Quilt of Belonging coming to Manitoulin Island this fall

MANITOULIN—Islanders are in for an extraordinary experience as The Invitation Project, The Quilt of Belonging, is coming to Manitoulin in September. The quilt, at 120 feet long and 8.5 feet wide, was coordinated by artist Esther Bryan who lives in Williamstown near Kingston. In the book that outlines the work involved in making this piece of art is an explanation that this is the largest collaborative work of textile to be created on a national scale and has 263 squares representing 71 aboriginal groups and 192 immigrant nationalities found in Canada. Different items were added to individual handmade blocks and include abalone shells, amber from Lithuania, bobbin lace, a brooch from Poland, smoked caribou hide, English wool, kente cloth from Ghana, porcupine quills, sealskin, 200-year-old German linen and worry dolls from Guatemala.

As Ms. Bryan says of the project, “Our vision was to create a collaborative work of art that will recognize Canada’s and the world’s diversity, celebrate our common humanity, and promote harmony and compassion among people.”

Each page in the Quilt of Belonging book, done to showcase this work of art, pictures all the blocks submitted for the project and a story behind the people that the block represents. Featured is a piece of art submitted by Marlene Shawanda of Wikwemikong, a beadwork designer, and the page is titled ‘Ojibwe’ and subtitled ‘birchbark and maple syrup.’ “The Ojibwe people of the Great Lakes region,” the page reads, “were resourceful hunters and gatherers who used the materials they found in practical and resourceful ways. Once the largest and most powerful tribe around the Great Lakes, the Ojibwe are now spread from Ontario to Alberta. Although they no longer use maple syrup and birch bark for quite so many purposes, the Ojibwe are still creative and resourceful.” Ms. Shawanda used the Ojibwe rose as the focal point for her quilt block and beaded it onto red felt. The border used was caribou hide.

 A selection of works by the Island Quilters Guild will also be on display during the fall show.
A selection of works by the Island Quilters Guild will also be on display during the fall show.

Another artist from Wikwemikong, who submitted an Odawa block for this quilt, is Shirley Pitawanakwat, a designer of leather garments and a craft store owner. Ms. Pitawanakwat used beads to do a flower and leaves design in the traditional Woodlands style rather than something more modern for this George Brown College graduate with a major in fashion design technology. Her background for the block is also hide.

The Quilt of Belonging will be showcased, along with works done by the Island Quilters Guild members for their Hawberry Show, on September 13 from 10 am to 5 p

m and September 14 from 11 to 4 at the Creation Centre in Manitowaning. From September 15 to the 17, the De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Group will welcome visitors to see this amazing quilt and will be open in the evening of September 16 so children will have an opportunity to attend.

“We couldn’t do this without De-ba-jeh-mu-jig,” said Island Quilters Guild president Myra Tallman. “We are probably the smallest group to bring in this quilt.” Indeed, this work of art has been shown at the Winter Olympics in British Columbia, at the Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec and at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. The first showing, in 2005, was at the Granite Curling Club in Waterloo.

Quilt Show Chair Kathy Grant was instrumental in getting the quilt to Manitoulin but she is quick to point out that “a lot of people helped to get this. It couldn’t happen without all the individuals coming together.” It was Ms. Tallman’s idea to get the quilt so Ms. Grant sent out an email.

“It was a challenge,” Ms. Grant said, “but I thought, okay, we are going to make this happen. I thought this was great, a happening with artistic value to reach out and create that connection between our communities. The art community, the quilters and the First Nation communities. The word De-ba-jeh-mu-jig is ‘storyteller’ and the Quilt of Belonging is telling a story and all the quilts that will be shown recognize that quilting is an artistic endeavour.”

“And every quilt has a story,” added guild member Rollanda Tovey.

The admission for the Island Quilters Guild Hawberry Show is $5 and everyone is encouraged to attend to see all the quilts. As Ms. Tallman said, “This is going to be a fantastic event.”

by Betty Bardswich