Just as seals are beloved for much more than their meat, Seal Fest is about much more than food. A pop-up gallery show, hosted by the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, will celebrate the beauty and diversity of today’s seal-based art, craft, and fashion for the duration of Seal Fest.
“We’re creating an open space for craftspeople that use seal by-product as a way of creating, and of living,” says Bruno Vinhas, the Craft Council Gallery’s director.
The show, free and open to the public, will feature items made out of seal leather and seal fur by craft council members from across Newfoundland and Labrador, including Clare Fowler (St. John’s), Sandra Rideout (Goose Bay), Inez Shiwak (Rigolet), and many others.
“The purpose of the show is to raise awareness about what the seal hunt meant to artists, and what it still means today,” says Vinhas. “It also demonstrates that craftspeople and artisans who are working with this material are very conscious of what they’re doing.
“Those who use seal fur and seal leather have the utmost respect for the material,” he continues. “They plan their work carefully and they use every single scrap. If you’re making a coat, the leftover pieces will become jewellery. The leftover pieces from the jewellery will become embroidery, embroidered accents … and the leftover pieces from that will be quilted together to make a different piece entirely.
“To me, that process is the most important part.”
As a textile artist, Vinhas says he has long been impressed by the beauty and versatility of seal leather and seal fur. He’s also excited for the future of the craft, noting recent advances in natural dyes and simplified dying processes.
He admits, though, that it wasn’t until he began working for the Craft Council in 2017 that he fully understood the cultural and historical importance of working with seal. That year, he was asked to organize an event in conjunction with Seal Day in Ottawa, which he has done ever since.
“Before that first event I did a lot of research and study,” says Vinhas. “And then I met the people who work with seal, seal oil, and seal meat, and I saw that this is about more than the final product—I started to understand the cultural aspect, how important seal is to a community; in some cases it is a key to their survival.
“I also understood that the seal hunt is being done sustainably, in keeping in mind what is best for the environment, and that people are using all parts of the animal.”
Vinhas acknowledges that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a much deeper understanding of seals and the seal hunt than residents of Ontario do—but he still sees that there is work to do.
“We do need more educational programming around the seal hunt, and seal products,” he says, “and we are happy to be part of that.”
The pop-up show will be at the Craft Council Shop & Gallery, 275 Duckworth Street, St. John’s, March 19 to 31. The show is free and accessible during regular gallery hours. For more, visit www.craftcouncil.nl.ca.