Written by: Rachel Broussard, Gallery Assistant
Spinner, weaver, and historian Mary Underwood joined us on Saturday, September 23, at 2 pm to deliver a public lecture. She spoke about the history of weaving in Quebec and how this story relates to the settler weaving of Saskatchewan. Mary Underwood is from Ann Arbor, Michigan. In Ann Arbor, she has a weaving studio called Front Porch Textiles. You can see a few of Mary’s elegant textiles displayed in the SCC Gallery for our current exhibition, Prairie Woven. Mary is an engaging speaker, and her passion for weaving is evident in the depth of her research.
You may be wondering, “How did the weaving culture of Quebec become interwoven with the weaving culture of the prairies and a retired speech pathologist from Michigan?” Well, Mary Underwood answered this question and more in her lecture Saturday. The threads of Quebec and Saskatchewan originally crossed thanks to the work of Oscar Bériau. Underwood came across Bériau’s name while visiting an elder friend and neighbor who was an expert commercial weaver. This woman owned a copy of the tome, Home Weaving, written by Oscar Bériau. It was this volume that sparked Mary’s avid weaving research and her inter-provincial travels.
While traveling through Quebec on the trail of Monsieur Bériau, Underwood learned about the Bériau weaving schools. The Searle Grain Company gave funds for Oscar Bériau’s daughter, Renee Bériau, to traverse the western provinces with a diverse teaching staff. It was their mission to spread the joy of weaving to settler women suffering the hardships of farm life post-Depression and during the war years. However, as Underwood noted in her lecture, weaving was not a simple pass-time for these women; the textile craft was a necessity for people who often “could not afford a pair of underwear.” Regardless of whether they were crafted from necessity or pleasure, the SCC gallery has extraordinary examples of textile work from the 1930s/40s on loan from the Western Development Museum. Stop by the gallery to see an original copy of Home Weaving and a series of textiles completed by contemporary weavers following the patterns found in Home Weaving.
On a personal note, I spoke with Mary Underwood after the lecture about the Cajun weaving tradition. (Her knowledge spins as far south as Louisiana!) After listening to her lecture and spending time with Prairie Woven, I am curious to learn more about the textiles of my own ancestors.
Thank you to Mary Underwood for making another trip to Saskatoon and to Shelley Hamilton, President of the Saskatchewan Spinners and Weaving Guild, for making her trip possible.