Susan Point fondly recalls childhood memories of her parents cutting wood in the mud flats near her home, an area of the Musqueam reserve called the mahli (pronounced “mollie”). She and her brothers and sisters would play among the bulrushes (or cattails). A great number of birds were also there playing with the children, and Point especially remembers the hummingbirds.
This piece, titled The Mahli, is a sentimental one for Point. “My mother used to make mats from the blades of these bulrushes,” she explains. “She tried teaching me the process: collecting the bulrushes, taking the blades apart, drying them in the sun, which took some time (depending on the weather), and then weaving the mats. She also tried teaching me to make rope from dried bulrush blades,â€ she adds. â€œI never did master either, but I wish I did. Now that she’s gone, I guess I never will learn.” When we hear someone talk of weaving mats, small floor coverings usually come to mind. The mats Point is talking about were gigantic by comparison. These woven pieces were used to line the inside walls of family houses, making them easy to transport as families moved from place to place gathering resources like fish, berries and other necessities. To make such immense pieces that could withstand wind and travel would require great ingenuity and skill.
Susan Point’s interpretation of The Mahli is a hand-blown coloured glass screen with a maple frame in the shape of a house, symbolizing the Musqueam village. The vast expanse of the piece readily brings to mind the reedy, open sense Point must still experience as she and her husband walk through the area with their own children, using washed-up logs as pathways, delighting in the breezes and the rich sunsets.
“The imagery in this piece,” says Point, “reflects the bulrushes in the mahli area, with the sun to the left and the moon to the right. In the centre of the glass screen is a classical Coast Salish weaving pattern. I included a hummingbird in this piece as well because my mother loved hummingbirds so much. I was thinking about her when I was creating this piece.” Wave images run along the bottom of all three panels of the screen, seemingly from one to the next, as it does along the south shore of the Musqueam reserve where Susan Point has spent her whole life. It is interesting to notice how a screen is constructed. When the two sides are closed in, we can only imagine what the inside must be like. This work of art offers a rare glimpse into the memories from Point’s childhood that have left a lasting impression on the adult and artist she is today.
—Susan Point as told to Vesta Giles
Coast Salish (Musqueam)
Susan began making limited edition prints on her kitchen table in 1981 while working as a legal secretary. She received several early commissions, which established her reputation for innovative proposals and for completing projects on time, on budget and at the highest level. She took courses in silver, casting and carving, all of which led to monumental sculptures in mixed media, and she was the first Northwest Coast artist to work in glass. She continues to release a number of print editions each year, but her focus has been on commissioned sculpture.
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