator, and artist, I found the course inspiring and full of valuable information.

Heading off to the AMYC barbeque, I drove with my daughter, Margaret Eve, (a grad also) down rural roads, past small towns and isolated farm buildings bordered by expansive fields, to Woodmore, our destination.

Dustin Harder at the mike, singing the blues

Dustin Harder at the Mike, Singing the Blues

Jocelyne Mercier Baribeau and Al Simmons Joyfully Accompany Dustin Harder

Jocelyne Mercier Baribeau and Al Simmons Joyfully Accompany Dustin Harder

As the event unfolded, we and other artists were treated to an enchanting time on Heather’s beautiful country property where trees blossomed pink and white and all the forest was greening. We visited and conferred with artists of all disciplines. A bottomless pot of chili bubbled away alongside a table laden with fruits, vegetables, salads, and rolls, for all to share. We had no sooner settled onto lawn chairs than the music fest began. Love songs, comical songs, songs of sorrow floated out to enrapt listeners as ashes flew up from blazing orange flames in the fire pit. Each gifted musician–guitarists, singers, an accordion player, drummers, percussionists, and more–wove their very fine talents into the musical tapestry.

Cheyenne Rae enchants listeners

Cheyenne Rae Enchants Listeners

Jocelyne Mercier Baribeau, alias Madame Diva, captures hearts

Jocelyne Mercier Baribeau, Alias Madame Diva, Captures Hearts

Heather Bishop delights all with her Belly Button song

Heather Bishop Delights All With Her Belly Button Song

Al Simmons Can't Find His Belly Button

Al Simmons Can’t Find His Belly Button

Enrapt Listeners

Enrapt Listeners

Engrossed in the Moment

Engrossed in the Moment

Thoughtful Attention

Thoughtful Attention

Deep Conversation, Dog on Patrol, and a Smiling Daughter

Deep Conversation, Dog on Patrol, and a Smiling Daughter

Heather and her partner Judith opened their home to all. Multi-talented, Heather built the house herself, a true artist’s abode, practical and inspired, with a creative, welcoming ambiance in every nook and cranny. The walls are wood and dark blue and white; an altar with a carved Merlin, an invocation to the Eagle, and other numinous objects holds space beside a long inviting dining table. Heather’s fine art portraits of wide-open loving people of all ages grace the walls. Heather’s and Judith’s home is a testament to the artist’s way, to living the conscious life.

An Artist's Abode

An Artist’s Abode

Spiritually Resonant Portraits by Heather Bishop

Spiritually Resonant Portraits by Heather Bishop

Finally, the sun began to set and as evening came on, we made our way back down country roads, with music, laughter, the company of creative people warming our hearts.

The Sun Sets on a Lovely Day

The Sun Sets on a Lovely Day

Don’t Hide Your True Passion From Your Friends

18 May
Driving down the misty road leading to Scott Bateman School

Driving down the misty road leading to Scott Bateman School

Dear Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon,

Hi, my name is K.C.M.C.L. Thank-you very much for coming to Scott Bateman Middle School.  Thank you for all the valuable lessons on bullying and all the wonderful drawings you did with the class.

Drawing on the Whiteboard--Baby Nicholas Between his Parents

Drawing on the Whiteboard–Baby Nicholas Between his Parents

My favorite part is when all the boys told the truth about [their] lies and became friends with Alison and the Beech Nut. My favorite character was Nicholas. I loved it when you wrote baby talk for him. My favorite part is when he yells out “Munwo.” The valuable lesson I learned is don‘t hide your true passion from your friends and don‘t lie about who your friends are.

When I was in grade five, three girls would bully me at lunch because I sat in between them and there was one girl named M. who stood up for me. My Auntie is a teacher and I told her about your book and she is going to get it for her school to read. I loved the book. It was very good. Thank you for coming.

Sincerely,
K.L.

Artist and Students Draw The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach Cast of Characters

Artist and Students Draw The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach Cast of Characters

December 11, 2012

Dear K. C. M. C. L.,

Thank you for your kind letter about my visit to Scott Bateman Middle School and about your experience with The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach. I was pleased that you considered the lessons on bullying valuable! I was also pleased that you enjoyed my drawings because I love to draw.

