Fresh Sheets

A portfolio of writing by Tamara Neely.

It takes a village March 9, 2013

Filed under: art,First Nations,lifestyle — Tamara Neely @ 04:59

As nine-year-old Alexis Crystal Jim focuses on picking up a brilliant blue bead with her sewing needle and fastening it to a piece of hide, the women several decades older than her chat and laugh and sew. And as the time flies by, the little girl soaks up traditional knowledge and the Southern Tutchone language spoken around her. There, among women supporting her – and supporting each other – she’s also learning about the warm comfort of her kin.2013-02-21 FN sewing lower res

Jim comes with her grandmother to the sewing group, which takes place every Monday and Wednesday at the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN) administration building in downtown Whitehorse. The sewing and language class is free to all CAFN members and their families.

Val Fromme is not of First Nation heritage, but her husband is. And so are their children. She feels at home in the sewing circle and over the past few years she has been learning the First Nation style of beadwork.

On Feb. 13 she once again joined the six women at the table for the class she has become so fond of.

“I really like the end product and the process, but I particularly like hanging out with these women and listening to their stories and learning these new techniques of sewing,” Fromme says.

Jim’s grandmother, Bertha Moose, is an instructor of the sewing group, along with Lorraine Allen.

“They give us this space to revitalize the First Nation traditional artwork,” Allen says. She points to Jim, pulling thread through the thick hide. “She’s learning. And she does a good job.”

Jim’s first project was a beaded leather cardholder for bankcards and such. She gave that one to her Mom, now she’s making one for her aunt and her plan is to make another for her grandmother.

“Then I’m going to sell them,” she says. “I like making projects. It’s fun.”

“It’s good to see younger kids sew,” Moose says. “That’s how young we started sewing. I’ve been sewing for a long time. I was taught by my grandmother and my mother.”

Then the knowledge started missing generations.

Tina Grant is of Champagne heritage and her great grandmother used to make beadwork, but she just picked up beading four years ago.

And she’s picked it up in a big way. She has exhausted the local supplies of bead colours and has been ordering them through the internet to get an inspiring new array.

“I’ve invested a lot of money in beads, but I’ve given a lot away as gifts,” she says. “But when I see my work, it gives me more money to buy more beads.”

For Grant beading is not about tapping into the culture of her family, rather, it’s a hypnotic way to pass the time – and create something useful and beautiful.

“It’s just a hobby,” Grant says. “I enjoy it; it relaxes me. I really love sewing and beading and being productive.”

Three years ago the class started with beginners and now the women are not only giving away their work as handsome gifts, but also selling it and taking custom orders.

The free sewing and language class meets every Monday and Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the CAFN administration building in downtown Whitehorse.

 Published in What’s Up Yukon on February 21, 2013
 

Capturing shoppers’ hearts five bucks at a time

Filed under: art — Tamara Neely @ 04:19
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It’s not easy for a nine-year-old to make money in this world says Oliver Flegel’s mom. But the Christmas season proved lucrative for the young entrepreneur, whose income has been of the $1-per-chore variety.

On Nov. 24, however, Flegel walked away from the KIAC Christmas Arts and Craft Fair in Dawson City with $150 in hand and the kind of confidence that comes from a line-up of customers wanting a hand-drawn portrait.2013-01-17 Oliver_portrait lower res

Turns out his portraits were finding their way into people’s hearts, five bucks at a time – six bucks if they opted for one of three background designs that cost extra.

ODD Gallery director Evan Rensch is a customer who commissioned Flegel to do a portrait of himself and his girlfriend, Elaine Cordon, at the fair.

“We don’t have any photos of ourselves together, but we do have a portrait by Oliver,” says Rensch. “We’d like to get it framed one day.”

For now it’s stored in an envelope. He’s tempted to put it on the fridge, but doesn’t want to get any schmutz on it.

Rensch appreciates the effort Flegel put into the portraits.

“He was really concentrated,” Rensch says. “He moved his pen really slowly, then back-tracked, then erased a bit… It was very considered, I would say.”

It’s a meaningful compliment when the director of an art gallery appreciates one’s work.

However, Flegel started out the day with trepidation rather than confidence, his mother Janice Cliff says. Together the pair prepared for exposing their art to the public: Flegel with photos and portraits, Cliff with photo-based artwork.

“On the morning of the craft fair he had a moment of panic and said, ‘What if no one wants a portrait done?’” says Cliff. “I know the feeling. I had a twinge of it myself.”

But soon a customer came, then another, and at one point there was a line-up.

“I think it says a lot about our community that they’re 100 per cent supportive of kids’ initiatives,” Cliff says.

The demand surprised Flegel.

“When I looked at the portraits after, I didn’t really like them,” he says. “I thought I could do better. But when everyone started coming in and wanting one, I realized I’m a kid and this is how kids draw.”

After completing 20 portraits and earning $150, Flegel and his mom headed home.

While pondering what to do with the money, Cliff learned about an initiative to raise money for a family friend diagnosed with breast cancer and discussed it with her son.

Flegel offered to donate $100 to the cause, his mom reduced it to $25 and Flegel counter-offered $30. Nevertheless, Cliff made arrangements to donate $25. Her motivation was to teach Flegel about money: about  saving, as well as earning and sharing .

For Flegel, making the donation made him feel good.

“There was a girl, she was just about to have a baby and she was diagnosed with breast cancer and I decided to donate money to her, because my friend Jonathan’s mother just died of breast cancer and I don’t want that to happen to my mom’s friend, her husband or the baby,” Flegel says. “And the money is to help her heal and to buy a wig, because your hair falls out when you get cancer.”

And what’s next for Flegel? The craft fair turned out to be a good networking experience, too. Flegel was offered a part in his 11-year-old friend Jack’s musical, which is in the works.

Published in What’s Up Yukon on January 17, 2013

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