The Old Arts Have Soul
Prince George, B.C. – Tourism Prince George and the Community Arts Council have teamed up to expose summer visitors to some of the artists in our community and the high-calibre works they produce.
Six artists in various areas of expertise are taking turns setting up shop on weekends at the Prince George Visitor Centre to create art and engage with travellers. Saturday marked the beginning of the “Artnership” program, with fibre artist Ulyana Yordan displaying her “art-in-progress”.
With the 150-year-old spinning wheel her husband acquired from a Norwegian family Ulyana spins various types of fibre into yarn, which can then be used in knitting and crocheting. “And then,” says Ulyana, “I wind it into a skein (loosely-coiled and knotted length of yarn) and that allows me to wash it and get rid of all the dirt. I can also hand-dye it if I want.”
“You can buy yarn like this already and then you don’t need to do it all, but its much more fun to do your own, you have control, you can do exactly what you want.”
She makes yarn from various breeds of sheep which provide different degrees of coarseness, “and then you go for Alpaca which is very, very soft, cashmere which is goat, and you can spin a rabbit.”
“Here (BC), traditionally aboriginal people spun the wool from dogs, which is very nice but it stinks. When it’s dry it’s fine. As soon as you get it wet it smells like a wet dog and there is no way to wash that smell out. In my country people make belts, socks, knee warmers out of it for people with arthritis because its really helpful, but you have to deal with the smell.”
Ulyana came to Canada from the Ukraine. “Eleven years ago I came to Greater Vancouver and I moved to Prince George three years ago. She started spinning on a spindle about five years ago after finding out about it from a lady and being taught by her on open studio days in Vancouver.
She says the use of dog down is a throwback, “but don’t forget that there were no sheep until white people came here, so people here had to come up with their own ideas. You wouldn’t want to shear a bear,” she chuckles. She says northern dogs such as Huskies and Malamutes supply the best down because of their soft undercoats.
“Muskox is amazing, it’s the most beautiful fibre you can imagine, it’s like cashmere so thin and delicate. And the fibre is very long and the longer the fibre the softer it is because what you feel as “pokey” is the ends of the fibre. The more ends per inch, the more pokey the yarn gets.” And she says you don’t even have to try to shear a muskox. “The good thing about it is it loses its hair on the way through the bushes, so you can just go gather it.”
She loves making socks. “Socks are always a great gift, you can give them every Christmas and by next Christmas they will be worn out and they are happy to get another pair. She also makes toques but says scarves and sweaters she does only for friends and family.
She sells her products through the Fibre Art Guild and at the big Studio Fair at the Civic Centre in the fall. However she says “I don’t really do bazaars and all that stuff, it’s too complicated. I have a full-time job. Its my hobby. I’m not making money on it I’m just recouping part of the money spent on fibre.”
Ulyana says the idea behind the Artnership re-imagining Prince George program “is to re-imagine those old arts which are basically dying. We have people in our Fibre Art Guild but it’s only maybe five of us under 40. Most of the people are older and retiring. The idea is to show it to young people, show the beauty of making something with your hands.”
“Yes, it takes longer than going into Wal-mart and buying a toque, it’s also more money, but there’s more pride in it and you can make exactly what you want and you never have to settle for what is available. I would love to see those old arts more (widely) known.”
She says of the things that are made by hand, “they have soul in them. And that’s the idea, to show to the young people that it still can be done, it’s still possible.”