Local creators named finalists in Nova Scotia’s top cultural award

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>LARRY GOLDSTEIN, PHOTO</p><p>Laurie Swim, with her grandson Eli, along with the book she had written about the nominated piece Hope and Survival.</p>
  • <p>BEATRICE SCHULER-MOJON, PHOTO</p><p>Poet Alison Smith of New Germany says just being nominated for the Masterworks Arts Award is &#8220;validating.&#8221;</p>

Fabric artist Laurie Swim of Lunenburg, and New Germany poet Alison Smith are among the three finalists announced for the 2020 Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Arts Award.

Vying for the prestigious award, which was established in 2005, are Swim's Hope and Survival: The Halifax Explosion Memorial Quilt; Smith's This Kind of Thinking Does No Good, and the 100-foot art structure, Tepkik, by Jordan Bennett of Terence Bay, HRM.

The Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Arts Award is given to a work of art that exemplifies mastery across four distinct criteria – originality, artistic maturity, impact, and contribution to Nova Scotia.

"I'm really honoured to be even just a finalist," Swim told LighthouseNOW. "All the other finalists are wonderful representations of our wonderful province, and I'm okay with just being that. Nomination is one thing but being a finalist is really, a really big honour."

The Masterworks Arts Award is the largest cultural award based in Nova Scotia. Each work on the shortlist is awarded a $3,000 finalist prize. The creator of one of the finalist works will then receive the $22,000 winner prize, for a grand total of $25,000.

Earlier this year, four Nova Scotian artists from across the province formed a multi-disciplinary jury working at arm's-length from the NS Masterworks Awards Foundation to select the shortlisted works. The Masterworks Arts Award is open to work from all creative mediums, and, as such, the foundation ensures that jury members represent a broad spectrum of artistic disciplines, and all are highly experienced in their respective fields, according to a news release from the foundation.

Names of the jurors will be made public once the winner is announced later in the fall.

Hope and Survival is a large-scale quilted textile depicting narrative and factual events of the 1917 Halifax Explosion. Swim created it to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the event. The jurors were unanimously impressed by its artistic maturity, exemplary craftsmanship, and the sheer scale of the work, along with its unique parallel employment as a historical document and artwork, according to the foundation's release.

"The piece demonstrates a thoughtfully researched and intentionally conceived impact across Nova Scotia, which began long before the final product was enjoyed by thousands at installations across the province," the foundation added.

Swim enlisted more than 150 volunteers, including descendants of the explosion victims, to bead nearly 2000 known names of those killed by the Explosion in Braille onto 172 fabric panes featured in the work.

Coupled with Swim's own masterfully sewn narrative illustrations, the piece granted volunteers and viewers alike with a reflective, meditative and accessible remembrance experience.

"As the jury commented: 'Hope and Survival is poignant in that it is almost like wrapping a blanket around the event as an act of healing – exactly what a memorial should be,'" reported the foundation.

For her part, Swim told LighthouseNOW the piece is "beyond me. It's specifically for hope and survival."

While Smith's This Kind of Thinking Does No Good is a collection of poetry exploring perspectives on rural and domestic life. The jury praised it for its "maturity of voice, variation in form, and mastery of language," according to the foundation. "Creator Alison Smith undoubtedly has command of her discipline," it reported.

The collection was hailed as providing "a valuable glimpse into a different way of rural life. Addressing matters such as childhood, labour, motherhood, domestic violence, and the prison system, This Kind of Thinking Does No Good courageously and intelligently speaks to issues out of a setting wherein a culture of silence tends to be the norm," suggested the media release.

Smith told LighthouseNOW the Masterwork nomination is "validating."

"You can't help but feel like someone has noticed that you've worked really hard on your craft and is saying 'yes, you know what you're doing,'" she commented in an e-mail.

However, Smith admitted she was "a bit worried" when she published the book, "that people would find it too much because it engages with a lot of feelings we're supposed to stuff down- despair, fear, shame, anger, disappointment." As it turned out, though, people "seem to appreciate the realness of it," said Smith.

"I think people feel relief when you lift the lid on uncomfortable feelings because it gives them permission to do the same. There's also a lot of humour in the book. I mean, when you look closely enough at things, there's a lot in life that's pretty absurd."

Jordan's Tepkik is a 100-foot long public art structure comprised of Polysilk fabric panels and highly reflective surface elements. A Mi'kmaq word for night, Tepkik is designed to transport its viewers to the realm of the night sky with its vast, colourful, sweeping expanse, incorporating interpretations of Mi'kmaq petroglyphs depicting the Milky Way found in Kejimkujik National Park.

According to the foundation, Bennett sought to create a "visual representation of the intersection of ancestral and contemporary Mi'kmaq traditions, and the jury commended this "successful and beautiful execution of that synergy."

The foundation is inviting the public to celebrate the works and their creators during an Artists & Conversation panel discussion where they will speak about their creative processes. The free event will take place later in the autumn. The winning work will be announced in the fall as part of the Creative Nova Scotia Awards Gala.

The Award is sponsored by Arts Nova Scotia, The Craig Foundation, and individual donors.

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