March 2007

Spotlight on the Artist

Last updated: March 1, 2007

Deidre Stevens

We knew Deidre Stevens first as a writer—the Lifestyle Editor of the Evening News, and the author of several books on Sault history. Last summer she came into the Sault Summer Arts Festival with her hand knit work and we discovered that she was a prolific knitter of one-of-a-kind wooly creations. Dee will be demonstrating four times this month, in Alberta House. She’ll have copies of her books there to sign as well. Look for her from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, March 3 and 17 and on Wednesdays, March 21 and 28.

From an editorial point of view she is an ideal featured artist because she can write her own profile. So here is what she is willing to divulge about herself.

Born in Ann Arbor in 1959, summered in Traverse City every year till my teens, traveled from Traverse to Houghton in the back of a heavily-loaded Volkswagen Beetle each fall and from Houghton back to Traverse each spring so my father could teach at Michigan Tech. Moved to Sault Ste. Marie in 1967. He taught college English. Mom was a paraprofessional for a while but is a consummate artist, attempting painting, sewing, knitting and music, among other things.

I have one sister, four years younger, “Dr. Meg,” who is a professional musician and teaches her skill to others in the Sault.

I graduated from Sault Area High School in 1977, where I pursued music and theatrical arts. I went on to Lake Superior State University (College then) in 1981, earning a bachelor of arts in English Language and Literature and all the minors I could pull out of the English Department, including Speech and Drama, from which I once again got derailed when the program was suspended at the end of my sophomore year.

When my boss (and my best friends’ mother) died suddenly three months after I took a job at the Sault Evening News my junior year, my journalism career was cast in stone – or at least plaster. The News tolerated my explorations and hired me back at least half a dozen times over the next 20 years. Some of my wanderings included working at the Green Bay Press-Gazette as a copy editor, at Traverse, the Magazine as an assistant editor and at the Petoskey News-Review as a feature editor. I have also attempted several times to “go it alone” as a free-lance writer. I have had some success, though it hasn’t been particularly lucrative. (The far-flung journalism jobs were mainly excuses to explore new places. I’ve also been to San Angelo, Texas and, for two weeks in the spring of 1981, Greece and Italy.)

As long as I can remember, I have been a storyteller. I used to have trouble getting to sleep at night, so I would tell myself tales to help me relax. When I got a little older, I would write stories with me as the hero. Still later, when I was dissatisfied with how a book or a movie ended, or with the fact that it ended at all, I would rewrite or ignore the ending and continue to create the way it made me feel.

Somehow or other, I got sidetracked into journalism, but it was mainly because my theater class got canceled and journalism was all there was. I’ve never enjoyed reporting because it requires squelching the voice of enchantment in my head – the voice that wants to tell me about the world as it should be, not as it is. I’m hopeful still that one day my voice will find expression through fiction, but that day has not yet come.

In the meantime I enjoy the “Once upon a time” part of writing through my interest in history: Perversely, sometimes, as I must attempt to find the truth, just like a journalist. So maybe my journalism training has done me some good. But the beauty of distance from a subject is that you are allowed to be a little dreamy and lyrical when you tell about it. I have published several books of local history, and have, I believe, had some success in sharing my sense of excitement and adventure in our past.

My other unlikely, somewhat lucrative, art is hand knitting. My mother tried to teach me to knit years ago, and, as with sewing, I did not enjoy it at all. Now, while I have never (yet) taken to sewing, about 20 years ago I found myself working in a craft store where one of the perks was 30 percent off the things we sold. I bought the yarn to make myself a tweedy Irish sweater, and that was the start of it all. After ten or 12 years of learning and making things, I and all my friends and relatives had too many of my experiments, so I decided to start selling them at craft shows and bazaars. I love bright colors and the feel of the yarn, so you would think I would like all the new feathery yarns that are out now, but I prefer to make my own textures through stitches. My garments are seldom lightweight and gossamer and more often substantial and chunky. Maybe that is a factor of living where it’s cold so much of the year.

Knitting by Deidre Stevens
Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version.

Knitting by Dee Stevens. Click for a larger version.

Knitting by Dee Stevens. Click for a larger version.

I’ve done shows now in Charlevoix, Boyne City, Boyne Falls, Presque Isle Point, Paradise, Pickford and the Sault. I’ve met some very neat people and had some memorable days, especially when the shows are outdoors.

I will probably never get rich off my knitting, but it does allow me to pay for my materials and maybe buy the odd bag of groceries, and every now and then I can make something for someone who misses a long-worn-out knitted garment and can’t seem to find one in the stores. In some ways, knitting can be a ministry. It soothes me and brings pleasure to others. Usually, that is. Every now and then I knit myself into a corner and don’t enjoy it so much. But I can count the occasions on which I gave up and just raveled something or threw it away, on the fingers of one hand. Sometimes the results are not perfect when I am finished, but they are acceptable, and I have learned from what I did.

So while I wait for the inspiration, and the acceptance, of the great American novel, I feed my creative needs with my knitting, and I am currently collecting stories and ideas through my seasonal work as a narrator for Soo Locks Boat Tours. The jobs that work best for me seem to be the ones that physically wear me out so my brain is free to roam when the work is done.

Dee’s books, which are available in Alberta House and at the Chippewa County Historical Society, and which she’ll have with her to sign, are Faces of Chippewa County ($12.50); Thunderstruck ($14); and The Johnstons of Sault Ste. Marie ($11).

Sault Area Arts Council Home Page
217 Ferris Street, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
e-mail: Phone: (906) 635-1312