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First Peoples Week a hit for art and culture

Martin Loft shared his expertise in creating magic, teaching any attendees how to create unique designs for prints that could go onto anything they wish. (Lindsay Richardson, The Eastern Door)

Loft takes linocut expertise to Concordia

Standing in front of a conference room full of people, Martin Akwiranoron Loft jokingly referred to himself as a “jack of all trades, but a master of none.”

That may be how the artist views his own work, but February 12, dozens filed into Concordia’s John Molson School of Business to benefit from Loft’s expertise during a two-hour linocut printmaking workshop.

The workshop was part of a series – “Art, tea, and bannock” – held during the university’s First Voices Week. Throughout its five-day run, festival attendees had their choice to attend the printmaking workshop, an introductory Inuit soapstone carving class, or a beading workshop led by acclaimed Anishnaabe artist Nico Williams.

“I have taught young people to print t-shirts and elderly people who relate and respond in their own way,” Loft said. “Printmaking is a passion and I love sharing the technique wherever and whenever I can.”

Loft has built a career that vacillates between photography, traditional crafts, and – most recently – printmaking.

Linocut printmaking, for the unfamiliar, is a variant of woodcut wherein a piece of linoleum is used as a relief surface.

Linoleum has existed for much longer as a flooring material than it has existed as an artistic aide, but a few carefully-selected tools and a little imagination will give life and purpose to an otherwise drab grey rectangle.

The technique was first used by artists in Germany in the early 1900s, and mostly used for wallpaper printing. It came overseas and into the American conscience in 1911, when the so-called “linoleum art” went on display in New York City.

It later became an “established” medium in professional printing after its use by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

For anyone wanting to flirt with the printmaking medium, however, Loft said even the simplest tools like a potato and wooden spoon will get the job done.

“Etching, screenprinting, and relief printing like linocut or woodcut has the same affect for me. It’s like a magic trick that can be repeated,” he said.

For the uninitiated, linoleum can be an intimidating medium to work with – mostly because there’s a possibility of injury if a sharp tool goes astray while trying to gouge the work surface.

The first thing you want to do, to ensure a more supple work surface, is to sit on the piece of linoleum, or warm it up with friction to help the carving tools glide more effortlessly across it.

Once the surface is prepped and mounted on a wooden board designed to grip the table side as resistance, then real work can begin.

Using a sharp knife, a v-shaped chisel or a gouge, workshop participants intently began cutting out their hand-drawn designs.

As a rule of thumb, Loft explained, linocut art is most visually effective when a bold, graphic design is carved into the linoleum – think “crazy quilt,” where a number of free-hand patterns and designs appear in the same place.

Otherwise, one can expect to do some problem-solving before heading over to the printer. For example, the successful inclusion of words in a design would require carving them out backwards. Raised, uncarved areas represent a mirror image of the parts to show printed.

It takes some time and intent to execute, and workshop participants were not shy about staying beyond the designated two-hour window to make sure their pieces came out.

Once the design is completed, the linoleum sheet is rolled with ink using a tool called a brayer, gingerly lined up on a printing press, and then impressed onto a rigid, porous piece of paper.

The finished products from Wednesday’s workshop did not follow a cohesive theme – some opted to carve using inspiration from the natural world, like a fish skeleton or a fox, and some insisted on working with abstract shapes.

In the end, Loft was nearly as keen as the students upon each reveal of a finished print.

“I used to print photographs in a darkroom and was always amazed by the magic of seeing a print appear,” he said.

“Real handmade art should be seen, shared, and collected.”

The four Thomson musketeers (sadly one was missing in action and unable to attend the Q&A) told their lacrosse stories and answered any questions about their passion.

Kanien’kehá:ka culture drives Thompson bros

The first question for the Thompson Brothers, during the Q&A portion of a panel called “The Creator’s Game,” concerned how lacrosse came to have a spiritual nickname.

Jeremy, the faceoff specialist for the Saskatchewan Rush of the National Lacrosse League, was happy to oblige with an explanation.

“He sent this sport down to Earth as entertainment for himself,” he said.

In their two-hour talk at Concordia University during First Voices Week, the Thompson brothers – sans youngest brother Lyle, who was unable to attend – discussed other ways they honour their culture and Creator through the game of lacrosse.

The boys began playing at a young age in response to urging from their father – an ironworker – who believed playing a professional sport would open the door to post-secondary education.

“He wanted us to be educated lacrosse players – to use lacrosse as a vehicle,” said Haina.

All four attended Mohawk immersion in Akwesasne, only learning how to read, write, and speak English at a later age.

Today, they’re Guinness World Record holders (‘most siblings to compete in the same professional lacrosse game’), endorsed by Nike, and have been subject of a documentary or two.

Jeremy, who says he is “honoured and humbled” to be endorsed by Nike alongside his brothers, has had to overcome certain mental barriers that once affected the quality of his game.

“I became consumed by drugs and alcohol – and everything that came with it,” he said. “I’ve come to realize what that had done to me – it kept me going in circles. That’s where I made a lot of my mistakes. It felt like a ‘bad luck’ kinda thing.”

Jeremy, now eight years sober, says he takes four-day fasts – not consuming water or food – while walking in the woods, reconnecting with spirit, to keep himself in check.

Haina said he’s learned the power of persistence in his time playing Lacrosse. Now a professional player with the Georgia Swarm, he was once booted off a varsity team for poor academic performance.

“It’s up to you how much you want something, and how much you want to work for it,” Haina explained. “Set some goals, and keep pushing and pushing until you get there – I mean, there’s no greater feeling than achieving that goal.”

Miles, 28, attacker for the Georgia Swarm, revealed he once had a weight problem.

But it was Lyle, 26, who faced brazen racism on the playing field in a game in Philadelphia on January 12.

All four brothers choose to don a traditional hair-style – long and braided on top, with shaved sides.

An announcer, who was subsequently fired and banned from further broadcasts, said to the audience “let’s snip the ponytail.” Rowdy Philly fans behind the bench started jeering and suggesting they scalp Lyle.

A disturbing incident, the brothers agree, but not enough to deter them from their goal of educating and involving the youth in lacrosse.

“I just thought of my great-grandfather,” Miles said. “One thing he said, is ‘I have seven layers of skin.’ I feel like I grew another layer of skin.”

Together, the brothers have a business and regularly set up lacrosse clinics and one-on-ones for youth in communities.

“We’re taught to help the next generation ahead of us,” Haina said. “We’re paving the way for them.”

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