Luck has nothing to do with it: Kootenay School of the Arts PDF  | Print |  E-mail

In 2006 the Kootenay School of Arts was amalgamated by Selkirk College, becoming a public institution for the second time in its almost 50 year history. The Kootenay School of the Arts first began in the late 50’s in Nelson BC as a small community run school in the basement of a building in the downtown core. It went through a variety of amalgamations, first by the University of Notre Dame, a private Catholic institution, then by Selkirk College in the seventies. It later was under the David Thompson University Centre with the University of Victoria, Selkirk College and the Kootenay School of the Arts all under one administrative umbrella.


The government of the day in 1983 closed the school to save, they said, money for the Coquihalla Highway that they were building to bring the Okanagan hinterlands closer to Vancouver for Expo 86. The people of Nelson and the larger Kootenay community felt abandoned but in 1990 through hard work, the school was brought back to life. It rose from the ashes as a non profit post secondary Cooperative, the first of its kind in North America.

 Nelson, the small historic mining city of the Kootenay region, has always been celebrated by its residents as a tenacious community. With these qualities, along with the change in BC politics, the 1990’s presented the community an opportunity to re-establish the school.


Sonya Lindsay  2007 graduate: 4 Gowns:

 From 1990 to 2002 it grew to become the Kootenay School of the Arts Cooperative to KSA, Centre of Craft and Design. In the interim years, of the 1980’s the Emily Carr College of Art from Vancouver continued art courses through an outreach program in the area. In the early 1990’s ECCAD helped with the school’s reinstatement as a cooperative. The school’s mandate centered on craft and design education with a strong business bent. Small hands-on studio classes were the mainstay and strength of the school, taught by practicing artists and designers. Students from across Canada and the United States enrolled in the 3 year diploma accredited programs. During this time, the faculty also unionized to became one of the smallest faculty associations in British Columbia. 

In 2002, however, on the fateful ‘Black Thursday’ in February the present Campbell government, in a provincial wide closure on many public institutions from hospitals to schools, blacklisted the school for closure. The Kootenay School of the Arts along with the City of Nelson and its supporters were determined to keep the school alive. It was not ready to give up without a good fight. At a grim moment in the winter semester of 2005, the faculty, not knowing they were going to be paid, continued to teach throughout the last 2 months until official word came that the local college, under the support of the provincial government would re-fund the school under the auspices of Selkirk College. Once again the school would become a public institution.  

And so, the “little art school that could”…arose from the ashes once again and this time under Kootenay School of the Arts at Selkirk College officially became amalgamated in August 2006.


 II CURRENT – Kootenay School of the Arts at Selkirk College

Kootenay School of the Arts at Selkirk College (KSA) is an accredited post secondary educational institution offering a 2-Year Diploma in Art, Craft and Design with a major in one of three studios: Clay, Fibre, or Jewellery and Small Object Design. A 1-Year Certificate in Metal Studio Arts is also offered.  

Kootenay School of the Arts is dedicated to graduating students who will be able to make a living through their professions in art, craft and design.  The practical application of creativity, skill, and business prepares students for the competitive cultural marketplace.

KSA’s program places emphasis on the skills necessary to become a successful and professional arts practitioner.  Small class sizes, working artists as instructors and after-hours studio access contribute to KSA’s goal of attaining excellence as a leader in craft and design education. Hands-on studio work combined with the study of design, drawing, history and professional practices leads to an in-depth understanding and refined ability to apply the essential elements for success in the industry.

 Kootenay School of the Arts is an integral part of a diverse and vibrant community that values education and the arts, and is known for its natural beauty and many cultural and recreational opportunities. Located in British Columbia, on the west arm of the Kootenay Lake, Nelson combines a unique blend of urban sophistication and rural charm with an unhurried pace and friendly atmosphere.  

