BY JANELLE HARDY
“Felting is a long and arduous process that compromises your back and the flooding of your house is a real hazard,” describes Louise Hardy, the latest artist to open a solo show at Arts Underground.
She’s also my mother … so we will dispense with the journalistic preference for surnames here.
Picture this: Mom, a tiny dark-haired woman, in the middle of a deep green lawn in downtown Whitehorse. Surrounding her are yoga mats and shower curtains in various stages of the felting process; rolled up around scrap plumbing pipes and spread out flat on the lawn, with thick sheets of colourful wool arranged in patterns and pictures.
Around that, one very wet and busy barefooted granddaughter is vigorously shaking and flinging water and soap about, occasionally hitting her target of the wool feltings.
As Mom’s granddaughter (incidentally, my daughter) soaks the open feltings, she crouches on the balls of her feet, energetically rocking the rolled up mats on the lawn as the breeze rustles the leaves in the trees branching out overhead.
As mentioned, it’s an arduous process.
“It is probably the most primitive fabric, since it’s just matted hair,” says Mom.
The dyed sheep’s wool is matted (felted) together using the process described above. By arranging the wool in patterns and pictures, then applying soap, water and a process of agitation through rolling up and rocking the felted piece, then bundling it up and throwing it on a hard surface over and over while still wet, by the time it’s dried, you’ve got a felted fabric that won’t fall apart.
Out of this process, over the past year and a half, Mom has been creating a body of work for an new exhibit at Arts Underground of large-scale feltings entitled, There Will Be Blood: a Tribute to Menstruation.
With 17 pieces in the show, Mom describes the theme as “about the cycles of life, forest, menstrual and living cycles and death.”
A combination of events precipitated an inspiration in the theme of menstruation. Mom read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. Then she visited Kwaday Dan Kenji, a local interpretive site of the Southern Tutchone First Nation traditions and lifestyles.
“I went with a bunch of young women and my teenaged son, Lymond. It was learning about the menstruation rituals, the initiations for young women. They would go and live for three months on their own and they created their shelter at the base of a tree.
“From there, I learned about other northern women’s menstruation rituals.”
For a very female theme, Mom was provided further inspiration from her other son, Tytus, while he was on a student exchange in Siberia: “I was reading my son Tytus’ papers on the ritual uses of sweat lodges and sweats, and they were places where women could gather and have ritual cleanses.
“He told me about the chuem, a tradition from Siberia. So I have a felted menstrual chuem in the shape of a tipi. It’s my interpretation of northern circumpolar menstrual rituals.”
Other felts are created for specific people in her life. One felting is of grievous angels, who are watching over those who have passed on: “One is for my Aunt Lil, and one is for my nephew, Robert, and one is for my friend, Norma.”
As my mother encourages, “The beauty of felt is in touching it. So people have permission to touch this art. And the menstrual chuem is meant to be interactive, so people are invited inside.”
There Will Be Blood: a Tribute to Menstruation shows at Arts Underground until Nov. 12.
PHOTO: JANELLE HARDY