Expressing Identity

Generations in the Stitch:
Craftsmanship Passed from One Hand to Another

December 2018

Vanessa Flowers

My name is Vanessa Flowers and I am from Hopedale, Nunatsiavut. After completing high school in 2013, I completed the Comprehensive Arts and Science Transfer program in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. I then attended Memorial University at Grenfell Campus and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Biology. I am currently working on a Bachelor of Education in Primary/Elementary, also at the Grenfell Campus.

I believe that I can attribute my artistic abilities to the support of my grandmother, Andrea Flowers. Nan, or Aunt Joy as she is known locally, is an avid seamstress and craftswoman. When I first began to sew, I would spend many of my days at her house. She taught me so much throughout the years and passed plenty of her knowledge onto my sister and me. I am so grateful for all the hours I spent with her and all the stories she shared. She always welcomed me into her home to sew, which is why I continued to practice the craft. Now, whenever I am back home, I always go to her house to spend time with her. Just like when I was younger, we sit at her table and sew, as though no time has passed at all.

When I was fifteen, I began attending a local sewing group with my sister Veronica and my grandmother. This sewing group was held by Sarah Jensen, and with her assistance I made my first pair of beaded moosehide slippers. I began to develop my talents as an artist with Sarah and my grandmother’s guidance. Over the next few years, I continued to sew moosehide slippers for family and friends. I also began sewing small-scale items such as keychains, earrings, and brooches. I then learned how to make Inuit dolls and sealskin kamek. More recently, in April 2018, Veronica, Nan, Sarah, and I worked together to make a pair of traditional black-bottomed sealskin boots.

In November 2015, Newfoundland and Labrador’s first Indigenous arts symposium, “To Light the Fire” was held in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. I submitted a doll, a pair of women’s slippers, and a pair of baby slippers, which we showcased during this event. Pieces of art were then selected from this symposium to be a part of an exhibit called “SakKijâjuk: Art and Craft from Nunatsiavut”. My baby slippers were selected to be a part of this traveling exhibition, which was shown at the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery in St. John’s from October 2016 to January 2017. The exhibition then moved on to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in June 2017 (I attended the grand opening), before continuing on its way to the Winnipeg Art Gallery in May 2018.

Over the past few years, I have also collaborated with my sister Veronica to create crafts. Veronica specializes with the sealskin mitts, whereas I mainly specialize moosehide slippers with the beaded tongues. I feel that our teamwork has allowed us to succeed in what we do. In August 2018, our work was accepted and we were acknowledged as official members of the Craft Council of NL.

I am very thankful that I have had wonderful people in my life to support me as an artist. I thoroughly enjoy creating Inuit art and I’m glad I found that passion. My craft is a large part of my culture and it identifies me as a person. But what I love most about doing this craft is being able to pass on my grandmother’s knowledge; this type of art is so precious to our culture and I feel it’s important to share what I have learned. Through my work, I hope that others will also recognize the importance of craft to our culture and develop a great sense of appreciation for Inuit art.

Vanessa Flowers is an artist from Hopedale who works primarily with sealskin and moose hide. Hopedale is a community well-known for its wealth of talented seamstresses and like many other Labrador Inuit, Flowers learned her craft from her family and community, a method of kin-based mentorship that is common to many Labrador Inuit artists and artisans. This intergenerational knowledge sharing, passed down since time immemorial, is an essential aspect of art in Nunatsiavut as well as an important aspect of Inuit pedagogies across the circumpolar North. Flowers makes a variety of items but is especially known for her slippers. Her personal touch to this traditional form can be seen in her fondness for embellishing her creations with detailed beadwork.

Flowers’ work demonstrates the collaborative effort that informs Nunatsiavut arts and crafts, both in practice by working on projects with family members such as her younger sister and grandmother. Additionally, it demonstrates the continuity of art in Nunatsiavut, the latest iteration within a large body of knowledge that has been built upon by generations. Clothing and other hand-crafted items in Nunatsiavut, drawing from a rich history of both Indigenous and European influences, were previously deemed “inauthentic” by outsiders in the artworld. It is only recently that the skill, beauty, and uniqueness of the work done by Labrador Inuit seamstresses has gained recognition outside of the region. In 2016, a pair of baby slippers created by Flowers toured Canada alongside the work of her contemporaries in the traveling exhibition SakKijâjuk: The Art and Craft of Nunatsiavut.

- Amy Prouty, PhD Student, Concordia University