I don’t know who was more excited, me or the children, when Michael Manyeagles visited the Ashern Early Years School to share with us a bit about his craft and to give us the opportunity to try it out for ourselves. I must admit to having been eagerly awaiting his visit for a while because I just love the beautiful soapstone pieces that I have seen in various craft fairs and local markets (the Forks for example) and was interested to see how someone is able to turn a plain, rough piece of stone into a gleaming polar bear or an intricately detailed turtle.I opened the door amazed to find a silent Kindergarten class, settled in a horseshoe patiently waiting their instruction and slightly in awe of the travelling artist, sat cross-legged on his brightly coloured blanket laid out in front of them. With hand tools, soapstone of various shades and a couple of his carvings carefully displayed on the blanket, Michael Manyeagles informed the children that Métis and other Aboriginal people often place delicate objects for which they have great respect on their blankets. I made a mental note to ask him if the polar bear and dark turtle carvings had a particularly special meaning for him.
There was so much to take in and this charismatic artist infected us all with his enthusiasm for carving that I totally forgot to ask!
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at a stone again without seeing something more precious than a dull, lifeless object. Michael held up several pieces of soapstone to the class which showed us how there is an abundance of colour and pattern in just a small piece of stone, that can be made all the more radiant by simply adding water (or a touch of cooking oil to lock in the moisture – a little secret he let us in on). He taught us all, children and adults alike some of the wonders about soapstone and carving. Firstly that if you try anyone can do it – admittedly not to such a high standard, that kind of skill takes a lot of practise and dedication – Secondly that soapstone is so soft that even a nail file could make a mark and that the dust is used to make luxurious talcum powder… and all that was before we got the chance to prove that we could do it for ourselves.
An hour with Kindergarten has never flown by as quickly or with as little noise as when they were all busy following Michael Manyeagles’ simple, step-by-step instructions on how to make their very own stone spear heads, complete with carvings and their initials. Anyone who works with children will know that to keep a small group of 5 year-olds on task requires the patience of a saint at the best of times. Throw in metal files, string and piles of dust and you know that it takes someone who truly loves his craft to be so encouraging and patient with his students; both young and old(er).
It was truly a fantastic experience and a great pleasure to meet Michael Manyeagles. I couldn’t help feeling chuffed with myself for my spearhead pendant as I left the room, even if the Kindergarten class did do a better job of it than me! I am looking forward to July when I’ll have the time to visit the Hyve Artists studios in Wolseley, Winnipeg for a catch up, a fancy coffee and maybe even some more ambitious carving (or at least a glimpse of some more of his wonderful work).