50th Anniversary of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador
Bruno Vinhas & Mireille Eagan
Bruno Vinhas is a curator, textile and installation artist originally from Brazil, who traveled extensively before settling in Newfoundland to undertake the College of the North Atlantic’s Textiles: Craft and Apparel Design Program. Vinhas’ work centers on experiences of cultural displacement, spirituality, and transformation. He has been working as the CCNL Gallery Director since August 2018 previously holding the position of Assistant Director, his primary focus in a gallery environment regards accessibility and inclusion in public art spaces and dissemination and preservation of craft practices. Vinhas has curated numerous craft exhibitions in his time as Gallery Director and has collaborated in other projects in multimedia, theatre, film and dance always integrating craft elements in conversation with these disciplines.
Mireille Eagan is Curator of Contemporary Art at The Rooms. Eagan has curated more than 100 exhibitions, including the nationally touring retrospective “Mary Pratt,” “Mary Pratt: This Little Painting” at the National Gallery of Canada, the Terra Nova Art Foundation’s Collateral Project at the 55th Venice Biennale, and the two part exhibition “Future Possible" in 2018 and 2019. Eagan was also editor for the first comprehensive art history of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador (“Future Possible: An Art History of Newfoundland and Labrador,” released in 2021), which received an Honourable Mention for the Melva J. Dwyer Award in 2021 and won the APMA Atlantic Book Awards Best Atlantic Published Book in 2022. Eagan received a Digital Publishing Awards Gold Medal in 2018 and the Critical Eye Award from VANL-CARFAC in 2017 and 2022. Eagan holds a Master’s in Art History (Concordia University, 2008).
Craft in Newfoundland and Labrador has a vibrant and dedicated trajectory. Far from just being a functional part of everyday life, craft is firmly entrenched in the cultural stories of this place. While this province’s diverse cultural influences range from Latin and Anglo-Saxon cultures in the European countries to the unique Indigenous traditions in this province, it is a now a site of considerable experimentation and redefinition, led by a variety of perspectives that include — among many others — New Canadians, Indigenous makers, gender diverse, and feminist communities. Here, the conversation moves outside the art versus craft divide in a unique way, with fine art and craft blending continuously, blurring boundaries.
Craft reveals the value and cultural importance of craftspeople to communities and history. It is a language of materials, provenance and making. It also has a remarkable ability to connect. It can be a way of holding space for diverse relationships that intersect with all levels of society. Dovetailing discipline and imagination, craftspeople have a crucial role in both constructing and reflecting social changes as they fulfill the needs of functional and art objects. Like in any art discipline, each craftsperson presents to the public their particular understanding of a raw material’s qualities and how they work with these materials to develop ideas. The process involves considerable adaptation and innovation as waves of voices contribute to and expand upon definitions of craft. Through their works, craftspeople show the value of objects that are rooted in the respect of lineage and tradition, the quality and tangibility of materials, and the importance of adaptability.
Since 1972, the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador has been committed to the sharing and appreciation of crafts by encouraging innovation and preservation of traditional craft techniques. For 50 years, it has bolstered craft by exhibiting and supporting more than a thousand craftspeople. To celebrate the history of the Council, the CCNL Gallery and The Rooms came together to create two exhibitions that mark the fundamental role that the Council, and the craftspeople it supports, play in this province. Acting in conversation, these exhibitions connect past and present in order to examine a potential roadmap of the future.
Within the exhibition at the Craft Council Gallery, viewers witness a call and response between the province’s craftspeople. Engaging in a conversation between diverse mediums and techniques, the aim is to provide an overview of the historical importance of craft practices in the province. As the framework for the exhibition, two lists of artists were compiled by members of the community and past staff of the Craft Council. One list consisted of 25 artists whose impact on the craft development in the province has been crucial, with the second list composed of 25 responding artists from different media. The latter were selected to respond to the works of the “builders” of the craft community, taking into consideration the quality of work and development in contemporary craft while striking a balance between emerging and established artists. This guides the viewer to become more aware of a craft work's sustainability, highlighting collaboration between artists and the community here as living and vital, constantly undergoing renewal and revision.
The exhibition at The Rooms, titled “Tangible: Crafting the Future on the 50th Anniversary of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador,” provides a way to step outside of an idea of visual art that prioritizes one discourse above all others. Whether functional or conceptual, the works bring significance to raw materials for the viewer. Pulling from a small cross-section of the vibrant craft community in this province, the exhibition highlights five artists who work with their individual materials in an evocative, conceptual manner: Barb Hunt, Michael Flaherty, John Lundrigan, Urve Manuel, and Inez Shiwak. Newly-created work is presented with largescale craft installations, creating a sensory space that shows how the presentation of art and contemporary craft is a complex act, one that communicates not only process but emotions. The exhibition therefore promotes an understanding of the intrinsic qualities of raw materials as containers for stories such as grief, wonder, and tradition.
There is a civic and ethical thread in the diverse assembly of these exhibitions, acknowledging changes needed in the surrounding world while positioning craft and art as guiding lights within those shifts. They point to the prevalence of collaborative, community-oriented approaches that have long been deployed by craftspeople, and that are only recently pervasive in contemporary art. This shows that craft and art occupy the same socially-driven role, and that they can be conceived as a space for promoting a more accessible and caring way of operating. The goal is therefore to follow craft’s lead in many ways — to blur strict boundaries through reconciliation, acceptance and knowledge sharing, and to encourage a space that is more open-ended, cathartic, and compassionate.