Renewed interest in birch bark biting thanks to Northern SK artist
- EFN Staff | May 04, 2018
A birch bark biting artist from northern Saskatchewan is keeping an old tradition alive by making it her passion and teaching kids a neat art skill.
Rosella Ross Carney, from Molanosa, which is an hour north of Montreal Lake Cree Nation, lives in La Ronge during the week to travel to Sucker River as a Cree language cultural educator. She’s been in this profession since 1989 and was first introduced to birch bark biting art from a resource teacher to show the students their talents, values and their way of life. The artist inspired Carney to develop this skill and has stuck with it since. Creating the birch bark biting art isn’t as easy as it seems but it took a lot of practice to perfect her art pieces.
Carney explained the process of perfecting an art piece.
“It takes a lot of skill to go into the bush and picking the bark, bringing it home, sorting it out, and taking it apart. You have to do that right away because if it dries it’s harder,” she said. “You take white birch and you thin it out to really thin little pieces. You fold it up and you make designs. It’s really fun to do it. It keeps me motivated. It’s good and relaxing to have a creative mind to know what I am going to do next.”
Carney has created butterflies, dragonflies, flowers, eagles, ducks and other animals through the birch bark biting. Once she gets started on one, it’s hard for her to stop.
“I’d sit up late at night, working on my craft, and I got addicted to it,” she said. “I am still biting today and I am still creating new things with it.”
Her artwork has sold over the years since she first started. Carney’s prices range anywhere from $20 to $100 depending on the size. She doesn’t seek to make a profit off her artwork but does it to continue an old tradition and to teach others of all ages to continue this traditional skill.
“What I was told is that it was done a long time ago. Women used to do birch bark biting and they would use it as a design to do beadwork. They need a design to copy, so they would use that,” Carney said. “Some kids used to do it, and they would watch their elders do birch bark biting.”
Carney has made birch bark biting workshops and to different schools and reserves to teach this unique craft. She said as long a person has teeth, anyone can learn to do birch bark biting art.
“You have to have the imagination and hand and eye co-ordination,” she said. “People think I am magic, but I am not. It’s just how your mind works. If you think you can do something, imagine it, then you can do it. That’s how I think.”
Carney’s work can be found on her social media pages and is willing to go out and do workshops to teach anyone who is interested in birch bark biting art.
“I’d be excited to pass on the culture to whoever wants to learn,” she said.