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Coast textile artist’s workshop explores grief through weaving

The Hospice Society’s series demonstrates how threads of creativity lead from hurt to healing
Arts _ Culture - Janna Maria (credit Felicia Lo)
Weaver Janna Maria at work at her loom.

For people who feel like unravelling after the loss of a loved one, a free workshop series coordinated by the Sunshine Coast Hospice Society will use the art of weaving to demonstrate that creativity and healing are wound together.

Textile artist Janna Maria of Madeira Park will lead sessions on Aug. 26 and 28, providing hands-on instruction in weaving techniques and the use of hand looms. The experience is specifically geared to help those navigating bereavement to experience self-expression and insight.

“I think a big part of my art practice involves creating an intentional space and trying to just be present with people, which can be hard sometimes in life,” said Maria. “It feels like an honour to be invited into these people’s space of grief. The hospice has done a really good job of creating a foundation of trust and a space where we can really open up to each other and feel safe to share.”

Maria is a graduate of Concordia University’s fibres program and also received textile training at Capilano University. In addition to creating woven, dyed and knit items, she operates an online yarn supply store called Everlea Yarn.

This month’s workshops are the first installment in a series organized by the Hospice Society called Exploring Grief Through Creativity.

“Hospice is not just about supporting the dying, it is also about supporting the living,” said Tess Huntly, Executive Director of the Sunshine Coast Hospice Society. “The purpose of our Exploring Grief Through Creativity series is to invite local artists who work with different media to guide residents who are experiencing grief and help them explore their bereavement through artistic expression, in a way that doesn’t necessarily require words.” 

The four-part series will culminate in a community exhibit that coincides with the annual Coast Hospice Lights of Life in December. The initiative is funded through a partnership with the Marin Community Foundation, which covers compensation for artists and the cost of supplies for the workshops, which take place at Hospice House in Sechelt.

According to Maria, repetitive motion like weaving has beneficial effects for the brain. It creates new neural pathways and releases serotonin, a mood-boosting hormone.

During her workshops, Maria uses an elementary weaving technique called meet and separate. “It’s the fundamental technique of tapestry technique to create shapes and a desired design with the fewest technical hurdles,” she said. “It just happens to be a really good analogy for grief. We get into a groove and there are a lot of silent moments where people are highly concentrating. Also, I don’t expect people to open up about their personal stories, but it just kind of naturally happens.”

Woven tapestries have been synonymous with storytelling for a millennium. The 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry and the 14th-century Angers tapestry (also known as the Apocalypse Tapestry) both grapple with matters of life and death in pictorial form.

Maria’s workshops are free of charge, include all necessary supplies, and are open to beginners.

Subsequent events in the Exploring Grief series will feature local artists in different disciplines. In September, Ray Niebergall teaches sculpting in clay. In October, Cathy Dunlop guides participants in painting. In November, Natalie Grambow leads felting sessions.

Space is still available for the Exploring Grief Through Creativity workshops on Aug. 26 and 28. Registration is required by calling 604-740-0475 extension 3 or by emailing [email protected].