A Manitoba woodworker is hoping to help older women feel seen through a project showcasing furniture crafted with native wood, and inspired by the stories of seven local grandmothers.
“Women of a certain age usually feel invisible,” Rossburn artist Jamie Kucey told CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa this week.
The seed for Kucey’s project, titled Almost Invisible, originated after a book prompted her to consider how women over 50 are often ignored in society.
“It’s like you’re wearing a cloak of invisibility, but the grandmothers … they’re the keepers of our stories,” Kucey said. “They’re very important to us.”
In conversations she had with women age 74 to 100 in 2019, she realized they shared something in common: a memory tied to a tree.
“The story of a tree and the wood that came from it, they’re all intertwined with their stories and … our human connection with nature,” she said.
Kucey then created seven pieces of furniture with the stories of these grandmothers in mind, “to show that local and ordinary can be exotic and extraordinary,” she said.
“Sometimes my work is a bit invisible, so I thought maybe we would be able to tell the story of the grandmothers and the trees and the furniture that inspired it.”
Kucey’s interviews with the women revealed poignant memories of trees from their past, including one from a 91-year-old grandmother with deep ties to ash trees. The woman, who fled Latvia during the Second World War, lost a friend to illness during the trip and buried her in a cemetery filled with ash trees.
“The tree holds bittersweet memories for her,” Kucey said in an email to CBC Manitoba on Friday. “Ash also represents peace of mind that she finally found here in Canada.”
Kucey crafted an occasional table with ash to commemorate the story, also drawing inspiration from rock formations in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in Alberta, where she’s from.
Other pieces that Kucey created as part of the project range from wall art to candle holders to occasional tables, all made with ash, birch bark and elm, among other species native to the province.
She’d planned to exhibit the works in a multimedia event at Winnipeg’s Rainbow Resource Centre last year, with photos and stories from her interviews, but the pandemic curtailed that idea.
Instead, Kucey assembled the stories into a booklet journal she’s selling through her social media pages as a fundraiser for Winnipeg’s Regenesis Recovery Centre, a non-profit working to open an addictions recovery centre in the city. A percentage of the proceeds from the accessory and furniture sales will also go to the organization.
“I sort of thought that their clients probably felt invisible also,” she said.
Information Radio – MB6:39How Manitoba trees, and the remarkable stories of ordinary people, are helping a Rossburn artist make a statement about women, age and invisibility.
The Manitoba woodworker said she was humbled to document the stories of these grandmothers through trees, three of whom have passed away since the project started.
Kucey’s booklets and furniture are available for sale until the end of May.