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Archive for the ‘Mature Student Award’ Category

Last weekend, I flew north to Terrace to give out the Mature Student Award at the Freda Diesing School graduation. This was the fourth year I have sponsored the award, and the third in which one main recipient and two honorable mentions were named. The award honors students twenty-five and older, recognizing that returning students face challenges in returning to school that younger students don’t, yet often contribute grreatly to a class.

The main recipient was Steven Wesley, a member of the Eagle side of the Haida Nation. Wesley fished for many years, then returned to school in 1997 to earn his high school diploma. “I wanted to be a role model for my daughters,” he said. “I wanted to show them that even their Dad could get his Grade Twelve.

Wesley went on to become a bus driver and trucker. However, he relates that, in 2002, “A friend handed me a knife and a block of wood and asked if I wanted to carve. And ever since I kept pursuing my dream of becoming an artist,” he says.

Although mostly self-taught and learning by observing others, Wesley was accepted at the K’san School in 2004. However, he had to turn down the position due to lack of funding. When he applied to the Freda Diesing School in 2008, he was luckier in finding support.”I just wanted to learn everything,” he says. “I taught myself how to do the ovoids and U shapes but I wasn’t sure they were the way they should be. So, coming back, I wanted to learn from the beginning again. “

However, for Wesley, the most satisfying part of his first year was learning about negative space in carving: “how deep, how high, how wide. I knew the forms, but I didn’t know how to use negative space in my designs.”

He plans to return for his second year in September, and to carve and paint over the summer. “The more you carve, the less you forget,” he says.

One of the two honorable mentions was given to Roberta Quock, a Tahltan from Telegraph Creek who grew up in Merritt and Kamloops. Long interested in painting and beadwork, she says, “I’ve always wanted to go to this school to study more and to learn carving and study more of the culture.”

Besides beginning to learn how to carve, Quock found the first year class a friendly place to learn. “We really bonded together, and we helped each other out,” she says. “We looked out for each other like a family.”

Quock also plans to return for her second year, studying beside her brother Lyle.

The other honorable mention went to Lorretta Quock Sort, a Tahltan of the Crow Clan. An experienced textile artist, for some time Sort has been making fire bags (ammunition pouches) that the president of the Tahltan nation has been distributing as gifts.

Sort’s first ventures into carving will all be given away to her parents and three children. She explains, “My Mom always told me that when you do something for the first time you should give it away. You’re not supposed to keep it or sell it. But, coming from such a large family, it was hard to decide who got what.”
Like the other winners, Sort plans to keep busy over the summer. She has already set herself the task of doing a mask and bowl over the summer, as well commissions for two button blankets and more fire bags, which these days are popular as women’s purses.

Wesley, Quock, and Sort were all among the more accomplished students in this year’s exhibition. I look forward to seeing them develop in their second year, and I’m pleased to have played a small role in their development as artists.

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On April 23, I did something I had been waiting to do for ten months: I stood up at the graduation ceremony for the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art at Northwest Community College in Terrace, and gave out the first Mature Student Award. Trish and I hope it will be the first of many, and I think the award got off to a good start by having Carol Young (Bagshaw) as the first recipient.

A member of the Haida Eagle side, Young did not grow up with traditional culture, but absorbed much of it indirectly from her mother. Later, as a single mother of four, she began selling a variety of handicrafts and art pieces loosely based on Northwest Coast design on eBay. Although she says she never thought of herself as an artist, she sold over a hundred pieces of every description imaginable. Masks, rattles, miniature canoes, and, most of all, Haida-inspired dolls – all of these and more she managed to produce as a way of bringing in extra money.

With her children grown, Young decided to do something for herself, and enrolled in the Freda Diesing School last September. Her teachers and fellow students tell me that at first she seemed to have trouble feeling comfortable in the dorms or the class room, and that learning formline design didn’t come easily to her after years of doing things her way.

