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An artful lesson

The best birthday cards are the handmade kind

By Carolyn Pogue

I’m now taking an art class at our local community centre. If you were kind, you would say, “Well, she’s sort of a folk artist.” I hope you’d be kind. I will continue to make cards, birdhouses, weird quilts and whatnot for friends and family as I have always done. I might, though, understand the mix of colours better moving forward. And I might possibly stand back and look at whatever it is with a more critical eye. Best of all, I will continue to make art with kids whenever I can.

Making art with kids is the best because they will generously help you. For example, when I recently tried to draw a white tailed deer, my proportions were all wrong. So I asked my granddaughter, Kate, who is 7, if she knew how to draw one. “Sure,” she said, whipping off a deer in no time flat. No angst about it; just confidence and joy. I admire this as much as I admire the work of fine artists.

But fine art isn’t required for the art project I’m working on these days: handmade birthday cards for people I’ve never met. I love the invitation to do this, which came from Debbie Hubbard, who is the on-the-ground organizer of the United Church's upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) events in Edmonton (March 27 to 30). 

Carolyn Pogue's granddaughter, Kate, sends love to a former Residential School student. Photo by Carolyn Pogue
Carolyn Pogue's granddaughter, Kate, sends love to a former Residential School student. Photo by Carolyn Pogue
“At previous TRC events, a birthday celebration has become an important part of the closing ceremonies on Sunday afternoons. The singing of Happy Birthday and the gift of a cupcake and a birthday card have become symbolic gestures for all of the cultural and community rituals the children missed because they were at an Indian Residential School. It has been a time for laughter, for healing and for celebration for all present,” Debbie’s e-mail read.

Laughter, healing and celebration. I’m in. One afternoon, I made cards with June Churchill, a Calgary friend, and Sue Short, a longtime friend from Yellowknife who was in Calgary for a visit. Another time, my art partner, Kate, and our other grandchild, Foster, who is 5, watched the six-minute Youtube video, Shi-shi Etko, about a six-year-old Haida girl who must leave her family to attend an Indian Residential School. They were thoughtful afterward. So I invited them to help me make birthday cards for some of the children — now grown — who would were expected to attend the "big, big" meeting in Edmonton. They were excited to do something as important as making cards. Paper, sparkles, paints and glue soon covered the dining room table.

Sure, the 2,000 grown-up children who will receive handmade cards from adults and children completely unknown to them won't get to enjoy their traditional special foods, celebrations or stories on their birthdays. But they will know that today 2,000 strangers wish them love. No one needs an art class for that.
Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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