Wetlands and Waterways examines ecological threats
By Chad Ingram
“For me, it’s just an excuse to be outside,” says Sheila Ziman of her art.
An environmentalist and founding member of the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust, Ziman is also a skilled weaver and her exhibit Wetlands and Waterways, now showing at Minden’s Agnes Jamieson Gallery, forms a crossroad of those passions.
Ziman began as a traditional weaver of textiles, working on a loom.
“I just hated sitting inside at the loom,” she says, explaining she took her first basket-weaving course at the Haliburton School of the Arts in 1989.
She would go on to become an instructor a decade later.
Basket-weaving would send Ziman into the great outdoors in search of materials.
“I got really interested in using natural materials,” she says. “Learning how to snowshoe was great, because I could actually go out and walk on wetlands.”
Ziman’s work uses various types of flora and some fauna, too. Some pieces includes antlers, quills or deer vertebrate, for example.
The exhibit not only celebrates the wetlands of the Haliburton Highlands, with their bounty of biodiversity, but also includes subtle warnings about lurking threats to the important ecosystems.
“The more people enjoy and appreciate nature, they’re more apt to protect it,” Ziman says. “I also wanted to show some of the threats to our wetlands.”
In the centre of the gallery’s main room are three baskets atop tiered pedestals.
The first basket represents a healthy wetland, featuring a variety of plants, including phragmites, an invasive species that has been making itself more and more present in the Haliburton Highlands in recent years.
Blue tubing interwoven in the basket’s ribbing represents the water table.
“The water level is a more healthy level,” Ziman explains.
The second basket has more phragmites and a lower water level.
The third basket contains just phragmites, and a lower water level still.
“When phragmites moves in, it begins to affect the water table,” Ziman says, emphasizing this of course has negative implications for other plants, as well as the creatures that make the wetlands their home.
Another piece, entitled Over the Rainbow, is a mobile of woven fish suspended from the ceiling.
Amongst the school is a smaller fish of silver and bright colours, representing the rainbow smelt.
“The rainbow smelt is an invasive species,” Ziman says.
Another work, Turtles Rule the World!, features an alternative take on a turtle crossing the road, with a woven snapper looming over a toy truck.
Ziman implores would-be weavers who want to get into the art form to exercise great care if they intend to use materials from nature.
“If people are interested, they need to be careful and gather sustainably,” she says. “All that material is food, shelter or habitat for creatures.”
Wetland and Waterways is on display until Nov. 7.