Circle of Indigenous Healing Arts

Interview with Chris Larsen

Chris is a Métis artist and art therapist living along the Boyne River in Manitoba. The Métis peoples have a long history in Boyne River, where they settled along the river and were removed from the land. Chris feels very close to the river and it inspires her and her art.

Connecting with Métis Ancestry

Connecting with her Métis ancestry has been a lengthy process for Chris, and she has not lived as an Indigenous person all her life. Her mother was Métis but never acknowledged it because of the abuse that she received when she was a child. Just in the last few years, Chris began to learn more about her history and the Métis people, which has been an exciting journey for her.

A few years ago, before becoming an art therapist, Chris met a group of Indigenous women at a four-day workshop on decolonization and reconciliation through art therapy hosted on Lake Winnipeg. Chris saw how the women’s strength was helping their communities as they shared their stories and she thought that if she could only tell their stories and show her community what Indigenous people are really like, maybe it would give them different perspectives on the Métis people.

Chris asked five of the women at the workshop if they would be interested in working on a project involving telling stories and doing art. Chris invited them to her studio beside the river where they spent a whole day of storytelling, feasting, and ceremony. One of the women has the gift of visions and saw the Grandmothers surrounding the group while they were sitting outside on the deck. This was Chris’ first experience of visions and she reflected that she did not really know what to think. The woman did not recognize the Grandmothers’ dress, so Chris thought it could be the Métis Grandmothers that the woman saw. After researching some photos of Métis women’s dress, Chris asked the woman to do the same. When the woman confirmed what she saw – the Métis grandmothers – it changed the way Chris looked at things. Chris stated, “To know that the ancestors are around us and trying to help us – that really resonated with me.”

Connection to Nature & the Environment

“To know that you’re part of everything. Everything is connected. And how the trees can actually talk to you if you listen. How they talk to each other through their roots – it’s just amazing. And the birds…”

Chris’s yard beside the river is like a bird sanctuary. She always resonated with the hawk and received her Indigenous name of Red Hawk. Learning about her Métis ancestry has given Chris an understanding of why she has always felt so connected to the land, water, and the forest. Chris believes that nature has value in being a great healer. By spending time in nature, Chris believes that Mother Nature can relieve us of our stress and help us to feel better.

Chris hosts workshops where she takes people out onto the land to be aware and notice things. Chris related about the miracles of nature all around us and how awe-inspiring it is to walk through the forest or by the river. She is also a member of the Boyne River Keepers, a group that strives to maintain and protect the water alongside the local community.

Journey as an Artist, Art Therapist, and LIFE as Medicine Collaborator

“Art is a part of me. I always wanted to create.”

When Chris mentored with three artists 25 years ago, she felt permission to try different things:

“People have their own views on what art is. A lot of the time it’s about making a pretty picture. I knew that there was something more than just making pretty pictures. These women really helped me to pull this out of my heart and get it into whatever I’m creating.”

In her journey as an artist, Chris started with multimedia where she did sculpture, and worked with resin, silver, steel, welding, and jewelry making.

Resin Trees by Chris Larsen
Resin Trees by Chris Larsen

Featured in the photo above is a tree made of resin that Chris created as part of a forest that was displayed at an exhibition. Chris wanted the forest of resin trees to look like amber so that seeing through it could bring out the ancient wisdom that the trees give us.

With a psychiatric nursing background and being an artist, Chris started an art mentorship program for high school students to work with working artists to receive school credit. In her 22 years of teaching art with the mentorship program, Chris saw how it helped people. Chris remembers a mother with breast cancer who came to the program with her child and how art helped her express herself.

In 2019, Chris graduated from the art therapy diploma program at the Winnipeg Holistic Expressive Arts Therapy (WHEAT) Institute. From this experience, Chris feels that learning the Indigenous way of art therapy with Fyre Jean and Jean resonated with her and she has since facilitated workshops and groups, and brings art therapy to schools.

Chris expressed that she feels a sense of belonging within LIFE as Medicine and has learned so much from being a student of Fyre Jean and Jean and hopes to continue learning as a Collaborator. Chris especially resonates with LIFE as Medicine’s focus on ecology as she feels that nature is her whole spiritual practice and believes that the Indigenous teachings have a beautiful way of looking at things.

StoryShifters Exhibition

Story Shifters
Story Shifters

The gathering at Chris’ studio 4-5 years ago was the beginning of the StoryShifters exhibition. Chris and the five women met every six weeks for 4-5 years, telling stories and doing art. The exhibition opened on June 18, 2023, with around 50-55 people attending the opening ceremony where they had a feast. The exhibition is featured at the St. Boniface Museum, which is the oldest building in Winnipeg and was the home of the Grey Nuns, who were active participants in cultural genocide amongst Indigenous children in the residential school system. Because of this history, Chris thought that hosting the StoryShifters exhibition here could be part of the reconciliation process. Upon preparing the space for the exhibition, Chris and the other women did a cleansing ceremony and smudge to clear the energy.

The exhibition will be on until September 30, 2023. There are three upcoming workshops (August 31, September 9, and September 30) at the museum that feature a video viewing and discussion panel. In the hour-long film produced by Chris, each of the women speaks about their resilience and what made them strong. Details on the exhibition and the workshops can be found on Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum’s website.

Needle Felting & the Upcoming “Felting Feeling Faces” Workshop

Felting Feeling Faces

Chris got into needle felting when she was invited by a friend to a fibre festival. She initially had some hesitation as she did not think of herself as a fibre artist, however, when she saw the beautiful hand-dyed wool rovings, she knew she had to make something out of them. Her friend showed her how to needle felt, and the first thing she did was a face – from there she could not stop making faces! Chris explained that being a painter helped a lot with needle felting as she could layer the colours on top of each other to blend, just as she would with painting.

For the upcoming needle felting workshop, Chris wants interested participants to come to the workshop to have fun and learn a different craft. Participants can bring a picture, however, their creation does not have to look like the picture. Chris wants participants to release the pressure to create something perfect because when you release this pressure, it liberates you. The Felting Feeling Faces needle felting experience is to make you feel good and create a fun feeling face while exploring a new media you might not have tried.

Where to find Chris

Felting Feeling Faces
Needle Felting Workshop on September 25, 2023

An exhibition on resilience and reconciliation
June 18 to September 30, 2023
Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum (Winnipeg, MB)

To learn more about Chris, please visit her website.

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