Full Metal Basket

Steel sculpture exploring a mother’s daily emotions; mothering and society’s rejection of a child with a mental illness

From the moment I first laid my eyes on a huge pile of steel strapping I knew I wanted to weave it. Four years later the interest seems as fresh as when I started. I’m unsure if it’s my love of craft that brought me to this point or weaving’s timelessness. A lot of equipment and training are required to run a metals shop. Weaving in this fashion requires only your two hands and the material. In a lot of ways it feels incredible to leave all the plasma cutters, grinders, MIG welders behind and use my hands to shape steel. It’s the reality that I have the skills to cut, weld, and measure within a thousandths of an inch that brings me a kind of peace when I don’t. Discarding all the years of training and attacking this medium from a new direction has felt a lot like coming home.

It was a struggle resolving how raw of a story to tell, it could be perceived as very dark. It’s not that our lives are terrible it’s just that the experiences are so intense. I don’t think of them as sad, I think of them as real.

The years I spent working in industry provided me with the tools and insight to build what I dream.  My next step was to push myself, to relinquish control of my emotions and let them speak through my sculptural work, in a way I had never before allowed. As a female tradesperson, I have built a wall to keep my feminine emotions in check. As well as applying this wall to my professional life I have had to apply it to my personal, as a mother of a child with a mental illness.

In Kindergarten, my son was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive tendencies, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, ADHD and Separation Anxiety Disorder. All together, I was told that it was reading like high functioning Autism. Over the years, in conversation with parents of children with similar disorders, my story is mirrored. Society ostracizes children who appear to have nothing wrong with them physically, but “act weird” or “out of control.”  If a child is missing an arm, however, children are encouraged to be kind and considerate. If the child has a mental illness, parents don’t think twice about enabling their children to exclude. In 2007, a study found that 38 percent of Canadian parents would be embarrassed to admit that their child had a mental illness such as anxiety or depression. With my metal work I have an opportunity to give voice to my thoughts and experiences.  As well as raising awareness, it will serve as a release for me. Half a year into this journey and much journaling later it occurred to me how important this work could be to other parents who like me, live rurally and are coping with the same scenario our family does.

My earlier work, with the exception of one piece, was built using formal fabrication methods: draw a plan, build a pattern, fabricate parts, tack weld together, and finally weld all joints.  Full Metal Basket was woven out of the pure emotion I was experiencing.  I had a small plan, in that I wanted to weave a giant basket out of steel strapping, but the form it would come to take was not fully within my control. For the first time I did not try. I was able to relax and feel it out as I went. When it needed to be directed, I used my technical skill.

This new way of fabricating inspired me to plan a new body of work focusing on the feelings, good and bad, that I lock away everyday while dealing with my child and society’s reaction to him. I don’t want to create work that is merely beautiful, interesting, or well made.  I want to express something, tell a story with textures, shapes, patina and the tension that can be achieved when contrasting them – and the harmony that can be seen when aligning them.

I have chosen to focus on the form of the vessels because I see my body as a vessel. I hold these emotions woven tightly together, sometimes fraying at the edge, always trying to stop from overflowing.