From Heart to Hand: Making a Life & With These Hands

Making a Life: Twenty-Five Years of Hooking Rugs by Deanne Fitzpatrick

Deanne Fitzpatrick is an artist. She works with textile to create images of beauty that express how she sees the world: in swirling swathes of colour and pattern. Born in Newfoundland and living in Nova Scotia, seascapes, pine forests, and small, colourful houses dominate her work. Human figures express a sense of community that comes with small town living. Traditional handicraft like rug hooking falls into the realm, traditionally, of Folk Art. The East Coast has produced many of Canada’s finest artisans and homegrown artists who have blurred the line between Folk Art and Fine Art, of which Maud Lewis is the patron saint. As Making a Life shows, there is something thoroughly modern about Fitzpatrick’s work. Her use of abstraction catches the eye, the influence of European Impressionism apparent in her landscapes.

Her renderings of marine scenes in abstract swirls of blue, green, lavender, taupe and white stood out among my favourite pieces. There’s something whimsical about them, as if you were about to dive into a mermaid’s lagoon. Often, textile art can fall into a staid repetition of postcard-like scenes, intended for the passing tourist from Ontario who just wants something nautical to show that they were in Nova Scotia. Not here, as Fitzpatrick’s work reimagines the seascape, drawing you in with her originality and imagination.

Making a Life is available from Nimbus
Purchase it here

Along with many full colour reproductions of her rug work, Making a Life gives us Deanne’s musings on life, work, and what it means to create. There is the down-home wisdom of a sturdy, no-nonsense Newfoundlander. There are meditations on beauty and allowing your surroundings to give rise to a sense of wonderment that leads to the creation of art. “See, when the world changes itself in front of you it begs you to speak about it.” Fitzpatrick gives a voice to the landscape and the history that has shaped her. She takes what she is given and transfigures it on the frame. “Create beauty everyday,” she urges. And she does.

With These Hands: Traditional Arts, Crafts, and Trades of Atlantic Canada by Don MacLean

The unique traditions of craftsmanship in Atlantic Canada are highlighted by Don MacLean in With These Hands, which profiles artisans from across the four provinces. Regional identities are explored through the mediums of wood, paint, textiles, metal, glass and leather. Many of the crafts blur the line between what is a trade and what is an art form. Beauty meets utility as hand crafted pieces are built to be functional objects used in hunting, fishing and home keeping. The cultural and craft traditions of the First Nations people continue their legacy through intergenerational teachings. There “is a sense of urgency with training the next generation of craftspeople,” writes MacLean, as the skills he profiles are based on an apprentice-master relationship that requires young people to pick up the tools of their forefathers and foremothers to keep the artistic traditions alive.

With These Hands is available from Nimbus
Purchase it here

There is a noticeable gender divide in the crafts and trades that MacLean profiles for his book. Textile arts are female dominant, while those working in wood, metal and the sporting crafts are predominantly male. I would have liked to see more gender variety in these designations, as this is an important aspect of attracting young people to traditional crafts. There is no reason why a young man shouldn’t take up rug hooking, for example, nor for a young woman to take up boat building. Apprenticeship courses in the Atlantic colleges are making a strong effort to attract a wide variety of persons to the trades as the need for skilled tradespersons in the Atlantic industries grows.

There is an emphasis on sustainable practices in the crafts and trades of the region. The connection between local artisans and local materials faces off against the predominance of mass-produced items in our society. The use of locally sourced wood for crafting argues against the current practices in Atlantic forestry to simply clear-cut large swathes of woodland, most recently in the Shelburne area of Nova Scotia. The traditions of the First Nations peoples who lived sustainably on the land and used the resources available to them is told through the keepers of this knowledge in the modern era. If we lose such knowledge, we risk losing the skills that have sustained our communities for generations. Something we cannot afford as we face a future made uncertain by climate change.

The relationship between people and their tools is rooted in the very foundations of humanity, from the earliest people to today. MacLean chronicles the surviving traditions of Atlantic communities, what has shaped them, sustained them, and made them truly unique.

Making a Life & With These Hands are produced by Nimbus Publishing Limited, 2019.  

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