Colourful imagery depicting a connection to the planet now greets patrons of the Toldo Lancer Centre as they enter the facility for a workout, swim, or to cheer on Lancer student athletes.
Protecting Mother Earth is a three-metre-long wall hanging by Walpole Island First Nation artist Teresa Altiman. The piece of textile art is a celebration of nature as seen through Indigenous culture. There are dozens of animals depicted, including a sandhill crane and other birds, a bear, turtle, and more.
“It has things in it that are important to me and to the Anishinaabe people,” Altiman said.
A graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design, Altiman, 74, has created many pieces of public art, including a turtle sculpture and textile piece at Point Pelee National Park, designs along the Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway, and paintings on the towers of the Gordie Howe International Bridge. Elsewhere on campus, she designed the banners lining Turtle Island Walk representing the seven grandfather teachings inherent in Indigenous culture.
Every element of the piece hanging in the Toldo Lancer Centre has meaning. At the top of the piece are a row of white eagle feathers depicting the sacred teachings. A seventh feather is clutched by a bear, an animal that while rooting along the ground gathers knowledge of the earth.
A boy stands in the foreground of the bear near the bottom of the piece. On his chest is the traditional medicine wheel.
“When children come in here, they will be at the same level as that boy,” Altiman said. “It makes me happy to know they will see that little boy and the bear.”
The work is comprised of hundreds of pieces of fabric, some as slender as toothpicks. Altiman hand-painted some elements, like the eye and other details on the loon’s head. A final touch are dozens of glass beads, some infused with copper, for additional shine.
“I don’t keep track of things like that,” Altiman said with a laugh when asked how many different pieces of fabric she used or how many hours it took.
“It was everywhere in my house,” she said of the pieces. “It was all-consuming. I thought about it from the moment I woke up in the morning and I was thinking about it as I would go to sleep.”
The wall hanging is so detailed people will notice new elements each time they look at it. There are deer tracks weaving through the design and tiny triangles representing arrowheads.
“The arrowheads represent our ancestors who have walked the land before us,” Altiman said. “It is important to remember our ancestors and those who came before us.”
Toldo Lancer Centre designer Craig Goodman, principal at CS&P Architects, said the wall hanging is the perfect touch for the entry foyer.
“We always had the idea of feature walls and we knew we wanted something special for this space.” Pointing out etchings on the stairway glass that look like weaving, he said Altiman’s artwork made of fabrics continues the theme.
“We wanted this building to be a background for these special moments and her piece is definitely a special moment.”