By Venta Rutkauskas
There are no wrong turns on the way to the centre.
The artist and her muse plunge headlong into the waters of the unconscious, pulling up the dreams and tendrils of meaning, lovingly molding them into form. Sweeping aside the perspective of the other, she and her muse whirl around in the ethers, then tumble down into the material to see what will become of it. They shape and create in the round, bringing the dream into ground.
In the life of Horsefly artist Christina Mary, a pattern emerges from all this creation. It spirals and curves, and finds the contours of beauty that emerge from the natural form, the clay and the home. There have been many turns on this road, and steadily the road leads to beauty. Beauty has presided over her art and her shift into motherhood and businesswoman. As circumstances and materials with which to work change, Christina infuses as much as she can with her ingenuity.
The space that beauty holds in a life must emanate from the numinous, while the nature and nurture of family and environment help to ground it into being. For Christina, the wildness of the North-West coast and a lineage full of prolific artists provided the soil in which the seeds of her own creativity could sprout. Childhood was spent roaming beaches and exploring the coast’s inlets, criss-crossing rivers and bay-hopping, discovering the texture of the natural world. Her father’s family homesteaded in north Vancouver Island, and in her very early years, she describes the wonder of this place, where the forest was full of magic, goats roamed the yard and art happened all around her. She speaks to her talented aunts as having a great influence on her appreciation for the creative, of the significant contribution that art brings to a life and society. That environment awakened a recognition in Christina of her own yearning to create.
Christina’s family lived in a few communities on the west coast, including Shearwater and Sandspit on Haida Gwaii. It was in a Grade 8 classroom in Sandspit that Christina encountered one of those blessed teachers we hope all of our children meet, the ones who truly see the young person in front of them. The teacher remarked, “You should be an illustrator of children’s books!” Christina’s inner response was, “Yes! That’s it!” It was a recognition by another that once again nudged her towards life as an artist. By the mid 1990s, that is exactly what she set out to do, embarking on a new chapter as a full time artist in the Cariboo.
“It’s an act of faith. If you know that you’re pursuing your calling, you have to have faith until the end,” Christina Mary remarks about her artistic life. By 1997, Christina had built up a body of work and took her wares, at this time pieces of jewelry and sculpture, to a craft show in Vancouver. She made connections to shops, galleries and distributors, who provided her with ongoing orders for her work. It became a very busy life, creating on demand. She worked at developing a rhythm, and strove to follow the words of her friend and fellow artist, Corry Lunn: “There is a time for work and a time for play.” As Christina reflects back on those years, she notes, “It was the most creative time in my life.”
In 2001, her son was born, and the rhythm of creation was transferred to the home. As she took on the responsibilities of raising a family, the creative impulse was imbued in the everyday tasks she encountered. In this way her home became her creation, while the food and medicine she made were full of care and attention. As her son grew, Christina became involved in teaching through the Horsefly school, sometimes designing programs for their artistic education. Later, she also got involved with the Horsefly Follies, directing several of their performances over the years. Being engaged with her local community on a creative basis, Christina devoted herself to contributing quality on a grand scale.
For years the home was the focus, and the place of business to provide a living for her family. Now, her life is in motion once again, with a return to her artistic goals as a priority. Christina has found herself applying for Artist in Residence opportunities, learning to put herself and her body of work out there again. “I feel rusty,” she admits, after all this time. Yet, she is hearing her artist’s voice re-emerge. She has been documenting her work, writing an artist’s resume, and feels the confidence building. Christina credits a kinship with a Facebook friend for lighting a fire under her. “She has really kicked my butt to get my work out there again,” she says gratefully. Writing new artist’s statements for her applications has also helped her to imagine what she would like to create in the future.
Christina has turned to drawing and natural arts, including living sculptures and basket making. She initially learned to weave willow baskets almost two decades ago, and continues to find inspiration in this intricate craft. She is self-taught in this form, having found several good books on the subject over the years. It’s a craft she resonates strongly with, especially as someone who is so connected to her environment and sustainability. She is a gatherer, gathering her supplies from the earth, not only gleaning food and medicine in nature, but also the materials that can build the vessel in which to collect. “I still have the first basket I ever made,” Christina declares. It is weathered and beautiful, still holding strong. There is something empowering in the collecting, the building and the weaving, sensing the willows and their flexibility. Tuning in to the material, over the years, Christina knows the willows so well now. When to pick them, which branches will bend best, which will form the frame, how many thin and how many thick branches one would need for the basket design. She has learned the tricks over time, and still learns about new ways to improve the structure and the beauty of each basket.
Round baskets require that a base be woven before the walls of the willow can be woven around the many spokes.
Christina teaches the skill now, leading dedicated participants through the intricate steps of basket building. She is patient and attentive, sharing her wisdom easily. In the teaching, another rhythm is discovered, and perhaps another level of learning, as well. The time has come for her skill and her art to be transmitted across a variety of media. In the workshop, she shares the lineage of making useful objects that are beautiful, like our ancestors did. Through internet and social media, she is again communicating as an artist, without the limitations that physical distances or even telephone calls present for a visual artist. Christina feels the potential. So the path turns, and she is open to the winds.
Perhaps we will next see Christina on the shores of the BC Coast, immersing herself in the wildness once again, distilling the experience into her drawing or other media. Or, can you not imagine a sculptor being drawn to the richness of Italy to explore the drama and the array of sculpted forms? The open road seems to call her on, now, as a teacher and a traveler. What she and her muse might pull from the deep waters of the imagination, Christina can only playfully imagine. Will she be drawn to the visions she once carried, to craft and sculpt an installation of life size divinities in their civilization, or to the new and undiscovered ways she can express her truth? As the spiral ever turns, the work will unfold and tumble out, bringing with it a beauty and deep appreciation for this earth along with it.
To learn more about Christina Mary, her art and the basket making she teaches, she can be reached through her Facebook page (Christina Mary) or by phone at 250-620-3487.