The sheepskin hides are soaked in a solution of alum before being strung up to be dried and softened, as this past Crows Nest Wild Craft class demonstrates. Photo submitted.

Ancestral artisan ready to share her sheep hide tanning skills with Williams Lake

Reconnecting with the earth and ancestral roots in high demand in the lakecity

This month the Station House Art Gallery is hosting a long-awaited Sheepskin Tanning in Williams Lake workshop.

While tickets for the class have been sold out for months, the artist indicated the workshop is open for members of the public to pass through and observe the process over the course of April 6 to April 7. The event is being held at a private residence, so for more information contact Dianne Toop at 250-392-6113 or manager@stationhousegallery.com.

The workshop is being organized and run by Mara Cur of Crow’s Nest Wildcraft, an avid practitioner of ancestral skills and crafts. Cur is a herbalist, hide tanner and has been teaching survival and craft-based skills for the last five years, based out of a farm built off the grid in a grove of alders in the Lower Mainland.

She chose to settle there due to the high demand for her classes and workshops, which she teaches across the province. Cur said she first began developing these skills from her rural upbringing on the Prairies, but it was only when she moved to B.C. that they became a large part of her life.

Read More: Station House building turns 100 this year

“(I had) a pretty high dissociation from the land, even though I lived on the land and my family generated their livelihood from the land. It was a very ownership-style of relating to the land and when I moved out to the West Coast I learned that there are things like wild food that you can eat from the forest and that idea just completely blew me away,” Cur said. “I had no idea that was possible.”

This and other revelations awakened in her a “thirst of learning” for all things related to ancestral ways of living. Cur learned in that time all sorts of skills and about the way the environment is treated in today’s society.

“So my own healing journey became very wrapped up in my learning journey, figuring out how to be self-sufficient from these skills and also learning how everything is so very interconnected. A lot of society’s systematic problems have their roots in this disconnect or dissociation from the land,” Cur explained.

She decided to start teaching these skills organically, first to friends and family, but slowly as the demand grew she began giving classes here and there until eventually, it flourished into her own business.

The thing that has surprised her the most since starting to teach these skills is how deeply her workshops can affect people. While Cur’s own experience changed her worldview she didn’t expect to see the same reactions in others. Bringing a diverse array of people to teach and share opinions with has, as a result, become one of her favourite parts about teaching any of her classes.

Her workshops, like the sheepskin tanning one she will be teaching in Williams Lake, tend to be more focused on the craftsman side of ancestral skills rather than the survival and to her function as a type of art. Cur said she’s excited to promote an “artisans’ economy” where people can make things with their own and hands and sell them as a “relevant part of society and the economy.”

Read More: Found pieces of nature become works of art at Station House

For the workshop being held this weekend, Cur said she’ll be using sheepskin harvested from Salt Spring Island, just off the coast of Vancouver Island. For the last week, she’s been soaking the skins in a natural mineral solution of alum.

On Saturday, Cur will instruct participants on how to strip the hides and hang them in frames for drying. On Sunday she’ll teach them how to ‘work’ the hides by softening them until they dry. After oiling the sheepskins, they should have a piece of bright white leather suitable for a rug or another craft of the participants choosing.

“I hope that people take away the confidence that they can do this practice on their own, it’s actually really not too challenging just takes a couple of days out of your life,” Cur said. “I’m really excited to see that realization on peoples faces that ‘Oh this thing is totally doable.’”

As tickets for this class sold out in August with a waiting list of 30, Cur is absolutely interested in hosting more classes in the lakecity area in the future. At the moment she’s looking for a stable venue that she could teach at more regularly.

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patrick.davies@wltribune.com

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Sheepskin, with the wool attached, will be used this weekend in Williams Lake during Crows Nest Wild Craft’s sheepskin tanning workshop. Photo submitted.

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