textiles in Canada…

I heard a new term last night… textile exiles. It is apparently what the graduating textile class at Capilano University  have taken to calling themselves as they finished off what would not just be their final year, but the final year of the program after an incredibly rich 40 year run. It was bitter-sweet at the opening last night. Mostly it was sweet, but I was admittedly  a little bitter that I will never get that chance to go back to school now close to home and learn textiles in a formal setting in my own province.

I was so impressed with the quality of the work,  in thoughtfulness,technique usage and the wide range of personal expression. It spoke volumes of the quality instruction that these students have had working with the  strong textile triad of Ruth Scheuing, Mary Lou Trinkwon and Anthea Mallinson. I was struck by grad student Carly’s speech saying how the shock of having the program cut changed them from a group of individuals to a  community that worked together. I hope  that will serve them well as they each go forward,  forging their own paths as textile artists. Often the world doesn’t know what to do with textile artists.  the modern world often doesn’t value textiles, and many are pressed to figure out the value of artists. So what hope is there for textile artists?

A good friend of mine who is a weaver and spinner won’t be called a textile artist. She prefers to be called simply a weaver and spinner. “Too many women just weave and spin because what other choice do they have for their clothing? Why should I  undervalue what they do by elevating what I do to the form of art?” she asks, good question.

In Canada- or really all industrialized cultures-  we are so removed from the concept that making cloth is a necessary thing, that we elevate it to an art-form, something special,  reserved for the elite it seems. but we need cloth, we need clothing, and we need the skills to  keep that happening. Too bad Capilano University doesn’t get it. I was very moved by Mary Lou’s text at the front door to the opening of the grad show and asked her if I could  post it, here it is,

The politics of education has been at the forefront of the environment in which the graduating class of 2014 has worked. Since the spring of 2013 when the cuts to programs were announced the specter of the “end time” has colored our creative learning environment. At the time of the announcement current students, graduating students, alumni, national, international as well as members of the local textile arts community rallied together to petition the Capilano administration and the provincial government to reconsider the cuts. The central reason from all these people was the fact that the 40 year program was and is a viable, valuable and vital part of Capilano’s learning community as well as a critical contributor to the broader and wider cultural and economic community.

What an amazing legacy to be a part of, 40 years of graduating students, who are and do become a vital part of many communities, who for a great part stay connected to each other in friendships, guilds, coops, as studio mates, colleagues, peers who share knowledge and resources. I couldn’t be more proud of anything I have done and been a part of. I am so inspired and impressed by this current graduating class who has been impacted most acutely by the cuts. They were there on the front lines, protesting, doing interviews for the press, making armbands and flyers, circulating petitions, standing really tall and proudly articulating what they do and what they contribute to culture and the economy.

It has not been an easy year, with the end drawing closer at what seemed an ever-increasing speed, the stress mounted, but students were focused and committed. The work that they produced is rich with their strong desires to become critically engaged with the world through the textile arts. In cutting our program and others, especially the Studio Arts , the administration is sending the message that the arts are not valued and that they are not “subjects” that should be taught at University. There are many indicators however that would tell us otherwise. Educational theories tell us that making is thinking therefore making increases cognitive capacities. Ironically, it is these cognitive skills born out of creativity that are desperately what we need to adapt and survive in an ever complex future world. The market place now demands ethical consuming, which can only be delivered by the ethical production of goods and services, that this new generation of makers is acutely critical and conscious of. The increase of textile work in graphic design, medical technology and the visual arts also points to the value of a foundational education in the textile arts that can be carried into these diverse fields. A post-secondary education that is rigorous, reflective of personal identities and global perspectives, when applied to studio skills culminates in graduates like our alumni who are resourceful, articulate, passionate and skillful. These indicators and more tell us that the textile arts are valued, central, and necessary to living in a rich world.


A new story begins after this grad show not only for the grads but also for the faculty and textile arts education itself in British Columbia. We are all together on an unknown journey, but with skills, passion and a strong community we will grow and change. As artists we hone our responsive skills. When we are faced with challenges we make assessments, gather resources, brainstorm, develop a plan, implement a course of action, reflect on outcomes, make more assessments, gather more resources, do much more brainstorming, develop more plans, implement, reflect and so on. These skills are invaluable over the course of a lifetime, where there will always be challenges, and assuredly always something worth figuring out.

I wish the graduates all the luck and best wishes, and my deepest heartfelt congratulations to you all.

Mary Lou Trinkwon ( Coordinator and Instructor textiles dept.)

Meanwhile the time is near for getting our flax crops in the ground and beginning another year of fibre research here in Vancouver. While on the other side of the country Nova Scotia is beginning its own local fibre revolution growing and processing flax. This gives me hope.  So we may have dropped threads for formal training on the west coast,  we can either  turn more towards the east coast- or forge ahead on our own initiative, banding together to continue learning outside the institution. An institution  that didn’t know a good thing when it had it…

The grad show is on at the Ferry Building in West Vancouver until May 25, get there if you can.



























One response to “textiles in Canada…

  1. How deeply sad. But how wonderful to see people continue to decide to act, and articulate the significance of their actions, in the face of decisions with which they do not agree.

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