By Kinnukana, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – On October 12, 2023, Heather Shillinglaw, mixed-media artist of Appetogasan, Cree/Dene, Salteaux Chipewyan and Scottish/French heritage launched her beautiful textile art exhibit at the Art Gallery of St. Albert (part of the Arts and Heritage Foundation). Heather’s collection is one of only nine exhibitions held at the Gallery each year and was chosen from over eighty submissions.
Heather’s collection is called ᒫᒥᑐᓀᔨᐦᒋᑲᐣ ᑯᑖᐄᐧᐤmâmitonêyihcikan kotâwîw my mind digs in the soil like a turtle. It is a collection of twelve stunning art quilts stitched on elk hide that capture aerial views of traditional landmarks in Alberta, such as Lac Ste. Anne, Cooking Lake and the Sturgeon River. Heather said that the colours and the materials she uses are to trick the eye into visualizing the artwork as if you are flying over the land and looking at it from an eagle eye perspective. The ancient trails are stitched in red ribbon in all her quilts, tracing them through woods made of satin, lace, leather and yarn. The quilts also have tufting, beading and embroidery throughout.
Heather began working on this project when she was gifted elk hide from a friend seven years ago. She completed most of the sewing over the past three years. Heather spent hours in conversation with Elders, Knowledge Keepers and family members, as well as doing research to guide her work. She was especially guided by her mother, Shirley Norris Shillinglaw of Cold Lake, Elder Ann Cardinal of Saddle Lake, and Lynn Dejarlais Lush of Sandy Bay, all Residential School Survivors. In her individual pieces of work, Heather reclaims her ancestral knowledge and connects to her family’s history, which is also part of Canada’s history.
Heather said her favourite part of the project was talking about the history over tea with the Elders. She said, “That’s where the story begins and [it’s] the strength and the honesty of the work. When you work with Elders and Ruth who helped to find the archival research, it really supports the work and shows honesty.”
Through her art, Heather highlights the lands where her ancestors lived and travelled, hunted, gathered medicines, told stories and taught future generations. The quilts also blend the memories of these lands from the past with the changes seen today. Heather shared how her quilts tell the story of the devastating changes to the traditional lands over time. Topstitched across the surface of each piece are poems written by Heather and Métis Elder Marilyn Dumont, beautifully sharing hard truths and painful histories.
In her quilt called Fish Lake – Marie Lake, Heather said, “The Crown, government, decided to take this land from Indigenous groups and utilize it for the oil and gas industry. When my mom remembers dangling her feet along the way, when she was a child harvesting the berries with her Kokum, it’s very hard for her in the fact that these white areas (shown on the quilt) are all markings today from fracking sites. It’s very disturbing and you can actually see it from space.” The white areas also depict missing bodies of water. Heather refers to the white spaces as ghosts. Each display also includes a link where visitors to the gallery can look up the actual map online to see the locations in Alberta.
Heather also shared the meaning behind her beautiful, beaded turtle that is the centre piece of her display. It is focused on the thirteen moons. Elder Lynn Desjarlais Lush helped her with this piece, and it reflects time. There is a maternal calendar that takes place on the Turtles back. Each square represents a cycle. Women shed every 28 days, so there are twenty-eight markings on the turtles back. Heather also worked with her mother on each of the healing flowers that they learned about together while exploring forest and healing plants.
Ann Ramsden, Executive Director of the Arts and Heritage Foundation of St Albert said that across the organization they are committed to showcasing Indigenous Art, alongside other artists in the gallery, to see and hear those indigenous stories. Ann shared that Heather’s work went through a juried process and was selected as one of the exhibits this year. She said “I see this art and I just want to touch it. It is so tactile, and it just suits this space. We are so delighted to have Heather’s work here.”
The exhibition runs from October 5 to November 25, 2023, at the Art Gallery of St Albert, 19 Perron Street in St Albert.
- In-person tour: October 17 at noon
- Virtual tour: October 24 at noon on Facebook Live (5) Facebook
For more information, contact Emily Baker, Art Gallery of St. Albert Curator at 780-651-5745 or