I agree with you, that the happy ending in which the boys tell the truth and become friends with Alison and the Beech Nut is very satisfying. Also, it was fun to write baby talk for Nicholas. You really picked out important ideas about the book, that you shouldn’t hide your true passion from your friends, and you shouldn’t lie about who your friends are.

I was sorry to hear that you were bullied at lunch in Grade Five, but I was glad M. stood up for you! If the bullying ever happens again, you know that you can always go to a trusted adult like Mr. Popiel or the counselor, Mrs. Barb McLeod, for help, but it sounds as if it all worked out already.

Let your Auntie know that she can reach me through the Artists in the Schools website in the Artists in the Schools list of artists. I would be happy to come to her school!

Best wishes,
Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon

Modernist Moment

26 Apr
On the Way to the Sky Train

On the Way to the Sky Train

Transforming the Self and Society: Reading Tiktala for a UNESCO Event

14 Apr
Cover of My All Ages Fairy Tale, Tiktala, illustrated by Laszlo Gal

Cover of My All Ages Fairy Tale, Tiktala, illustrated by Laszlo Gal

In February 2013, I was invited Vincent Massey High School in Winnipeg, MB, Canada, by teacher-librarian Mona-Lynne Ayotte, to read from my all-ages fairy tale, Tiktala. My reading was a featured event in a school-wide celebration of both “I Love to Read” month and Vincent Massey’s ongoing participation in UNESCO.

UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO is “a specialized agency of the United Nations whose goal is to add to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the UN Charter.” UNESCO named “Four Pillars of Education”: “Learning to Know,” “Learning to Do,” “Learning to Live Together,” and “Learning to Be”—to which the addition of a fifth pillar was suggested, namely “Learning to Transform.”

I had been brought in through our Manitoba Arts Council’s Artists in the Schools program (Arts Smart) to teach creative writing at Vincent Massey, when it occurred to my kind and enthusiastic host teacher, Mona-Lynne Ayotte, that Tiktala is an ideal book to share at a UNESCO event, given that one of its central themes is that of transformation.

Vincent Massey Newsletter

Vincent Massey Newsletter

Prior to the event, Mona-Lynne created a superb newsletter that offered thoughtful write-ups on “Life changing books,” my anti-bullying novel, The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach, “If you could Change the World,” “The Making of Tiktala,” “Protecting Mother Earth,” and more.

I share here the full version of the speech I made (in condensed form) to the wonderfully attentive group of six hundred Grade 11 and 12 Vincent Massey students.

It began as a dream!

It began as a dream!

"The

The making of Tiktala

On Podium with Mona-Lynne Ayotte

On Podium with Mona-Lynne Ayotte

Presentation for Unesco Event at Vincent Massey

I am delighted to partake in your valuable, admirable UNESCO event. Thank you to Mona-Lynne Ayotte for her tremendous organizational work to bring this reading about, and to Vincent Massey teachers for making such an event happen.

Tiktala, my all-ages fairy tale, illustrated by the famous Canadian illustrator, László Gál, was a real heart’s project.

The story started as a dream and took five years from the beginning dream to the finished, published book. The original manuscript went from fifteen pages up to forty-two and back down to twelve and went through at least ten to fifteen rough drafts.

Along the way, a few people asked, “Are you still working on that story? Give it up!” But I persevered and kept going until I truly understood and had given form to the dream.

In the end, after all the challenges I’d faced, Tiktala was published in Toronto and New York. Tiktala was recipient of the McNally Robinson Book for Young People Award, the Parents’ Choice Honor in the U.S., and was placed on a list of Notable Books in the Area of Social Studies. Now, the book is sold in paperback by Fitzhenry and Whiteside and has been translated to French with Scholastic.

The story strikes many chords with the UNESCO Pillars of Education. In regard to the “Learning to Live Together” pillar, the idea that children should be taught to understand other people’s reactions by looking at things from other points of view is central. In Tiktala, the central protagonist, an Inuit girl named Tiktala, is transformed into a seal specifically so that she will learn to view the world as a seal—the animal she wants to carve. Another central aspect of the “Learning to Live Together” pillar is the spirit of empathy, teaching youth to look at the world through the eyes of other ethnic groups as a way of avoiding violence or hatred.

