By Joanne B. Kaar
Newfoundland has been on my list of must-see places to visit for a long time, so when I saw a craft residency opportunity with the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, in Woody Point, Gros Morne National Park, I decided to take a deep breath and fill out the application form.
Three months later, I was travelling to Woody Point, an isolated ‘outport’ with a population of around 200, a days’ bus journey away from the capital, St. John’s. Being a winter residency, my usual natural materials of choice – namely grass – was limited, buried under a few feet of snow. I couldn't bring natural materials with me through customs, and travelled light, making sure I didn't need specialist tools or materials.
I wanted to learn something about Newfoundland and explore the customs and traditions that connected it with my home of Caithness in Scotland. And I wanted to make people smile.
With all of this in mind, I focused on the ancient folklore tradition of 'buying the wind' in three knots of thread, rope or fabric, to be undone as wind is required. The mariner is instructed never to untie the third knot, as it may start a hurricane. 'Wise' women would sell a fair wind to mariners, a 'job' that probably started in Finland but has been documented in Scotland, mostly in coastal areas and the islands.
Folklore and traditions travelled with people to Newfoundland. Transcripts from oral histories recorded in the 1960s and ‘70s by the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Newfoundland and Labrador recount stories of buying the wind.
I discovered that a woman named Meg Watt from Duncansby was one of the Wind Sellers for Caithness in the nineteenth century. In Orkney, Sir Walter Scott met wind seller Bessie Miller in her home in Brinkies Brae in Stromness in 1814. She became the inspiration for one of his characters in his 1822 novel, The Pirate.
Rope continued to inspire.
Newfoundland’s coast is scattered with ‘outports’ like Woody Point. With fishing at their hearts, many were easier to access by boat. As people moved, either by personal choice, changes in family circumstances or the government’s resettlement programme, they often took their house with them.
Old photographs show people pulling houses over frozen bays by rope. Others showed dozens of small rowing boats towing a house, half submerged in water. All of this is within living memory, and many people in Woody Point have witnessed or helped with house moves. Indeed, many of the houses in Woody Point have been re-located more than once.
Inspired by these incredible stories and photographs, I made a huge rope from old clothes donated by the people of Woody Point to represent a community on the move. With snow on the ground and the temperature at about minus 20 degrees, I invited locals to help ‘move’ a house. Over 50 people turned out to simulate the event. This house ‘move’ brought all ages together, triggering memories of the past which were then shared in the warmth of a temporary studio.
The event was captured on film and camera by Tom Cochrane of Old Crow Magazine.
Fishing and rope provided further inspiration. I combined the ancient Norse technique of nalbinding, traditional Newfoundland fishermen’s hand protection designs and modern fishing line purchased in one of only two stores in Woody Point to create a series of mittens and gloves. Each one tells the story of over 1000 years of fishing in the waters around Newfoundland.
Learn more about Joanne’s work on her website.
- Joanne B. Kaar in Woody Point by Joe Kaar.
- House move, gallery by Tom Cochrane.
- Jig mitt and hand line, by Joanne B. Kaar.