Honouring relationships, culture and tradition through art: Gladys Michell

Gladys Michell. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
Fabric at Michell’s. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
One of Gladys Michell’s labels. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)

As an artist feature this week, the Express spoke with Gladys Michell. Michell makes earrings, purses, quilts, jackets, vests and more. She is a revered seamstress and currently resides at Stellat’en First Nation.

The Express spoke with Michell about her love for sewing, inspiration she has received from her grandmother Mary John and her recent love for making earrings and purses.

“I was travelling down to Prince Rupert with my husband for a fishing trip and I have sewn since I was a little girl. My grandmother Mary John taught me how to sew.”

“So we stopped in this little tourist information centre. So when we walked into there they have souvenirs and things for sale. And there on the wall was this purse and I looked at it and was just in awe. And I thought I can make this. I can do this.”

Michell ended up buying the purse and wanted to know who the artist was behind the beautiful piece of work. So she walked in and asked the attendant at the tourist centre whether they knew who created the purse.

“They actually ended up giving me her number, I said thank you right! And then I sat on it for about four months.”

“I just couldn’t stop looking at the purse. And so finally I got the nerve to call her and she was wonderful! She sent me links, added me on Facebook, said go here, go there, and guided me.”

After getting some assistance, Michell said she learned how to sew patterns through free videos online.

Now in her fourth year of making purses, Michell has her own label and is making a lot of her sales through Facebook and word-of-mouth.

Another passion for Michell is making earrings which she does in collaboration with Beverly Ketlo. They have their own company and started it during COVID-19, because they wanted to uplift spirits.

“We really started it because everyone was feeling so down during COVID. And we were feeling down, and we wanted something to lift us up. Something new that we could learn, and we found that in these earrings.”

“We wanted to keep the earrings affordable so all women could purchase it if they wanted to. And we really wanted to empower women and wanted to lift their spirits. One of our friends gave us a better idea. She said we should call them ‘spirit boosters’ as the idea is to lift spirits. So we created the Spirit Boosters line.”

A lot of the inspiration for her work comes from her grandmother Mary John.

John was an artist herself and made moccasins, birch bark baskets, Mukluks, beading and a lot more.

“When I was young, my cousins and I would sit and have our BBQ with her, and we would say – grandmother, can we make doll clothes?”

“So she showed us how.”

“She taught us how to make our little patterns. And then when we went up to her sewing room, nothing was off-limits. It was whatever we wanted. She had a bin of fabric and used to say pick up whatever you want. It was really cool.”

John had told Michell that it is more honorable to create something with your hands in Potlatch, instead of buying from the store. So when John passed away, Michell sewed lap quilts for all of John’s children.

“It was my first experience with quilting. I made small lap quilts for each of her children with some of her clothes. That was healing for me.”

She also made 20 quilts for her grandmother’s potlatch.

Then when Michell lost her mother in 2011, she used her craft to heal, and made 173 things that year from jackets, to vests and medicine bags, little purses.

Now that she has been making purses full time, there is nothing else that gives her that much sense of peace and calm.

Lastly, as she has seen a need for Indigenous design, a lot of her work revolves around that and she has distinguished herself by having her own brand. If you want to follow Michell’s work, follow her on Facebook at Creative Purses by Gladys Michell.

READ MORE: “Birch bark basket making is a traditional way of life”: Artist, Saik’uz First Nation

READ MORE:Create some art while at home and isolating

READ MORE: “Nature defines my art”: Bethany Giesbrecht, painter

Aman Parhar
Editor, Vanderhoof Omineca Express


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