• Artist Project

Shirley Moorhouse Explores New Beginnings Through Poetry and Drawings

Dec 01, 2022
by Shirley Moorhouse

I wanted to try something different. I was looking for inspiration. Something new to say. Something new to create.

I’d just finished an art commission for the new Winnipeg (WAG)-Qaumajuq. It was one of the highlights of my long artistic career. It was a culmination of years of practice, hard work and perseverance.

One day I came into my workspace and realized I needed new dreams, new expectations, new explorations and thoughts, wherever they may arise.

So in 2022, my 66th year, I decided to go back to school. I was accepted as a Master’s of Fine Arts student at Memorial University’s Grenfell campus in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador.

My husband and I could either drive or fly to Newfoundland from mainland Labrador. We opted to make the three-day drive from central to southern Labrador, overnighting, then crossing the ferry to Newfoundland.

This is a record of that journey, in poetry and illustrations, embarking as a technologically challenged student.

Shy as a Rainbow

Once upon a time there lived this very quiet, little Inuk girl. She loved when her Mother gently brushed and fiercely braided the girl’s glossy black hair. Straight it fell, a glistening onyx waterfall.

As shy as a rainbow. Surrounded by turbulence and silence.

She was the first in her large family not born at home. Her Mother’s Mother, Anana, gazed into the crib to find aware chocolate brown eyes gazing back. Then and there her Anana named her E-Ye-I, meaning Eyes.

Of brothers and sisters she had many, yet spent hours in the company of her Anana and Ninouk, her Mother’s parents.

Her Anana spoke very little English. Ninouk, a well-respected interpreter and translator, was well versed in two languages and conversed in two more.

Surrounded by languages, the girl and her siblings often wondered why they could only speak and write English and not Inuktitut, their Mother Tongue.

She could hear that foreign, familiar language, flowing like a river current, syllables fast and furious. Those achingly familiar words punctuated by peals of laughter or tears. She creeps closer, quiet, listening, deciphering. A sight of movement? Shadow? Sigh? Talk ceases. Heads swivel. Eyes catch. A look shared. It’s English once more. Where have they disappeared?

Many years later, while brushing the cascade of onyx hair, her Mother bends close.
Soft sighs were her words, the girl strained to listen.

“It was for your own good. Yours, your brothers’ and sisters’. After your Uncles, Aunts and myself returned from boarding school, we all agreed, we did not want our children to suffer the same way. We understood that English was here to stay. In this language and education you must fit in and succeed. No Inuktitut to be spoken around the children. We all agreed. We thought it best for the children. You understand?”

Young as she was, Inuk Girl understood. And so she studied.

Today, many decades later, studies still.
To honour the sacrifices of many.
Little Inuk Girl included.

Shy as a rainbow. Fierce as a storm.
Chocolate brown eyes
Still recording. Still remembering.

This is her latest story. Written as free poetry. Illustrated from memory and imagination.
Digital Now_SMoorehouseFirst

Digital Now_SMoorehouse4Digital Now_SMoorehouse This Lands' Edge v2Digital Now_SMoorehouse6Digital Now_SMoorehouse7Digital Now_SMoorehouse8Digital Now_SMoorehouse9Digital Now_SMoorehouse10Digital Now_SMoorehouse11Digital Now_SMoorehouse12

Digital Now_SMoorhouse NotSpunGold

Digital Now_SMoorehouse13

Shirley Moorhouse and her family live in Goose Bay, Labrador. Her maternal grandmother Mary Ikey named her “E-Ye-I” meaning Eyes. From a young age she observed her parents and grandparents creating clothing, objects and household items. With her minute stitches, fluid brush strokes and innovative uses of material for her wallhangings and paintings, Moorhouse mimics her relatives’ mastery of form, function and beauty.

Moorhouse’s signature wallhangings, on backgrounds of black wool, intuitively meld traditional materials such as beads and smoke-tanned caribou hide with objects such as locks, keys, bubble wrap and computer parts. Her art reflects her pride in her family and her Inuit ancestry, exploring the flexibility and strength of women and family as well as issues of colonization, environmental stewardship and citizenship.

In 2003, Moorhouse completed her Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Canadian and Aboriginal studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, ON, and is currently a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) student in Visual Arts at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Since 1996 she has exhibited nationally and internationally in many group and solo exhibitions, and her art can be found in galleries, museums, institutions and homes. In 2020, Moorhouse was commissioned to create a new work for the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG)-Qaumajuq’s debut exhibition, INUA. A detail of her mixed-media wallhanging appeared on the cover of the Inuit Art Quarterly’s special collectors’ issue marking the event.

CanadaCouncilLogoLongThis project was made possible with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Suggested Reads

Related Artists