This week, I received a package from my sister. She lives in Old Crow, a community of about 250 people. A Vuntut Gwitchin community. Old Crow, (Teechik in Gwich’in) is a two-hour flight north of Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory.
I gasped when I removed the box’s lid. Inside: a beautiful pair of slippers. The slippers are made of moose leather and decorated with white rabbit fur round the ankle. They are intricately beaded with a flower pattern. The slippers are infused with the wonderful scent of woodsmoke. I held them to my face and inhaled deeply. I imagined the woman’s hands, the sharp needle, the glass beads, the stitching together, a warm room with snow steaming off parkas and boots while the night sky—a round-the-clock reality at this time of year—wheels round, constellations glowing, aurora borealis crackling. It’s amazing to smell a place that is over 6000 km away from where I stand.
The slippers were crafted by Neta Arnold. My sister also laboured to make a pair of her own, in a sewing circle, under the mentorship of women, including Neta, in the community. My sister’s beading started in September and took four months to finish. The stitching together of leather pieces, another few months. What we now slip onto our feet are truly works of art, crafted with care, beauty and utility.
When I slipped them on, the slippers were stiff, but with my body’s warmth they softened and hugged my toes, heels, ankles. A perfect fit. They feel magic.
Unlike art, the word craft acknowledges the effort, the utility, of objects created. Unlike art, craft is both a noun and a verb – a thing and the making of the thing, but also the “trying” to make the thing. Craft acknowledges continual effort, continual dedication, continual improvement. In this way, the word is accurate and precise, more closely covered in the sweat and tears and joy of process.
One of my favourite online literary magazines, one I frequently turn to for solace, for solidarity, for technique, to improve, is called Craft.
The slippers wait for me each morning beneath my writing desk (an old table). When I slip them on, I feel the beadwork, the hand-stitching at the seams. I am reminded how dedication, time, persistence and care shape art. I am grateful for the lesson. I am grateful for warm feet.