Art with purpose

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This article was published 24/03/2015 (2702 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When life gives you leather, make moccasins.

Edna Nabess has always been resourceful. At age 11, while living in Cormorant, Man., located just north of The Pas, Nabess started her first business, filleting fish for tourists. Her hunting/fishing guide grandfather made her a box to stand on so she could access the cleaning station.

So, when Nabess, now a young Cree woman, found herself single with five children to support, she started making moccasins, a craft she learned from her grandmother.

Photo by Jared Story Cree-Ations founder and principal fashion designer Edna Nabess (centre) admires artwork by her son, Cree-Ations owner Keith Proulx (right) and employee Tim Dermek.

She started with a small shop in Winkler, and then opened White Feather Creations in The Pas in 2001, a business her oldest son Robert still runs.

In 2007, Nabess brought her fashion and craft operation to Winnipeg, starting Cree-Ations in Garden City Shopping Centre, before moving the business to its current location at 1346 Main St. in 2010.

“I started the business in 2007 with a few pairs of slippers,” Nabess said. “I was a touring co-ordinator for the Manitoba Arts Network and I knew a lot of artists, so I asked them if they would want to come in and show some of their work. In two weeks we made our first month’s rent.”

Photo by Jared Story One of the creations found at Cree-Ations.

About six months ago, Nabess and her son Keith Proulx opened a second Cree-Ations location at 586 Main St. Nabess and Proulx said the new spot, on the corner of Main Street and Alexander Avenue in Chinatown, will soon be its sole store.

Like his mom, Proulx is a self-starter. He said he made his first pair of slippers at age seven and was working the front of the store in Winkler by age eight. Now, he’s the owner of Cree-Ations, while his mother serves as the principal fashion designer.

“I know how to do pretty much everything, from sewing slippers and mukluks to making jackets and dresses. I do a lot of the detail work on dresses,” said Proulx, 27. “I make dreamcatchers, I paint, I carve, I (make) pretty much everything because we need to have stuff to fill up the store.

“People come in and say ‘Can you make this?’ and I will say ‘Well, I never have, but I could.’”

Proulx, who plays in Winnipeg metal bands Forged in Fire and Tyrant’s Demise, said he’s trying to pass on that adventurous spirit. Cree-Ations new location not only serves as an art store, it’s an artist showcase, with crafters creating pieces on full display.

“Some of them I’m trying to mentor, help them down their path. I have materials to no end so I’ll give them ideas and supply them with some material and we work out the costs after,” Proulx said.

“I’m just trying to get more people doing this and feeling comfortable with it.”

Proulx said making art is a therapeutic and empowering process, one that connects him with his Cree heritage. Still, because of him and his mother’s complexion — “pasty” as Proulx calls it — they sometimes receive some unfair criticism.  

“Most Aboriginal people that come in open up to us,” Proulx said. “They look way past our colour. But, some come in and say ‘What’s this? This isn’t traditional.’ I’m like ‘Excuse me? Not traditional? Did you park your dog sled at the Perimeter?’”

Nabess and Proulx refuse to be discouraged. Nabess said she is the product of parents and grandparents who prided themselves on doing the best with what they had.

“Everything had a purpose. Nothing went to waste,” Nabess said. “We have a big bucket of, people call them scraps, but that’s our profit sitting there. Nothing ever goes to waste.

“That’s what being an artist is all about, being creative.”

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