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 $5 to this cause and the Saskatchewan Craft Council was born. You can read more about our history here.
Our board members and staff have come together to conduct interviews with as many of these founding members as we can, in celebration of this milestone. We are interested in these founders’ thoughts around why we came into being and their insights for the future.
Norma left Saskatchewan in the fall of 1977, traveled and lived in Europe for two years, then returned to Canada for postgraduate studies at the University of Western Ontario. After getting her PhD, she worked in libraries in Toronto, while doing further studies in herbal medicine and plant materials that also involved editing work in those areas. Norma retired early from library work to pursue those interests and her writing (essays, fiction, poetry, book reviews). She now lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter, and five years ago began courses with the Canadian Bookbinders & Book Artists Guild to develop skills in book arts and making small press publications.
What compelled you to throw your 5$ and yourself into creating a new organization dedicated to supporting craft?
I was asked by the Saskatchewan Secretary of State departmental head, Bob Mitchell, to participate in a nationwide survey of ethnic craftspeople as researcher for the province. I did this work through multicultural groups and artist contacts. I had been teaching art classes in Regina and my partner then, Wayne Morgan, had experience as artist in residence in Weyburn where we both taught art classes, so we were connected to the Arts Board and Lee Collins through that association. Lee was a great advocate of community artists and an activist promoter of crafts.
I was one of three people whom Lee arranged to attend the annual conference of the Canadian Craft Council in Montebello, Quebec, in the early 1970s along with Bob Dalby, a wood turner from Lac La Ronge, and Jim Thornsbury. We met Orland Larson there and came back excited about the idea that developing a provincial craft council of our own would be a good idea.
What are you most proud of over the last 40 years?
There was receptivity, enthusiasm and a collaborative spirit among Saskatchewan craftspeople about supporting each other, getting the work into the public sphere and the recognition of our own worth as artists. We were gathered at our first Annual General Meeting at the Regina Public Library when a member got up to point out that we couldn’t make or carry an essential motion as we didn’t have enough members present to pass it according to the constitution. We had yet to create categories for membership that would make it possible to accommodate the distances people would have to travel to vote at the annual meeting. I remember getting up to state that we were a new organization and hadn’t foreseen this problem and that we would fix it. I just couldn’t see all the ground work that had gone into getting this off the ground wiped out by an unforeseen problem at the AGM. Orland Larson also attended the meeting and encouraged us to work it out.
What has disappointed you?
A major disappointment or challenge was how little real money there was to support the organization. I didn’t think craftspeople should pay steep fees to support the organization when it was a benefit to the whole province and that benefit should have been recognized with appropriate funding. It made it difficult to organize gatherings other than those we undertook ourselves. Also, there was still considerable resistance to exhibiting local artists and craftspeople at the major public art galleries; it seemed that “real ” art only came from other places and we had to work really hard with our own galleries to overcome that. Saskatchewan’s long-lived quarterly , The Craft Factor, began as a cash-strapped shoestring endeavour on my kitchen table that first year with the assistance of many other willing hand, and later evolved into a dedicated beautifully made periodical.
What are your hopes for the future?
I am really interested in seeing great craft from across the country and I don’t know whether it is our geography getting in the way or the never ending lack of support for the arts that means I never get to see for example, Mel Bolen’s work, or the work of other fine Saskatchewan craftspeople in Ontario. I am really excited by the work I see on the Saskatchewan Craft Council website. I think Saskatchewan is doing very innovative things and the work is exceptional. We have a brand new Ceramics museum in Toronto and I would love to see work from across the country shown there.
What are you doing to celebrate Craft Year 2015 and our 40th anniversary?
On a personal level, I have just joined an alternative Book Arts group as part of my membership and study with the Canadian Book Binding and Book Artists Guild (CBBAG), with our local chapter so strapped for funds we can’t yet buy blinds for the large windows in our new space. Traditional crafts like book binding are increasingly open to the innovative approaches of new forms. I was introduced to hand-made book formats in poetry workshops and my interest in book binding stems from this. There has always been a practice among writers and poets designing and producing their work without worrying about mainstream publishers focused on large-quantity imprints. My current project is a handmade limited edition of a Japanese stab-bound series of linked renga format poems for the three of us who have been writing them.