T’Souke textile artist Charlene George
T’Sou-ke artist Charlene George kQwat’st’not, has a belief that we are not separate from our environment, but each of us is an integral part of the whole and we are supported by all things that came before.
George uses her First Nations heritage as inspiration for the textile designs she creates in weaving, applique and embroidery. Some of her designs are for all to see, others are strictly for “family” – her intellectual property.
On February 26, George will be taking part in a fashion show at the T’Sou-ke Spirit Festival at Edward Milne Community School.
Her journey started long ago when as a child she got into trouble for touching the sewing machine. When she was still quite young she won an award for her embroidery at the Sooke Fall Fair, beating out all of the older women who entered. This was the path she would travel and it has led her to be a renowned First Nations artist working in textiles.
Her wall hangings speak of ancient stories and legends, people and animal spirits. They are, in many ways, the keepers of her culture.
George is Salish and Nuu-Chah-Nulth on her father’s side and French and English on her mother’s side.
“There’s lots of cultures in my makeup,” she says. “Lots to choose from.”
She started drawing her designs from a woman’s perspective and encompassing the teachings of her elders in the art work.
“I’ve been doing this since my son was born, he’s 13. Before it was only once in awhile I did drawings.”
She remembers being told some of her people’s history and from that she takes the strength, all the while filtering down the good and the not so good.
“It was a big struggle for me to trust myself in the beginning and I got help from cousins who were good at drawing,” said George. “I am the holder of the pencil, embracing all aspects of myself in today’s society and also the past. It allows freedom.”
The lack of trust is long behind her and she now works in recycled fibres often combining vintage fabrics used for another purpose. She wants to make a light footprint on the earth.
“I recycled, reused all of those things before it was popular.”
Her work, she said, is the place where conversations often start, as she has passed on all the best words and thoughts through her art.
She has had her work shown in galleries and at art shows but this isn’t the most important thing to her. What she thinks is important is the teaching to the next generation. She is sowing seeds for the future.
For the fashion show she will have about 20 pieces, each reflecting a part of her culture. Some of the pieces have a history, some are for sale and all are unique. She will include a transformation piece and perhaps some lingerie.
“We are celebrating the joyful part of what is culture for us. All those things help to make something better in the future,” she said.
When she isn’t working on her textile pieces she is teaching either at local schools, the University of Victoria or Royal Roads.
She is currently designing patterns for house poles for Journey Middle School. She will have a hand in producing some house pole designs for the new Robert Bateman building at Royal Roads.
“I have a small hand in helping to have something for the future,” she said.
Tickets can be purchased at Edward Milne Community School, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Wood Travel in Sooke locations. Limited seating available.