Last Friday evening I went along to the Red Poppy Gallery in Nepean to see this exhibit. “Haunted” is a retrospective of works by Kathryn Michaud, the sister of my friend, long-time colleague, and current walking and skating partner, Evelyn Michaud.
Red Poppy Gallery is an “educational gallery” and is curated by Evelyn Michaud who was the Head of Arts at John McCrae Secondary School, where I used to teach. It’s the brainchild of Evelyn and Kristen Barbour both of whom were long time colleagues of mine. And it’s housed in the school. Let me explain.
JMSS was built as part of a large community complex which also includes the Walter Baker Sports Center and a branch of the Ottawa Public Library. The idea was to give students more easy access to the community center and the library, and to give community members easy access to the school facilities. The OPL renovated a few years ago and by moving its circulation desk created a large empty area. Perfect for an exhibit space. A space where students and staff, current and former, as well as community members, could exhibit their art work. Where students had easy access to these works. And where students could learn first hand how to run a gallery and the events which might be held there. Cool idea, eh?
So on Friday I went along, as I said, to see the latest exhibit and meet the artist, Kathryn Michaud. Kathryn is a sculptor, poet, and performance artist. Her sculptures are haunting as you might expect from the title of the exhibit.
Kathryn’s sculptures are swathed in handmade garments and headdresses, and draped with ornate beading as you can see above. Everything is handmade, hand sewn, hand shaped, and meticulously meaningful down to the fact that the beads are worked in groups of seven, twenty-one and twenty-eight. See how the inside of the head of “Sadeshie” (above) is lined with silver so that the empty eyes will catch the light? And in all of the works, I was struck by her depiction of the powerful and sometimes opposing images of strength, fragility, courage, vulnerability, power, and tenderness.
Kathryn’s sculptures seem based on the long distant past, on images of Pictish warriors and Celtic queens. The braids, tattoos, and facial paint. The coarse fabrics, the body armour. But history is not the main point here, unless it’s the artist’s very personal history. You see, Kathryn has long battled “Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” That’s what haunts her dreams, and it’s her dreams which express themselves in her art. In the complex images of a fragile figure swathed in ornate “regalia,” a warrior tending to a swaddled infant, or a slender girl dancing with abandon on Hadrian’s Wall the symbol of the might of Rome. According to Kathryn, these figures, the expression of her creativity, are an integral part in her ability to survive CPTSD and in her continued journey of healing.
I should say here that don’t know a lot about art. And I am definitely not an art critic. So I hope I’ve done justice to Kathryn’s art, her talent, and the amazing detail and work that has gone into each of her sculptures.
And to Ev… my friend and walking/skating partner. Whose vision and enthusiasm for the Red Poppy Gallery has not diminished even though she’s retired from teaching. As is evidenced by the hundreds of hours of volunteer time she continues to invest in the gallery and, as a result, the students of JMSS. Good job, Ev!