Ivan Olynyk: Founder’s Interview

In 2015, the SCC is celebrating its 40th anniversary. In 1975, fifty-seven Saskatchewan artisans organized themselves into a determined force with a single voice and a common purpose. That purpose was to promote and raise the profile of Saskatchewan artisans, improve the quality of work produced, and facilitate communication among the membership. Each of these people donated just $5 to this cause and the Saskatchewan Craft Council was born. You can read more about our history here.

Our board members and staff have come together to conduct interviews with as many of these founding members as we can, in celebration of this milestone. We are interested in these founders’ thoughts around why we came into being and their insights for the future.

Ivan Olynyk

Ivan Olynyk lives in Meacham where he reflects on the global human soap opera.  He also thinks about how to encourage young people to use their hands to make things instead of using them to just push buttons on phones, keyboards, remotes, game controls and appliances.

What compelled you to throw your $5 and yourself into creating a new organization dedicated to supporting craft?

In the early ’70s I was working in pottery and on the railroad in Regina. In 1970, I joined Grassroots Craft Co-op, which had a store in downtown Regina. In 1971, I was hired to teach handcrafts to kids in the Regina Library system. In 1973, I began doing pottery at the University of Regina Extension classes and got involved organizing sales at Exhibitions in Regina and Saskatoon; the first SCC Battleford Sale and Bazaart. This led to involvement in forming a craft co-op called Homegrown with an outlet on the U of R campus. At that time, talk was to form a provincial organization for crafts persons and those of us from Regina met with people in Saskatoon to form the Saskatchewan Craft Council. In the early years I was involved in organizing winter crafts sales, the precursors to WinterGreen.

At that time, CARFAC was getting going and it was felt that there needed to be a similar organization for craftspeople. There was a real debate over whether we should focus on the development of the individual, professional craftspeople or on education of the public. I was more interested in the education side.

In 1976, I started working for the Federal government. I moved into working with stained glass and teaching classes. In the 90s, I worked as the Education Coordinator at the Craft Council.

What are you most proud of over the last 40 years?

That the Craft Council has evolved into a sophisticated organization with nationwide recognition for quality and innovative programs. When Terry Schwalm was Executive Director, the purchase of the Broadway building came about. This was a good move for the Craft Council.

What has disappointed you?

That there is not enough emphasis on education. Ideally I would like to see everyone in the province with some kind of craft practice that would get them away from the television or electronic media and have them using their hands. We need to move into the school system. I was the last person at the Craft Council with a designated educator job. That has since been portioned off to other staff when money was scarce, so it has a low priority. Serving the membership is important and getting the Aboriginal community involved is too.

What are your hopes for the future?

I don’t see the Craft Council becoming self-sufficient in the future but the appreciation of the Broadway building may help. I hope it can continue to grow and with social media and new technology to reach new audiences. I feel there is a reaction happening against the over technologizing of everything and I would like to see people engaged in the process of craft-making versus an over-emphasis on the end product. I think the Craft Council has a dedicated, talented staff and I am not just saying this because of my daughter Ferron [SCC Member Services Coordinator], but of the continuing growth and development of programming and events, even with challenging financing. I hope the Saskatchewan Craft Council will try to aggressively counter the current move to a corporate culture with a collaborative, co-operative approach.

What are you doing to celebrate Craft Year 2015 and our 40th anniversary?

I continue to make my own things. I am carving soapstone now. I had a piece of woodwork in the 25th Anniversary Show.

Any other thoughts?

I help out at the Hand Wave Gallery in Meacham from time to time. To my mind it is the best store in the province for quality handcrafts and innovative display. We need to celebrate our own artists and continue to build on their legacy and highlight the importance of craft. I think the process is equally as important as the final product.