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I recently had the opportunity for a conversation with Michelle Hardy, Decorative Arts Curator for The Nickle Arts Museum at the University of Calgary. The museum’s recent acquisition of the Jean and Marie Erikson Carpet Collection was the impetus for the creation of the position and continues to be a major focus for the curator

  We discussed opportunities and challenges of her curatorial position, her stewardship of the impressive Erikson collection, and the professional journey she herself has undertaken from maker to curator. Hardy began her career studying textiles at Capilano College, Sheridan and finally at NSCAD. Her focus then as a maker and now as an ethnographer and curator has “always been textiles.” It was in Nova Scotia that she began thinking more like an anthropologist, fascinated by the persistence of individuals who create textiles by hand when it would seem there are easier ways to survive. Beginning with a simple question, “How do they make it work?” Hardy was to undergo a professional shift from “…making to studying other makers.” Her doctoral research led her to western India where she would spend time with embroiderers of the Mutwa clan. Hardy wanted to understand how the women of this Muslim community create their embroidered textiles in the context of their daily lives. Additionally she was interested in the small changes to motifs and embroidery techniques that result from contact with other cultures. She returned to the region recently to assess the impact of a 2001 earthquake on the lives of the people and the market for their craft.

 

Hardy’s passion for textiles and her interest in the stories of the people who make them continues to influence her in her current role at The Nickle Arts Museum. Inspired by Duncan Cameron’s call for a paradigmatic shift in museums from temples of culture to public forums, Hardy has devoted herself to extending traditional perceptions of the museum as a place where historical objects are preserved to an active educational and cultural resource where stories old and new may be rediscovered by the community it serves. To this end, Hardy endeavours to nourish dynamic relationships within the academic community of the University of Calgary and actively pursues associations with other institutions like The Alberta College of Art + Design, local craft guilds and groups like the Calgary Rug and Textiles Club. Hardy welcomes all visitors to the museum, often extending herself personally to groups interested in viewing the Erikson Collection firsthand behind the scenes in the museum’s storage area. The day I visited the museum, Hardy had just finished hosting a group of local artists who visit regularly to sketch the carpets.

The Jean and Marie Erikson Carpet Collection presents a plethora of research opportunities and exhibition themes for Hardy to draw on and has already figured prominently in exhibitions at the Nickle Arts Museum. Last year, Hardy and co-curator Robert Fyke put together Made in Afghanistan: Rugs & Resistance, an exhibition of war carpets drawn from the Erikson collection and several private collections. It was a powerful and moving exhibition displaying hand woven depictions of ongoing turmoil in a region where hand grenades, tanks and helicopters are common motifs in the visual vocabulary of the Afghan weaver. Newer carpets depict recent events like the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, and the signing of the new Afghan constitution. Images of the region and its weavers by photographer Luke Powell, poetry by Khalilullah Khalili and music by Farhad Darya were also featured in the show. The inclusion of these elements provided a cultural context, expanding the exhibit’s focus to include the weavers of these stunning, iconoclastic and wholly contemporary carpets.

Hardy’s latest exhibition Caucasian Blue is comprised entirely of works drawn from the Erikson Collection. Each carpet features the colour blue in either in the ground or figure of the textile. This simple colour connection, provides the opportunity to consider the diversity of rug design from “one of the most ethnically and linguistically complex regions of the world.” Michelle Hardy’s ongoing involvement with woven carpets has influenced her future research plans. She will soon travel to Turkey where she will visit weavers involved in the DOBAG project, a woman’s cooperative engaged in the traditions of Anatolian weaving. On this trip she hopes to learn more about weaving and the weavers themselves, their personal challenges and goals, no doubt wondering “What are the stories they have to tell?”

-M.F.-  

Caucasian Blue, curated by Michelle Hardy is on display at The Nickle Arts Museum from March 9 to August 31, 2007.  

1. Mutwa women's embroidered blouse, Kutch District, Gujarat

2. Kazak rug featuring botehs from the Caucasus (circa 1880).
The Jean and Marie Erikson Collection  

Contact for Michelle: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Nickle Website: http://www.ucalgary.ca/~nickle/

Photographer Luke Powell’s website: http://www.lukepowell.com/  

Link to articles about DOBAG Project:   http://www.jozan.net/Rad/Dobag.asp

 
 
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