Prince Albert gallery embraces Métis women’s art
- Leah Marie Dorion | May 23, 2021
About two years ago, I was approached by the Mann Art Gallery (MAG) to participate in a mini artist residency in order to catalyze more Metis-specific art making and arts programming in Prince Albert.
There is a large Metis population in this region and Lana Wilson, then gallery educator and now curator of the Mann Art Gallery, desired to genuinely connect with our Metis community in a meaningful manner. I was willing to work with the Gallery because they have made a significant commitment to the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action by using the cultural arts as a form of peacemaking, inclusion, and partnership. I acknowledge the collaborative nature of MAG in this outstanding initiative.
As an artist, it was inspiring to see how enthusiastic they were about engaging my own personal style of Metis arts leadership and their willingness to attract more local Metis women into the MAG space through cultural programming.
Since I had been working to revive traditional women's sewing, prior the mini residency, we decided to pilot a series of Metis women's cultural sewing projects in the gallery’s education room, with its lovely natural light.
"Hosting sewing workshops would help to further break down barriers between ‘craft’ and ‘fine art’ and emphasize the skill and creativity that go into creating special sewing projects," Wilson said.
"Art galleries and museums must include and celebrate art, creativity, and visual culture far beyond the traditional, Euro-centric ideas of privileging painting, drawing, and sculpture,” she said.
I am proud that through our Metis women's sewing initiative we were able to purchase six new sewing machines to keep at the gallery and were able to have direct conversations with our eight to 10 participants per workshop about how to create a more accessible environment for Metis people at the MAG.
I learned Metis women want more types of Metis cultural programming and childcare support for participants and Lana came through. Not only were we able to conduct beautiful Metis specific programming, we responded to what the Metis women shared with us through formal evaluations and conversations. There was even a welcoming space for the children.
During my residency at the MAG, they found extra financial resources to bring other Metis women and Elders into our unique programming and I formed a strong relationship with local Metis educator Bonny Johnson, who I see as a future arts leader in our sewing community.
Bonny says, "It is an intimate setting where we can gather, share stories, a cup of tea, and bits of humour and wisdom, as we support each other to find our voices as women. There is something so special about knowing that this is what women have done together for generations."
I was also able to bring in Elders such as Elsie Sanderson, who taught us to use sage to bless our sewing items.
To date, MAG has conducted four Metis-style moss-bag making workshops, a high plains Metis style ribbon skirt workshop and we will be making moon shawls. Maybe one day, we’ll borrow some of these beautiful works for public display.
Bonny says the highlight for her is watching women find their voices.
“Hearing their stories and witnessing their growth has been such a gift. What can be better than being able to help a woman learn a lifelong skill as well as grow as a person?"
For more information visit www.mannartgallery.ca