However, in the second semester, especially after hearing that she had won the Mature Student Award, Young started to hit her stride. Her design took on a new discipline and maturity as she absorbed what the teachers had been telling her, and she found a place among the other students, most of whom were far younger – although at times, she told me with a smile, she felt that her role was that of den-mother in the dorms.

By the end of the school year, Young had become the speaker for the first year students, announcing them at the graduation ceremony, and appearing with fellow student Sheldon Dennis on a CBC podcast about the school. She also took it on herself to present me with a school cap and T-shirt, and, when I requested one for Trish (who was unable to attend the graduation), gave me hers, claiming that she didn’t wear T-shirts anyway – a kindness that I was grateful for, although I wondered if it was true.

During the podcast, Young said that attending the school had given her “a whole new life.” Previously, I had only contacted her briefly via email, but when I met her during the graduation ceremony and exhibition, she seemed like a person who was happy about the direction she was heading. Not only was she in the middle of preparations and cleanup for the weekend, but she talked about how she hoped she could present a female perspective in her carving, which she felt – despite the name of the school – had been under-represented or explored. She said, too, that she would like to establish an award for women at the school, and would like to teach after she graduated next year.

My impression is that Young is the sort of self-starter who can get where she wants to be under her own power and on her own terms. But I would like to think that the Mature Student Award made her self-development a little easier and quicker than it might otherwise have been.

As the first recipient of the award, she sets a high standard. If next year’s winner is even half as deserving, I will feel that our ongoing involvement in the school through the award has been worthwhile.

Carol Young, First Recipient of the Mature Student Award at the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art

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Last year, when I attended the Freda Diesing School Student Art Exhibition in Terrace, I noticed that most of the awards were for students 25 years old or younger. The school has some fine younger artists, but I thought that the older students deserved some recognition, too. To fill the gap, Trish and I decided to sponsor a Mature Student Award of $1000 per year, and to work towards making the award self-funding.

The official description of the award reads:

This award is given annually to a mature student (25 and over) from the
Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art who has demonstrated
leadership and mentoring qualities in the classroom. Faculty from the
School of Northwest Coast Art will select a student after confirmation of
enrollment in the second semester of the certificate or diploma program.

The award recipient must; be a First Nations Freda Diesing School of
Northwest Coast Art student; identify and work with a mentor to facilitate
the ongoing learning process; reside in British Columbia; demonstrate
potential in visual arts in the Northwest Coast style; and display
mentoring and leadership qualities in their relationships with other
students in the school both inside and outside class.

The award will be given for the first time in January 2010.

I have two main reasons for starting the award. First, as a late bloomer in my own craft of writing, I sympathize with the mature students. Being a student is hard enough when you are twenty, but when you are thirty-five or fifty, returning to school is even harder, because you probably have a family, and you are more set in your ways. Often, it means giving up a steady income when you’ve been used to one for years.

At the same time, I know from years as a university English instructor that older students are worth encouraging. They add a maturity to the discussion, and often serve as role-models and mentors to younger students.

Second, I am a buyer and lover of northwest coast art, especially art in the northern style taught at the school. I am not one of those people descended from Europeans who feel personally responsible for the wrongs against the First Nations that began before I was born, but I do believe in paying my debts and in doing the little I can to alleviate current problems. Northwest Coast art has given me hours of pleasure and learning, and I want to repay those hours with more than simple payment for each piece. I’d like to think that the award would help a student a little in the short term and in the long term maybe help them to launch their careers.

Compared to the other awards that the school gives, the Mature Student Award is starting off slowly. But I hope that it will eventually match the other awards, and become self-perpetuating.

If you are an artist, an art dealer, or someone who appreciates Northwest Coast art, please consider donating to the Mature Student Award. But don’t contact me. Instead, please contact Jill Girodat, the Associate Registrar at the Terrace campus of Northwest Community College at 250-638-5477 or jgirodat AT nwcc DOT bc DOT ca.

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