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Quills coming via rails

Kiitokii, a member of Southern Alberta’s Piikanii Nation, will be in Jasper next Friday (June 9) to lead a half-day session on the handicraft. Kiitokii will arrive by rail, being the second scheduled participant in this summers Artists on Rails program. A venture organzied and promoted by Jasper’s own Digital Time Machine Inc., the program brings visual artists, musicians and authors to Jasper from Edmonton on the VIA Rail passenger service, providing train patrons an opportunity to discuss the creative process with the artists. Once in Jasper, the featured guests are put up at the Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre, where they perform, read or produce art for the entertainment and edification of the hotel guests and general public.

Marianne Garrah, the driving force behind DTMI and the Artists on Rails program, is pleased with this season’s start.

“It seems to be better received, the people on the trains are into it and the first artist I chose (caricaturist Laurel Hawkswell) must have been really good, because she was busy all weekend,” Garrah said. “This is all about getting the art where the patrons and tourists can see it.”

While it’s not clear if Kiitokii will be demonstrating quill art or rather playing the traditional flute and telling stories on the train, once he gets to Jasper, the focus will be exclusively on the ancient decorative art.

Kiitokii himself only gained the knowledge he now imparts three years ago, when he approached two plains elders in Browning, Montana.

“I looked around my own Nation, and nobody knew about it,” he recalled. “I was sure to approach it in the right way and the designs they taught me that day are still with me now.”

The course, which runs all afternoon and includes a meal, will cost attendees $100 for materials, but it’s about a lot more than learning how to manipulate the quills into beautiful designs.

“It’s all about the education, first and foremost,” said Kiitokii. “The two ladies I learned from said, you don’t own this, the Creator does and it’s for the people to learn.”

The workshop will take participants on a step-by-step journey of understanding, from learning how to obtain the quills from live porcupines to the proper methods of sterilization and the appreciation of the ceremonial importance of the quills.

“The quills are very unforgiving and they show no pity,” Kiitokii said. “They were chosen to decorate items because they are a sign of great discipline.”

For more information about the workshop, or to register, contact Marianne Garrah at Artist’s Own, 852- 0359.

The Artists on Rails program continues every weekend throughout the summer. 

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