A Connexion Artist-Run Centre Isolation Project

Thanks so much to Connection ARC for this opportunity, and the Sheila Hugh MacKay Foundation for funding these projects.

Follow this project through Connection.ARC on Instagram and Facebook.

How Did I Get Here?

Covid has been, of course, tough. Now, I say that, and I realize my husband and I have been incredible lucky – we both have jobs and understanding bosses, our little guy is a pretty fun and happy kid, and we’re all healthy.  I know for us it’s been easier than for a lot of people.  But still, it’s been tough.  One of the manifestations of carrying that background stress that I noticed early on was a complete lack of ability to be creative in my studio.  I had had a piece I was working on for a symposium exhibition and I was killing it! Spending an hour or two on it every night when Tiny went to bed, fitting the dyeing into my day to day, and moving forward on a piece I was loving.  Once we went into lockdown though, I just couldn’t.  We were finishing up our semester’s courses virtually at this point, and I noticed the same in my students.  Accessing creative inspiration just seemed to be too much for our brains.

The irony here being that making is, of course, soothing and calming and healing – it was probably what we all needed.  So I started focusing on just low to no pressure making.  Really practical stuff that I didn’t have to think too hard on.  Clothing from indie pattern makers, spun yarn, knit toys, whole cloth baby blanket, etc.  Completing things felt really good.

I also started becoming obsessed (even more than usual) with my garden.  Here was where I was researching, planning, experimenting, and something you could call sampling (I’ll try planting a tomatoe this way, that way, and these other 5 ways) In early March, as soon as any patch of snow would show clear ground, I’d start digging.  Once it was thawed, I’d start planting – radishes, carrots, beets. I started tomatoes (so many tomatoes) inside, and salad greens.  The early root veggies were definitely all planted too early and didn’t turn out, but they gave me hope – watching from my window every day to see if they’d sprouted, if their 1st true leaves were popping… At least by the time I realized they weren’t going to produce, I had other things going well in the garden.

We’ve been home with our little guy 24/7, and we like having him outside.  My mom always had us in her garden, and always got her grandkids involved so I really wanted Tiny to be involved in my garden.  I admit though, I was (maybe still am) stressed about food security so my success or failure seemed high stakes.  Having him dig up all the seeds I just planted was pretty stressful. But, I still wanted to make sure it was fun for him, so we have a garden bed that stretches across the front of our house and it was first to melt.  I gave him half to have as his own garden (he mostly grows trucks and tractors in it), but we could be working together in the dirt, having fun and growing.

Thinking more about the fun I had outside as a kid (growing up on a farm), and wanting  Tiny to be interested in veggies and gardens, I started thinking about structures in the yard that would be fun for him – like a bean tent, more lawn, interesting flowers, his favourite foods.  I started digging and digging.

I had put a seed order in fairly early (before Covid) from two heritage seed companies (Heritage Harvest Seed and West Coast Seed) but these were before I was worried about food and they were mostly silly plants that I thought Tiny would get a kick out of (pretzel beans, curly cucumbers, and really weird tomatoes).  I put a more practical order in from a large company early on but there were had huge waiting times, so a put another one from a different large company and still was uncertain when my seed would come.  I found a small company in Nova Scotia (Annapolis Seeds) and ordered some interesting AND practical seeds.  Amazingly they came within a week.  Still worried about End Times at this point, I was comforted to know these were heritage seeds that I could save myself if needed.

Classes over and my studio pretty much completely abandoned (and now shared with my husband as his home office) at this point, I was telling a friend how I was spending all of my “free time” in the garden.  She suggested I apply for an arts grant for it. “But, I’m just gardening,” said I.  She, wisely, pointed out that it’s a creative and aesthetic endeavour.  

Huh. I thought about it.  As I clung to trees in the rain on the edge of our ditch and trimmed dead boughs for bean poles, I thought about it.  Thought about it as I research and planned and counted pots and mixed dirt.  As I laid out where my bean trench would be and surfed local greenhouse inventory online.

She was right. She was brilliant.  I have always had a hard time validating what I do, legitimizing myself and work to my own brain, and this was no exception.  I may have been stuck in my studio, but I was coming alive creatively outside – with ideas, with motivation, with joy and satisfaction.  Why shouldn’t I lean into that?  I started researching Garden Artists, and of course had an initial feeling of inadequacy, but realized this isn’t about being The Best or even Amazing at something.  It’s about doing, experiencing.  I started thinking about this idea of reframing what I was already doing.  I’d already been participating in the Alone Together Residency and my goals had been to get back to enjoying making, take pressure off myself, and find a way to make my creative practice more a part of my day to day instead of keeping it sequestered to my studio – a big part of this being for Tiny’s sake.  

So here I am.  I applied to the Isolation Project program from Connexion ARC and was successful! I’ll be sharing the project through Connexion ARC’s social media (@connexion.arc on Instagram and Connexion Artist-Run Centre on fb) and will be making blog-style posts there, a record of what I’ll work on.  I’ll update this through the summer, a few times with some pics, progress, and thoughts.

 I think for me, the reflection part of this will be just as important as the actual doing.  I’m hard on myself, I try to do everything, and, since having Tiny, I’m not that great at relaxing (was I ever? I’m not sure anymore, but I think I was).  I admit, my veggies are all in at this point (thank goodness!) but I’ve been taking photos of my progress already, so I may have a few posts that go back in time.

I still have lots of things I want to do though – so there’s lots of work ahead of me.  I want our garden and land to be a welcoming haven to wildlife, but also one we can share in.  I’ll be getting and planting new plants, but also, letting wild ones grow and respectfully digging up transplanting others.   I’ve been and will be foraging our woods for materials to build structures with: places for my plants to grow up, but also for birds to perch on and little animals to hide in.  Growing up my mom had a lot of daylilies where toads would keep cool and comfortable and I loved them.  If ever I found a toad trapped or in danger, I’d pick them up and release them in the daylilies.   I think of that as a pretty formative experience for me – something that inspires how I want to treat our land and how I hope for Tiny to grow up.  (I probably shouldn’t be calling him Tiny, he’s a toddler and very independent and busy, but Tiny it is).

I’m excited about it all, and about sharing.