Wild and Woolly Art

Shiela Alexandrovich makes her art about and from the animals and the land in which she lives. The raising of animals, the growing of a garden, the gathering of wild and tame materials and the making of fine handcrafts are interwoven to create a balance that is her existence.

Living off the land in Yukon’s beautiful and sacred Wheaten Valley for over 20 years, Alexandrovich pursues a homesteader’s lifestyle off the grid, making do without electricity, internet, cellphone service or flushing toilets.

“This body of work, Raw, speaks to the everyday aspects of my life,” she says.

Alexandrovich is referring to her mixed-media show of new work called Raw: the Edge of Civilized, on display at Copper Moon Gallery.

The show is wild and woolly. Colours and edges are natural and the work is unadorned by glass or frames. The feeling is at once organic and exquisite.

The works are made with authentic local materials and produced through fine craftsmanship: Icelandic wool from sheep Alexandrovich raises herself, buttons made from antler, mammoth ivory fossil, walrus ivory, Bering Sea bone and caribou leather.

One of my favourite pieces is her hand-felted wall hanging, “Our Rabbits”. It is a yin and yang piece made of black and white Icelandic wool, depicting the result of a male/female balance – a slew of rabbits.

Many more hand-felted pieces adorn the walls, depicting horses, geese and sheep “in their own wool”.

The work not only pays homage to the animals of her homestead but also echoes images of early man’s cave art, stone drawings and carvings, which Alexandrovich credits as her inspiration.

The materials used carry a quality and integrity that comes from years of mastery and care for production. The energy and life force that has gone into the materials becomes an integral part of the finished piece and therefore radiates not only organic beauty but also richness and depth of meaning.

Featured in the show are many of Alexandrovich’s functional, wearable art pieces. Propped up on rock and wire armature are her incredible, whimsical and artistic hand-felted hats. Unable to resist, I found myself metaphorically transformed and warmed with each one I tried on.

“Raw Helmet” is a warrior-like hat adorned with an ancient spiral design and sprouting a gorgeous wavy fringe of Icelandic wool.

“Raw Fleece Beret” carries a crown of curly, long, golden woolly fleece. (I dare say anyone thin of hair would enjoy the warmth and vigour of this expressive hat!)

Taking over one wall of the gallery space is a crew of life-sized mythical figures assembled and twined with willow, driftwood and vine. They are expertly woven, fantastical and fun. Inspired by primitive cave art and sculpture, Alexandrovich draws freely with sticks and twine as any master artist with a pencil. Her well-tuned skill with willow, honed through years of basket making, brings to life a magical wooden family.

Hanging elegantly and refined are three beautiful full length hand-felted vests in black, white and brown, made from Alexandrovich’s hand-sheared Icelandic wool, silk, antler caribou buttons, caribou leather rope and red beads like berries in the earth.

Mimicking the reverence ancients gave to the forces of nature and the direct effects the elements had on day-to-day life, Alexandrovich has created a standing altar. Its platform is a repeated pattern of curved willow in many shades of red and green. Its birdlike sculptural stand is made from found driftwood.

Raw: the Edge of Civilized is on display until November 30 at Copper Moon Gallery, located on Glacier Drive in McCrae.

The gallery’s winter hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday 12-7 p.m. To make an appointment for a viewing outside these hours, call 633-6677.

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