ABOUT CINDY

I grew up on a farm west of Landis, Saskatchewan; the oldest of four children born to Myrna and Oliver Harris. My earliest memory of being proud of something creative was figuring out as a six year old how to draw a bird in profile. I continued to draw and paint with pen and watercolours and then moved to oils when my mother started oil painting classes given in the area. I accompanied her and worked with her when she started pottery and photography. I had been taught to sew at an early age, making doll clothes and taking classes on clothing construction. Mom and I attended many craft shows in the early years of the Saskatchewan Craft Council. Mom was hauling pots and I was making jewelry. There was also a macramé phase in my teenage years.

I attended the University of Saskatchewan off and on, working on a Bachelor of Fine Arts. I thought I would learn how to make art better at University, but the classes I was in seemed to be more about talking about art, rather than making art. I was lucky to have an intersession class from Oliver Bevan, a visiting British art prof who was amazed at the beauty of the prairie he found himself in, and who also attempted to give his students some practical working exercises that I had been craving. A summer class with an American professor who called me out on my lazy, uninspired work, gave me a better sense of what inspired me and the value of honest critique.

I married and moved to a farm north of Biggar where my husband and I raised three children and I continued to work in partnership with my mother. Mom had switched from lugging heavy pots to weaving, spinning and dying so I used my knitting skills to change her yardage into jackets. It was hard to paint with small children under foot, but having a knitting project on the go was easy to keep the making fever going. Mom, tired of the drudgery of warping a loom and throwing a shuttle back and forth; took a felting class and finally found her medium.

Mom threw herself into each new interest. In 1996, a felt conference was being held in Manchester, England and mom took me along. I had a great class with Maggie Grey, an influential embroidery artist who employed all kinds of techniques from blow torches to scrunched paper and ink in her work. She gave us permission to play and combine anything that might work, and introduced me to fabric crayons.

I had been colour knitting for some time, influenced by Kaffe Fassett’s techniques.  Mom and I went on a summer trip in 1997 to Toronto and the Haliburton Summerschool of the Arts. Armed with some nice wool from Queen Street West and a crochet hook, I bought a wool jacket from a Sally Ann store in Haliburton and began a new phase in my making. Marsha Geddes, a clothing design instructor from Ryerson influenced my direction into recycling wool suits into thoroughly integrated art pieces.

I was building jackets from recycled suiting. I had a large stash of my mother’s now mostly abandoned hand spun wool to play with. Mom was happily felting and making extraordinary pictures in felt. We were collaborating at the dye pot and combing second hand stores for materials. Time for something new to enter the picture.

Brenda Nestgaard Paul, a Lutheran pastor, and soon to be friend, came to Biggar to preach in a team Anglican/Lutheran ministry with her husband, Ian. I expressed to her how I would like to do something completely different in the liturgical art field, and she asked me, ‘Why not?’  She gave me the permission I seemed to need, and the church gave me an uncritical place to practice and figure out what I wanted to say in cloth. It also opened up collaboration and the use of scripture to channel images as far removed as possible from the Joy, Peace, Love banners I hated as a kid in the 60’s. I yearned for imagery that reflected where I lived and I do not like prescriptive statements.

As I became more comfortable with natural imagery in my liturgical work, and the capabilities of sewing machines and embroidery thread to become drawing tools, I went back to my early days of drawing old buildings and painting landscape. The quality that cloth has of absorbing light rather than paint reflecting light gives it a wonderful earth and air feel at the same time.

My mother and I had a joint show at the Pacific Gallery in Saskatoon in October, 2008. This turned out to be my mother’s last show, as she died of secondary lung cancer in August of 2009. I miss her enthusiasm for the new and her companionship. We were each other’s touchstone for support in a vast prairie where few understand the looping path it is to be an artist. I hope to build with my daughter the same kind of energy for understanding the world through making things, and support my daughter-in-law in her artistic endeavours.

I have taught a one day workshop in my patchwork techniques in Moose Jaw. I am part of the organizing team that puts on Culture Days in Biggar the last weekend of September. I have participated regularly in winter craft shows: Wintergreen in Regina and Sundog in Saskatoon for many years.

My work is available at the Saskatchewan Craft Council Boutique and Handmade House in Saskatoon, as well as on Etsy and in my home gallery.