Art and crafts

Art and crafts with stories to tell

Indigenous artists and makers bring 300 visitors to event at Enterprise Square.

Feb 26, 2020 in News

The market is crazy busy with shoppers asking questions, buying, and wanting to chat with the vendors. Still, Ella is kind enough to step away from her table onto a quieter place for an interview. Her voice is soft and melodious, like a spoken lullaby. Listening as she talks about her childhood in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, you can almost see it coming to life, pieces of past being sewn together on the spot as she drops precise words into our ears.

“When I was growing up, the dancing, the language, the food we eat, they were all very important for us.

Our parents have taught us that it's important to maintain who you are, your culture, to live in the traditional ways,” she says. “The younger generation, some of them don't understand. They don’t know who we are, what we had when we were little, and what happened in the past. It's difficult to make them understand by talking, so by doing my artwork—my tapestries, my dolls—it's easier to convey that.”

Like many of her fellow vendors in the market, Ella Nasogaluak Brown creates pieces that not only are beautiful, but also have stories to tell. That’s maybe one of the main draws of Extension’s Indigenous Artisan Holiday Market, an event that on November 20 entered its fourth year with a record number of vendors and a crowd of more than 300 shoppers.

Ella (top) and Karla: two generations bring their perspectives on Indigenous art.

Getting older—and better

“This was our biggest event yet in number of vendors,” says Amanda MacRae, the market coordinator.

“We had 50 applications and were able to select 32, between artists and collectives.”

The need for screening comes down mostly to space limitations, since the atrium at Enterprise Square is quite spacious, but not infinite.

The success of the program may signal that it hit the spot as it filled a need for venues tuned to the specific reality of Indigenous artists and makers. “When we started, back in 2016, there were no other events like this,” says Amanda.

Being able to access the vending space for free certainly helps, but so does the fact that the market is designed to operate for three hours only. “If you’re still a small business, it’s not really realistic to expect that people will be able to produce enough material for a large, two-day craft fair,” Amanda explains.

Extension’s associate professor (and artist) Lana Whiskeyjack, also an exhibitor at the market, notices a different kind of growth going on: “Every year the market is getting more diverse. I look around and see someone selling food, or a new style of beaded earrings I hadn't seen before, sculptures, colouring books, children's books… There is always something new.”

Art as education

For those sitting behind the tables, the market’s value can go beyond the immediacy of selling a product. “I do art basically to promote where I come from, where my parents came from,” says Ella. “My dolls and tapestries show what my lifestyle was when I was little. My parents were Inuvialuit who did dancing and singing at the Inuvialuit Drum Dance. So when I make tapestry, I make little dancers, because I think of my parents drumming and dancing.”

Ella hopes that her art may help the younger generation begin to learn more about their own identity. And some already are. Take Karla, for example. Until only a few years back, Karla Lamouche would resist any attempts by her mother—an accomplished beader—to have her sit down and learn the tricks of the trade.

“Then one day she finally got me to sit down and be patient—because it does take patience,” laughs Karla. “But I really enjoy it now, and wish I had started earlier.”

Karla’s eyes sparkle when she speaks of the sense of accomplishment that comes with each piece she creates: “I look at it at the end, and it’s like, wow—I made that!” For her, beading is both a means of self-expression and a way to connect with her culture. “It’s a good skill to have,” she says. “Now I teach beading classes back home, so I'm able to share my skill with others.”

I ask Karla if she’s a regular at the market. “This was my first,” she explains. Karla glances at her empty table. It’s still mid-way through the event, and she only has two pieces left, all the rest quickly gone to their new homes with happy customers. She smiles and adds, “I'll definitely come back next year.”