Dionne Paul would like to get her dining room back as a place to feed her family, but there’s a hitch.
Right now, it’s occupied by a 3.7-metre (12-foot) red cedar plank, 0.75 m (30 inches) wide, into which the First Nations artist has cut out a Coast Salish moon-phase design that she’s infilling with river rocks and clear resin.
And given how busy she is, as the single mother and step-mother of five children who also holds down two jobs, and who has other art projects on the go, that dining room space might not be freed up anytime soon.
“My whole home is my studio,” Paul said in a recent interview. “Sometimes I’m hand dying wool on the stove or soaking cedar in my bathtub. I weave in my bedroom, I bead by the computer or paint on my deck.”
Paul, 43, is also working on a proposal for a public art installation at a multi-purpose building going up beside the Raven’s Cry Theatre in Sechelt. She’s also planning an underwater totem for scuba divers that would go outside the PODS (Pender Harbour Ocean Discovery Station).
“I’ll be sculpting it, I think, out of clay. It will be pretty massive, about six feet. A seated figure. It’s called the Guardian of the Ocean,” Paul said.
Then there are her regular jobs.
“I’m the Community Health Rep for the Sechelt Nation. So, I’ll be doing a lot of plant medicine workshops, and men’s healing, women’s healing, sweat-lodge ceremonies,” Paul said. “I’m also Indigenous Faculty Adviser for Capilano University here on the Sechelt campus.”
Paul has always been a dynamo. Born to a mother of the Nuxalk First Nation, Paul was adopted and brought to Sechelt at birth by her great aunt, who was married to a shíshálh man. Paul’s ancestral name is Ximiq, which means “the first eyelash of sunlight that comes over the mountain to greet everyone in the morning,” she explained. True to form, Paul lives as if she was encouraging everyone to get up and get going. From an early age she composed songs, wrote and performed plays and dances, designed costumes, played instruments and made beautiful things.
Hardly surprising, then, that she would push on to get a master’s degree from Emily Carr University in Vancouver while taking on projects in an impressive breadth of disciplines from weaving – in wool, cedar and copper – beadwork, painting, stained glass, sculpting and photography. Paul created a wooden “female welcome figure” and copper loom for the Iris Griffith Centre at Ruby Lake in 2008. Her work was shown at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, at the Bill Reid Gallery in 2011, and at a 2012 show at the Grand Palais in Paris, France.
Paul said she aspires “to take craft to high art,” and draws inspiration from native spirituality, plant medicine, feminism, and from the very materials she works with.
“I’ve been busting my ass on this wood, working so hard to honour this cedar tree as much as I can because I’m co-creating with it,” she said. “And I’m going into furniture design, which I didn’t expect.”
Paul will have a lot of opportunity to craft that new exploration into high art. She has five more of those 12-foot cedar slabs in her basement.