Landmark 24 and 25: Canadian Federation of University Women – Prince George

Artists: Jean Staniland and Yvonne Johns

Word: Believe

This group is calling for more clarity and specificity in their instructions and it is finally, the physical concrete example that brings the aha; the ”now I can see it.” And in those few quick minutes all of the challenges surrounding belief are highlighted when intellect runs into belief. For many, there has to be a concrete foundation on which to base belief, it is not blind and unquestioning. It is the basis of the university system – what is the evidence for a belief and the open minds to keep searching and checking and building new grounds.  And these artists are determined to get it right and not work from assumptions.

Their voices are mingling and their hands are moving as they work through their ideas, the brain colliding with ideas through the pencils. Their ideas, they want the voice of the older generation, they want to catch those voices. They talk about space and movement and meanwhile, curves and angles and lines emerge on the pages. They link believe to space as “you need to make a space for belief.”  They see “believe” as a verb that requires space in hearts, ideas and minds.

They are growing in courage, their initial hesitation and reluctance is fading. “We can do what we want.”  “And there is lots of paper.”

Colour and words and concepts and symbols - all become playthings as they try first one and then another:  “what could stand for…?” “This could mean…” “What colour is trust?”
The courage is in full force now. There is no fear of making mistakes, the eraser is in full use. Their conversation flows easily and their heads and hands are close together; they work companionably and the support flows easily back and forth between them.  I like this, they may doubt themselves but they believe in each other. And a huge marker of success that everyone cheers for: the former English teacher has abandoned proper English.

They have arrived at a conclusion: “Believe is never fixed. It has to be visited and recommitted.” So to represent doing and redoing they repeat the word. Belief must be tested, challenged revisited and recommitted to if it is to remain strong.  The very different personalities, more outgoing/more cautious are working well together. Each carries their belief in the other as a place to stand in confidence.
“I remember these colours from elementary school.”  This is a quiet, almost private comment but it is powerful: It says the past is present, the past is as close as today, in this room.

“Oh crummy,” says one. “We can’t get any of Betty’s homemade cookies until we get paint on the glass.” The cookie bribe-threat seems to be working. They have abandoned drawing and the painting is in full swing.

Belief is at work here: cooperation and problem solving, figuring out logistics and technicalities, talking about how the roads of belief have to come together and fit and match but –“everything else around the edges can be fuzzy and messed with.”  They have new ideas, more new sketches: “If I do this and you do the rainbow then the words will ride the rainbow.”  “And the rainbow goes up at the end, just like the hill to the university.” 

There is laughter: “over here we can have praying!”  I think, I am sure, there were a lot of prayers for the origins of UNBC, from all faiths. I wonder what people think of UNBC now, who believed in its necessity and worked for its reality back then.

I watch them.  Uncertainty and doubt and hesitancy conquered by the determination to tackle the challenges and push through the difficulties. I see they believe in each other, in their design, even when the edges are fuzzy. The spirit they show at this table in a bright sun lit artist’s studio is the spirit of belief that parented UNBC. Believing in the impossible is what conquered all obstacles, all uncertainties in getting the dream of a northern University to come true, only 25 years ago.

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