Early Morning Mist, Harbor Springs, painting by Judy Colein
Header image: Early Morning Mist, Harbor Springs, painting by Judy Colein

Featured Artist: Moira (Pat) Wilson

Last updated: February 1, 2010

..Bernie Arbic with his book Sugar Island Sampler.

Pat Wilson. Photo from 2009 summer’s arts festival by Eric Demaray

Ah, another feature that writes itself. We asked Pat some questions and her answers rendered our comments unnecessary. And there’s a real bonus here for people who are interested in the history of the arts in this area and in Alberta House, because Pat was in at the beginning of our organization and her answers fill in a lot of the blanks for those who came later.

Hi Pat, I’d like to use you as one of our featured artists. Do you have time to answer some questions and give me some background? Yes, however, this may sound goofy but I have never considered myself an artist. I have a hard time with that designation. I try to be creative. Artistic expression has simply enriched my life experience. I am totally surprised by this request. Paul and Brian are the artists in this family.

You were weaving and dyeing before you started writing. What got you started weaving? The desire to write pre-dated the weaving and spinning. I became fascinated with Eve Earnest and she was a weaver. I got this crazy idea that if I wanted to write about a weaver and spinner, I should do it. As I often quip, it is a good thing that I don’t write murder mysteries. However, I am glad I did learn to weave and spin. The book in my opinion is richer because of my experiences.

I know you worked with Gladys (Wonnacott—the dean of area weavers until her death). Who else? Edna Birge, Harriet Boon of Desbarats, Ontario who taught the levels program for Spinners in Sault Ontario. Ruth Scherer. Spinners and Weavers Guild members of Sault Ontario and the Country Spinners and Bridge Shuttlers, Lucy Hume of St. Ignace, Ruth Wales, Anne Westlund, Roxanne Eberts and many more. And I have to mention Silva Freeman who shared her battle cry… “you have to wanna bad enough.”

Do you still gather natural materials for dyes? Yes, and occasionally I teach natural dye workshops at Woolderness and elsewhere. When working in level 4 and 5 of the Master Spinner’s Program, Harriet Boon introduced me to natural dying and my love of Chemistry and plants took over. Had I finished the masters spinning program, it would have involved natural dyes.

When did you first become a member of the EUP Craftsmen? Were you one of the founders? Yes, I believe I was. Paul and I met with Charles Follo and Olive Craig in the Sault. There we met Annegret and Gordon Goehring, Ruth Scherer, Oliver and Edna Birge, Vern Moerdyke, Gene Usimaki, Grace Dubow, and many others. Paul wanted to produce stoneware at the time. Initially, the EUP Craftsmen was part of the Upper Peninsula Crafts Council which was made up of artists and craftsmen from across the entire UP. Northern Michigan University and artist/professors like Marv Zehnder introduced topics to broaden and improve our artistic expressions and professionalism. As each area developed centers like the Bonifas Fine Arts Center, art festivals began. Eventually the need for an umbrella group faded because the council members became more involved with their local activities. As a result, the Upper Peninsula Crafts Council dissolved. Initially, I dabbled more in taking offices—secretary etc.

I first got involved with the arts council because of you. What got you started there? As the work of Charles Follo grew, localized groups began to develop Arts Councils, Art Centers, Groups for specific arts or crafts, marketing outlets like the Woodland Workshop, and Summer Arts Festivals. I simply was part of this natural progression.

How did “Woolderness” happen? How is it going? Pickle Point’s owner and author, Bonnie Mikkelsen asked who I thought could develop and run a fiber studio in the Les Cheneaux. I suggested Roxanne Eberts. Roxanne took the bit and ran with it. I merely volunteered to help. Roxanne very generously includes me in some of the credit, but really Woolderness is Roxanne’s handiwork. The woman is a dynamo. Starting a business when times are hard isn’t easy, but Woolderness continues its fourth year this year.

Give me some background. What brought about “Revolutionary Fires”. Did the history or the story come first? How long did it take to research and write? What were your primary sources? The seed for Revolutionary Fires began to grow shortly after our daughter Wendy was born nearly 42 years ago. My father gave me a copy of Replogle’s book, Indian Eve, saying “you might be interested; she’s in your family.” The oral history collected by Mrs. Emma Replogle’s research did not explain why Native Americans would want to capture a German woman from Bedford, Pennsylvania and sell her and her two children to Fort Detroit when it was under British Control during the Revolutionary War. Armed with one more excuse to go to Altoona Pennsylvania to visit my grandfather, I visited local libraries and historical centers over the years with our three kiddos, Dave, Brian and Wendy in tow, with Paul’s blessings. Curiosity and thirty-plus years of research led to Revolutionary Fires. It took over five years to write it. I am currently working on the second volume. My primary resources are too many to enumerate without boring people silly. I like to get as many views as I can of any event. The internet is making finding these sources much easier when combined with Inter-library loan.

What’s your favorite thing to do? Can we say things? Cook, read, write, study, walk in the woods or along the shores to identify flora and fauna, teach, weave, spin, draw, sing and spend time with friends and family.

How has your family and your background influenced your artistic life? First, I was blessed to grow up in Flint when art and music were considered important in a school curriculum. These two subjects gave a dyslexic student like me an area to excel. And like a carrot on a stick, the arts enticed me to try to do well in school when it was tough sledding academically. Living with an artist, my husband Paul, has definitely influenced me. He didn’t laugh when I wanted to buy a loom. He bought my first spinning wheel and my first electric typewriter and computer. When I stopped working as an MT ASCP, he graciously supported my efforts to return to college a second time and to obtain a teaching degree with an English major.

How has your long association with other artists and craftsmen influenced you? Artists and Craftsmen do not laugh when you bounce crazy ideas off of them. Artists and craftsmen are essentially problem solvers. I remember talking to Grace Dubow for hours and hours one night about some of the amazing people I had researched when ideas for the book were just beginning to jell. She didn’t just listen to be polite. Creative people permit you to make creative leaps and they encourage you to do so. I always admired Olive Craig because she never critiqued your work to become more like her work. Instead, she endeavored to help you find your best possible expression.

What would you do over, if you could? Wow. I wanted to be a geologist but was told in 1956 that women couldn’t do that. I spelled poorly and couldn’t pass a foreign language so being an English Major wasn’t feasible back then either. I remember the counselor who simply said that I was totally “inept.” But, I think if I could combine archeology, anthropology and geology and teach and that would be a fun place to re-start. Let’s face it, life just isn’t long enough to do everything that is interesting. And besides wouldn’t it be fun to spend more time with friends and family?

What are you working on now? I want to finish volume two of Revolutionary Fires, but I don’t always organize my time well.

When and why did you decide to be known as Moira rather than Pat? I never decided. I am both and have been both ever since I can remember. My given name is Moira Zell and Pat is just a nickname. Legally, academically and professionally, I have always been Moira. Initially only very close neighborhood playmates and family called me Paddy which over time became Pat. I answer to either name equally. Besides, with an unusual name, folks have a tough time pronouncing Moira, so Pat is easier.

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