It’s Craft Year 2020, according to the Canadian Crafts Federation, and the NWT is taking the opportunity to celebrate craft-makers with a new two-week festival.
Crafted NWT 2020 is a joint effort between NWT Arts, the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, and the Craft Council of the NWT. Having kicked off on September 20, it’s set to come to an end on October 4.
“A lot of the time, we find that southern jurisdictions have a lot of representation in national initiatives, and sometimes the three territories kind of get lost off the map,” said Johanna Tiemessen, NWT Arts’ manager of arts and fine crafts.
“By us holding these events, then we can say hey, we have craft in the NWT. We have people, and we have exciting and diverse arts and crafts that are being made up here.”
A “Crafted” display at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio
Crafting workshops and online talks have been joined by a display at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre entitled Crafted, showcasing the territory’s styles of crafting and the stories behind them.
The exhibit was installed last week and is open until March 2021.
In part, the exhibit attempts to define what separates crafts from art – a distinction that is often fuzzy, Tiemessen said, and can lead to craftwork being overshadowed by other forms of art.
For example, she said, many Indigenous artists specialize in crafts.
“The sewing that they do, the beading they do, quill work, basketry – that’s all craft, technically,” Tiemessen said.
“This exhibit doesn’t really draw a line in the sand, because that’s not what it’s intended to do, but it’s meant to have craft stand out from fine art, which is painting, photography, things that are more in that realm of artwork.”
Mittens from across the NWT are part of the Crafted exhibit. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio
Mike Mitchell is the museum’s curator of education and public programs. He said the debate about what separates art and craft is highly contested.
One common thread they share is storytelling. Since most crafts are made for a specific use – such as mittens, moccasins, or fish traps – they are filled with history, culture, and purpose, said Mitchell, making for a perfect museum display.
“The objects that we choose to put on display may be cool to look at, or they may be explained in terms of workmanship, but they’re chosen because they have a story to tell,” he said.
“If we don’t have background information about an object – who made it, what it was made for, when it was made, where it was made – there’s not much to say.
“So, in that sense, craft is a perfect complement to what the museum does, because it’s telling stories through objects.”
Rosalind Mercredi is the owner of Yellowknife’s Down to Earth Gallery, which specializes in fine arts and crafts. She’s hosting three workshops as part of Crafted, including basket-making and a workshop where participants create driftwood and stained-glass suncatchers.
In her mind, crafts are as artistic an endeavour as anything else.
“If you do beading, in some ways, beading is a craft. And yet the way we do it and the skill, and how you put your own ideas into your designs? It’s still an art,” Mercredi said.
“For me, there’s not really a big difference except in how those things are made.”
Events such as this are important, Mercredi said, because they help to foster a more supportive, inclusive arts and craft community.
“Sometimes, we don’t get to see what everybody else is doing because of our limited spaces,” she said.
“There are a lot of talented people up here, and they’re creating, and [we need to] recognize them and celebrate them.”
More information about the event can be found on the Crafted NWT Facebook page.