In Tiktala, Tiktala’s spirit guide, a seal named Tulimak, hates all humans because her first pup was clubbed to death. When she is put in the position of guiding Tiktala—a human girl who has been transformed into a seal—she learns that not all humans are destructive. Because she sees through Tiktala’s eyes, she is able to drop her hatred of all humans. When she does so, she frees Tiktala to act with tremendous empathy, so that Tikala saves Tulimak’s second pup from a sealer.

Attentive Student Audience At Vincent Massey High School

Attentive Student Audience At Vincent Massey High School

UNESCO’s “Learning to Be” pillar places emphasis on the importance of imagination and creativity, and on giving art and poetry a greater place in education. That Vincent Massey High School would invite a writer to participate in their UNESCO event gives validation to the importance of artists and art in education. Tiktala is a book about the development of the artist through a journey that promotes empathy and understanding. The Inuit elder, Iguptak, who sends Tiktala on her journey, places high value indeed on the place of art in Tiktala’s education.

UNESCO’s “Learning to Know” pillar emphasizes concentration, memory skills, and the ability to think, all of which are part of listening to and analyzing stories. When we come together as a group, to listen to stories and to discuss them, we enhance our ability to know.

“Learning to Do” is another UNESCO theme that applies directly to Tiktala’s journey, in that she must “acquire necessary skills” in order to survive as a seal. She must learn how to fish, how to eat as a seal eats, how to sleep in the ocean, how to escape predators, and more. She acquires these skills, learning to do as a seal does, so that she can move on to her next level of creation—learning to create beautiful soapstone carvings of the seals she has come to know so well.

More Students Listening to Tiktala at Vincent Massey

More Students Listening to Tiktala at Vincent Massey

The Fifth Pillar, UNESCO’s “Learning to Transform” permeates Tiktala. Tiktala is not only transformed into a seal, in an outer transformation, but she is also undergoes an inner transformation—to care about the animal she wants to carve. In the UNESCO view, we transform ourselves and then can transform our society. Tiktala does precisely that—she transforms herself into a caring, spiritual, and creative carver whose journey has enriched her immeasurably, and then she shares her journey with her father, who has been depressed and adrift, and now the light comes into his eyes.

There are at least seven themes in Tiktala: The Hero Journey; The Development of the Artist; Revenge and Forgiveness; Environmental Awareness; Parent/Child Relationship; Transformation; and, Human Creativity vs. Destructiveness.

The book celebrates the indigenous spirituality and world view, with Iguptak, the wisest woman of the village as a shaman who sends Tiktala on a vision quest in which she is transformed into a seal by a spirit and is led forth on her journey by a seal spirit guide. Tiktala further celebrates the human connection to animals.

In Tiktala, we find the hero journey, as identified by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In the hero journey, the people of a realm are suffering in some way. The hero leaves home and enters the Otherworld where he or she faces a series of tests which he or she successfully completes. The hero returns home with the treasure that restores balance and saves the world. Hero stories, myths, and some fairy tales from all around the world have this pattern. Tiktala leaves home, faces test upon test as a seal, and returns home as a changed girl who brings with her transformative light.

Words Create Change

Words Create Change

Tiktala is a story of the development of the artist and of learning to care about the thing you create. At the beginning of her journey, Tiktala doesn’t really care about seals. She has many reasons for wanting to be a great carver—fame, money to buy things, a wish for her father’s attention. This is often true when we set out on any career path! Only the experience of becoming an artist, a teacher, a carpenter, a parent, tells us what that career is all about. As Tiktala learns to care about her subject, the seals, she becomes a deeper artist capable of making great carvings. She no longer wants her father’s attention, but she wants to give something to him—the carving that reveals the beauty and meaning of her journey; she wants to represent the beauty of Tulimak and Aputi, her seal friends. In becoming empathetic and selfless, Tikala attains her dream of becoming a great carver.

Tiktala is available for purchase from numerous online booksellers, including McNally Robinson Booksellers, Amazon, and Chapters.

As well, I created a richly rewarding Teacher’s Guide to Tiktala, available through my Teachers Pay Teachers site, a great value for under four dollars.