Anita Cazzola – Jane Graham Memorial Award Interview

Jane Graham was a much-loved and respected visual artist living and working in the Guelph area for many years prior to her untimely death early in 2005. Donations to Guelph Arts Council in her memory made possible the creation of the Guelph Arts Council Jane Graham Memorial Fund at The Guelph Community Foundation.

With funds generated and granted to Guelph Arts Council from The Guelph Community Foundation, Guelph Arts Council annually offers an award for a visual artist(s) to pursue professional development opportunities that will contribute to individual personal artistic growth.

Applications are now open for the 2021 Jane Graham Memorial Award – Visit the award page on the GAC website to apply!

GAC staff had the chance this week to catch up with one of our 2020 Award recipients: Anita Cazzola. Read our interview below to learn about Anita’s practice, her artistic development and some fun upcoming events in the area. 

GAC: Can you describe your artistic practice, the materials you use and the ideas you are interested in? 

Anita Cazzola: My practice explores the material and metaphorical complexities of textiles, plants, and landscapes. I am interested in decay and disintegration, and how these processes can be seen as hopeful and beautiful. These processes involve softening, new beginnings, and honesty. This summer, I’ve been focused on how plants can soften degraded landscapes, and wanted to celebrate the resilience and patience involved in this process. This celebration takes its form in a range of hundreds of shades of naturally dyed fabrics and yarns, stitched and woven together into “Flags for the plants”. These flags represent a reclamation of space – plants’ victory over human interference. 

Anita Cazzola: The ultimate goal is to encourage reciprocity between the human and the natural world.

GAC: What professional/artistic development opportunity did you pursue with the help of the Jane Graham Memorial Award? 

Anita Cazzola: This year was quite unconventional for the Jane Graham Memorial Award, as we were confined to our own personal spaces for all of our learning and growth. So, I took this opportunity to dive into finding ways to teach myself through experimentation with natural dyes. I also wanted to find ways to learn from community members and other local artists during this project, to find groundedness in both plants and people in my local area.

Between the Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox, I built relationships and gently harvested 22 different plants to create 38 different natural dyes, resulting in hundreds of shades of local colour. I collaborated with local herbalist Zhyfhs (of Planting Radiance) to present three plant walks. These walks spoke to the medicinal and dye potential of local plants. This was a reciprocal learning partnership, as well as offering a unique learning opportunity to the Guelph community as a whole. I was also able to work with Jenna Kessler, an incredible illustrator, who used my homemade natural dye pigments (paints) to create botanical illustrations used for the plant walks and for an online dye plant archive that I created. Her work is so wonderful, and has added depth to the project.

GAC: How important was this opportunity to the development of your work? 

Anita Cazzola: I am so grateful for this opportunity to hone in on the intricacies of the natural dye process, and to build these relationships with spaces, plants, and people. The Botanical Reclamation project is an ongoing one, and I now have an incredibly strong foundation of skills, knowledge, and documentation to let this project grow even more. 

GAC: What advice would you give to local artists considering investing in their professional/artistic development? 

Anita Cazzola: It was so important for me to provide myself space and time to explore a technique extremely thoroughly. That time also allowed concepts and reflections to percolate as my dye pots simmered. If all you can afford is simply time, that investment is so worthwhile. I also think it is important to make sure that your work is serving a larger community. It felt really important for me to be able to share knowledge with the community as I was spending so much time on my own practice. These two things can live in the same space. 

GAC: Where can we see more of your work and learn about your practice (would it be good to mention the artist talk?)

Anita Cazzola: You can certainly visit the “Dye Plants in Curious Spaces” online archive at any time:

This archive holds dye documentation, plant ID info, illustrations from Jenna Kessler, and other insights and information about the project as a whole. 

There are several upcoming events as this phase of the project comes to a close:

Artist Talk – Downtown Guelph

October 6th at 5pm, in Market Square on Carden St. I’ll be speaking about my work as part of 10C’s Connecting Circles artist talk series. My work will also be on display via a projection on the second floor of 10C for the month of October. You can pre-register for the in-person talk here.

Natural Dye Workshop at the Guelph Outdoor School

October 17th, 11am – 4pm. I will be teaching a workshop at the magical Guelph Outdoor School as part of their ongoing workshop series. We will dive into some autumn plants and share gratitude for the space that they care for. This will be my first time preparing dyebaths over an open fire! This workshop is available at a sliding scale rate – sign up here.

Culminating Exhibition – Yorklands Green Hub

October 23 – 24 at Yorklands Green Hub. The exhibition will be open from 9am-7pm each day, and will be accompanied by two community gatherings:

Opening celebration: Oct 23, 2-4pm – RSVP here

In-the-round Community Conversation “On Plants, Resilience, and Craft”: Oct 24, 11am-12:30pm – RSVP here

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