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December 06, 2012

The Giving Trees of Haida Gwaii

Last week, we were happy to be visited at the ArtStarts Gallery by Tricia Jung and Misty Surtess, two of the educators who worked with students to create the stunning felted wool pieces that hang in our gallery. The four panels of "The Giving Trees of Haida Gwaii" were created by students at Sk’aadgaa Naay Elementary School in Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, BC with artist Kiki van der Heiden.

Over the course of eight weeks, students in Kindergarten, Grade 1, Grade 4 and Grade 7 explored all aspects of the amazing forests that surrounded their school.

Each class adopted a different tree to work with: Cedar, Spruce, Hemlock and Alder. Through guided hikes with and Interpretation Officer at Parks Canada, the students learned about the life cycles of the trees, as well as their significance in Haida culture.

Painting excercises, yoga and meditation followed, encouraging the students to tap into their connection to the forest and develop sensitivity to the natural world.

All these experiences were channeled into a series of felting projects guided by local artist Kiki van der Heiden. They started by creating "seeds" - by wrapping raw fibres around a rock and rubbing it with warm soapy water, the students discovered that the wool shrinks and fibres interlock, creating a solid fabric. The next week, students created "roots" by rolling the fibres.

Students then started imagining a story for each of their trees, and developing ideas for the composition of the larger pieces to work on as a group. Individual "pre-felt" pieces, like the little faces pictured below, were created by the young artists and together they built up the large panels.

After much wetting, rolling, rubbing, squeezing, wringing...

...the pieces came out looking simply gorgeous!

We feel lucky to host these artworks at the ArtStarts Gallery as part our Sense of Place exhibition. Everyone who enters the Gallery is astonished by the work. And once they hear the stories behind the pieces, and discover how the process allowed students to delve into sciences, culture, language arts, and more, visitors are even more inspired.

"To share creative techniques and tools with children helps to empower them to express themselves in a creative way," says artist Kiki van der Heiden. "The stronger the foundation of trust in their creative selves, the more likely they are to retain and use that power throughout adolescence and into adulthood. Art is such a powerful tool to express our selves when we are unable to find the right words or feel too shy or otherwise inhibited to express ourselves."

You can read more about the project and see more photos on the artist's blog and come visit the Sense of Place exhibition at the ArtStarts Gallery to see the "The Giving Trees of Haida Gwaii" in person.

ArtStarts Gallery Sense of Place Exhibition

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