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Sounding out Suzette: new exhibit at Yellowhead Museum

 

FIT_20170330_art_art_lorezFrom Jasper’s Métis homestead heritage to the world wide web, the thread binding the latest art installation in town could not have been spun from a more random spool.

British Columbia artist Kristi Bridgeman and artisan Lisa Shepherd were perfect strangers until homesteader Suzette (Chalifoux) Swift was revealed as a common connection.

Bridgeman, who paints watercolours and Shepherd, a beadworker, were each under the impression they were Swift’s sole living descendant. The illusion was shattered when Bridgeman posted a painting based on her great-grandmother Suzette’s work and Shepherd recognized the style.

If channeling a homesteader sounds like a bit of a reach even for a coastal artist, then consider the fact that Bridgeman was raised by her grandmother, who in turn spent some time under Swift’s care as a child.

“My grandmother would describe the wildflowers at the Palisades (the site of the Swift homestead), so what I painted is the memory of those descriptions,” Bridgeman said. “Each piece is based on a plant or a story that is related to us. We’re combining our stories, our memories of her.”

Shepherd said it was a “bold move” for her to reach out to a stranger online but something about Bridgeman’s work grabbed her attention. That was no small feat for a woman who admits she is “new” to her Métis heritage; Shepherd by comparison describes herself as a Métis artisan.

“It was super-cool to get to know her and find the parallels,” Shepherd said. “From Kristi I heard a lot of family stories I was familiar with.”

They travelled across the wilds of the province to visit each other and stayed connected the rest of the time on the phone or online while they capitalized on the juggernaut of creative potential between the two of them.

The process itself harkened back to the homestead days, with two women over a table planning their conquest of the world, according to Bridgeman.

The final product, the Forget Me Not, Métis Rose exhibition will be on display at the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum and Archives from April 12 to May 22. A reception is planned for April 13 at 7 p.m.

“By no means do either of us think this is finished,” Shepherd said. “It’s like watching a tree grow from down below, our story reaches out and connects to the roots of others. Jasper is a fascinating place.”

Craig Gilbert | publisher@fitzhugh.ca

Comments (1)

  • Greg Glover

    Thank you for sharing this project with your readers. I am a fellow artist living in Victoria and know Kristi Bridgeman personally. I have been following the progress of this project and I think “they capitalized on the juggernaut of creative potential” is a bit hyperbolic and counter to the spirit of the project. While the creative juices certainly flowed, a lot of painstaking research and planning went into these works. As for “capitalizing” on it, they’re not exactly making money on this endeavour — this has been a labour of love and quite costly to the artists. I don’t see how it equates to “two women planning their conquest of the world”. There is no conspiratorial aspect to what these artists are doing. They’re telling ancestral stories through their art. Let’s keep it real. Thanks.

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