Red Deer artist Jewel Shaw takes a look back at her past through her exhibit Memory Bones.
The exhibit, she said, is about the investigation and collection of objects to piece together her past, history and family. It’s currently on display at the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery.
“A lot of the pieces are from stories from my grandmother and family, which are not fully truthful,” she said.
Shaw said there was a particular story that her grandmother and mother told her about a childhood fire her mom witnessed when she was very young. “They lost everything in this fire, and my grandmother told me that her twin sister had set the fire for reasons we don’t know.”
Shaw later asked her mom what happened with the fire and what she remembers from that day. She told Shaw that it was in fact her mother (Shaw’s grandmother) that set the fire with her sister.
“It was like a mystery, so a lot of things I’m trying to piece together,” she said.
She added back then there were a lot of hard times with racism and much of her family went to residential schools.
Some of the pieces displayed in Memory Bones are from the interview she had with her mom.
“My mom told me that my grandmother and her sister set the fire and my grandpa was inside of it, and the very last minute before it all burned down, they went in and rescued him, because he had been passed out,” she said.
Her grandfather survived, but later passed away, along with her grandmother.
And so to this day, Shaw never got the chance to confront her grandmother about what really happened the day of the fire.
Shaw said her exhibit mainly tried to create more of an emotional feeling. She said not knowing the exact details, she uses metaphors, objects and text in place of what she’s been told to try and tell the story in a way that is open enough for viewers.
“A lot of times the objects and texts say a lot more than what is actually truth, so it could be opening up stories from the common experience of people at the time or objects they collect.
“They can mean many different things to different people, so I usually try to keep it not so specific and too literal, so it’s more poetic.”
Shaw mainly draws and specializes in printmaking, doing lots of etchings.
“I do a lot of drawing on copper and then I etch,” she said, adding that most of her work in Memory Bones are etchings combined with some digital experimentation.
Growing up in High Prairie, Shaw’s high school didn’t have an art program, but she was determined that she wanted to be an artist, even though she had no experience. She would draw a lot in her spare time, and after high school stuck around High Prairie for a few more years before deciding to attend Red Deer College for visual arts.
She stayed in Red Deer for a year doing drawing and printmaking to build up her portfolio before attending the University of Alberta for a bachelor’s degree, and then later, her master’s degree in printmaking.
After she was done at the University of Alberta, she went off to the Banff Centre and did a work study in printmaking.
“You get paid to work and they support you in your art practice, so you’re sort of working in your field, and that was amazing,” she said. Following that she did some travelling, a residency back at Red Deer College and then another residency in Australia.
Shaw continues to do her art work consistently, and travels to Edmonton’s print shop to do some work there. She also draws at home, doing a little bit of digital work with her drawings.
She currently has a show running in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with another show going up in September in Saskatchewan.
“My work is out there doing all the travelling for me, but right now my home base is Red Deer. I have a three-year old right now, so he keeps me busy,” she said with a laugh.
With her inspiration drawn from various things, it’s those stories from her past that come back to her, steering some of her inspiration still to this day.
“I’m always working through my personal wondering and speculation, so as I’m drawing it’s almost like I’m listening for answers.”
Shaw’s exhibit runs until Aug. 20th at Red Deer Museum MAG + Art Gallery.
To contact Shaw or to see some of her work, visit jewelshaw.carbonmade.com.