For information on Kootenay School of the Arts please call 1.877.552.2821 or visit our website at www.selkirk.ca/ksa


In 2006, the Fibre Program curriculum was re-designed from its 3 year diploma to offering 2 - year diplomas in 2 different streams: Contemporary Fibre and Clothing Design.  The new programs hope to address the 2 contemporary issues in textile education, the clothing sphere and the development of textiles and fibre objects.  

The Foundation Year - The first year program gives each student a comprehensive introduction and foundation in fibre and textiles, resulting in a strong grounding in hands-on processes and techniques which is one of the program’s biggest strengths.  

In first year, all students explore the same 6 courses in cloth and its ability to carry imagery, printing, felting, weaving, chemical and natural dye processes, embellishment of cloth, fabric construction and world textile history.  Students work with diverse materials, building a tactile as well as a visual language.

All processes inform each student’s “major” focus and readies the student to pursue 1 of 2 streams in the following second year of study with a diploma in either Contemporary Fibre or Clothing Design.


Silk screen drapery panels by Mellisa Barber

The Graduation Year – This second year consists of 6 courses in the body of the main program which all students must take. These include design for limited edition production, clothing construction and pattern drafting, silk screen printing and surface design, professional development in client commissions and contemporary theory and practice and in their last semester of study, a 6 credit second year studio course in self-directed and mentored work in production and the development of a body of work consisting of one of a kind pieces for graduation.  

 The 4 remaining classes which make up the second year 2 stream majors: 

Contemporary Fibre Diploma - Advanced Techniques with units in Weaving and Upholstery and Contemporary Fibre with units in papermaking and mixed media applications.

Students in the contemporary fibre stream will focus on a wide perspective including clothing, mixed media applications along with upholstery and advanced weaving skills.

Students will focus on contemporary textile processes and techniques which will enable them, on graduation, to begin a studio practice in contemporary art work and one of a kind, autonomous client commissions and/or a business practice designing and making production items and limited design editions for both interiors and clothing OR students may wish to continue their studies at degree granting institutions.

Clothing Design Diploma – Advanced Detailing and Finishing and Advanced Pattern Drafting

 Students in the clothing design stream will focus more specifically on clothing processes. Their main focus will centre on clothing which will enable them, on graduation, to begin a studio practice in contemporary ready to wear and art wear as well as one of a kind, autonomous client commissions /or begin a business practice designing and making clothing for production, OR students may wish to continue their studies at fashion, theatre costume and film schools.

 The program supports the school’s mission statement of making a living through the exploration and development of textile design, one-of-a-kind fine contemporary craft objects and studio production. Graduates are also able to apply their knowledge to interior design, interiors, costume and wearable art, film, museum work, textile conservation, teaching and business.

 As well as working as studio practitioners, KSA students have gone on to further studies at Concordia University, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and the Alberta College of Art and Design, all with strong technical expertise and a strong portfolio

Fibre Studio Faculty  

The faculty’s extensive knowledge of historical and contemporary textiles includes expertise in fabric structure and construction, surface design, chemical and natural dye techniques, Japanese traditional printing processes, contemporary felt making, mixed media, upholstery and wearable art, pattern drafting, world textile history and studio business practices. The fibre faculty members are highly committed and serious craftspeople, artists and designers. With the benefits of small classes and low student / instructor ratios, the faculty assist students in realizing  their creativity and potential through problem solving, critical thinking and idea development. In addition, the studio has an extensive visiting artist program.  

Marilyn Lee studied at the University of Calgary and the Alberta College of Art & Design, where she received her BFA, majoring in textiles with distinction in 1998.  She was awarded the prestigious Board of Governors award.  

Since1999 Marilyn has taught surface design at the Kootenay School of the Arts while setting up her textiles studio.  She currently maintains a full-time studio practice and markets her production line of MML textiles at major craft fairs and wholesale shows across the country including: the Art Market, Calgary; One-of-a-Kind, Toronto and Montreal; Interior Design Show, Toronto; and the Circle Craft Christmas Market, Vancouver, where she received the prestigious Excellence in Craft “Gold” Award.  Lee has also shown her work in numerous solo and group exhibitions and was one of handful of Canadians selected to be included in the 2004 “World Meeting of Felt Art Exhibition” at the Hungarian National Gallery, in Budapest, Hungary.  

