There’s no shortage of fascinating events and exhibits taking place in Vancouver during the Olympics, but perhaps none quite as original as Pat Bruderer’s “birch bark biting” artworks and demonstrations. Bruderer, a Cree First Nations member from northern Manitoba, takes strips of birch bark and peels them until they are super thin and then folds them, much like you would if you were making a snowflake (no cutting involved here, though). Bruderer visualizes the image she wants to create and then digs in—literally. With the folded piece of bark held between her teeth, she bites down using her eye teeth and makes a series of tiny imprints on the bark (not strong enough to puncture the material, however). When she opens the folded bark, you’ll find a series of intricate designs.
“It’s a really old First Nations art form,” says Bruderer. “And it’s the first printing press. I use my teeth like I use a pencil. [The bitings] were used to entertain people, or they would show maps or tell family stories. Later, they were used for beadwork and silk embroidery patterns.”
Like a snowflake, each one is unique. And Bruderer adds extra style to her works by burning the edges once she’s finished, giving them a more antique look. Bruderer, who’s self-taught, learned how to do birch bark biting 16 years ago to help keep the art form alive.
“I had only heard of one person doing it when I lived in Moose Lake, Manitoba,” says Bruderer.
Now, she believes birch bark biting not only keeps a traditional craft alive, but it also teaches patience, respect, kindness, creativity, and imagination. Bruderer, who is also known as Half Moon Woman, has won awards for her works and displayed her birch bark bitings in at least two dozen galleries across Canada. If you’re in Vancouver for the Olympics, go see her works at the Bill Reid Gallery on Hornby Street (the late Reid is one of British Columbia’s most celebrated First Nations artists).
You’ll also find a good selection at the 2010 Winter Market, which showcases handmade products from north of the border (you’ll find the market at 151 West Cordova St. in Vancouver’s Gastown neighborhood; it’s only open during the Olympics and Paralympics). While there, keep an eye out for beautiful First Nations carvings by Jadeon Rathgeber, Bruderer’s son who creates museum-quality pieces made of diamond willow (a type of wood), copper, mother of pearl, and other materials.
Bruderer will be giving demonstrations at various sites throughout the Olympics. You'll find her at the Sinclair Centre at 757 West Hastings St. in Vancouver, Feb. 24-26, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and at the Aboriginal Pavilion, Feb. 27-28, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. In the meantime, if you’re interested in knowing more about Bruderer or her work, go to www.halfmoonstudios.com.
Photo of Bruderer by Kari Bodnarchuk for The Boston Globe
Photo of artwork provided by Half Moon Studios