Marilyn’s work has also been featured in Canadian Living, Vancouver Sun, the Globe & Mail, Style at Home, Nelson Daily News and in Canadian House and Home. 


Maggie Tchir has been a working artist, exhibit curator, textile historian and educator for the past 30 years. Her work in contemporary fibre and mixed media have been exhibited internationally and are held in private and corporate collections in Canada, the United States and abroad. Tchir is a recipient of various scholarships including the Banff School of Fine Arts, CABC Grace Cameron Rogers Scholarship and the Sheila Hugh MacKay Foundation Award and most recently a 2006 Columbia Basin Artist Grant. Her world textile research has included residency and travel in Asia, India, the American Southwest and Mexico. From 1998 to 2002 she worked as an artist in residence and consultant with Navajo weavers and shepherds for the “Sheep is Life”  Feltmaking Project on the Navajo reservation. She is currently a research associate at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe, New Mexico and has taught at the Kootenay School of the Arts since 1993.  

Coby Vander Gaast has 28 years of textile practice in weaving, dyeing, knitting and basket making. In 1974 her textile studies began, beginning at Cherryville and then at Handcraft House Textile School in North Vancouver. She has continued her studies and research over the years with celebrated weavers such as Suzanna Lewis, Rover Loewe and Madelyn van der Hoogt. In 1989 Vander Gaast collaborated in the design and production of 50 official sweaters for the BC Winter Games and in 1990 received a Knitting Guild of American Design Award. Traveling extensively, Vander Gaast has been influenced and enriched by cultural textiles and processes and has taught fibre techniques in Teotitlan, Mexico, along with teaching in the KSA Fibre Studio since 2001.  

Currently she is working with Michele Wipplinger who is president of EARTHUES, Inc, an international colour and design consulting company in Seattle, Wastington, specializing in ecology and the artisan. Wipplinger’s company is a recipient of a United Nations award for environmental stewardship on the development of an ecological natural dye process for the American textile industry. EARTHUES specializes in ecological processes with an emphasis on natural dyes. Vander Gaast is an assistant to Wipplinger and helps with workshops in the United States and Canada.


Angelika Werth has over 20 years experience as a working artist. She has exhibited in a number of group and solo shows in England, France, Japan, the U.S. and Canada and is represented in private and corporate collections in these countries. Werth is a recipient of a Canada Council B Grant and a BC Arts Council Grant. She received a degree as master dressmaker in her natal Germany and went on to work at Yves Saint Laurent Fashion House in Paris before coming to Canada in the seventies. As an educator she has taught in the KSA Fibre Studio program since 1995  


Vivian Bauman -  Vivian Bauman Costumes (film and theatre costume builder) Vancouver BC

Ankaret Dean –  textile and basket artist/designer Oakville, Ontario

Avril Wolfstar Fogden – textile artist, Toas New Mexico

Katherine Franks – textile artists, Calgary Alberta

Kathleen Hill – textile artist  Rossland, BC

Michelle Melville – textile artist, Whitehorse, Yukon

Bill Morton  - textile artist, Calgary Alberta

Bettina Mutzkhun – textile artist Vancouver

Mieneke Mees - textile artist and educator, Vancouver, BC

Margaret McKea – theatre costume designer, Vancouver, BC

Yolanda Olivetti – tapestry artist, Victoria, BC 

Vivienne Pearson –  textile artist Castlegar, BC

Kiaya Rautianen – tapestry artist, Vancouver

Anne Smith – First Nations artist, Whitehourse, Yukon

Wendy Toogood  - textile artist, Calgary Alberta

Arlene Westen –  textile artist and bookbinder, Alberta

Susan Warner Keene – textile artist & Saidye Bronfman Award of Excellence, Toronto Ontario

A group of Guatemalan Weavers



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