Helping hands

News Aug 16, 2014 by Katie Starr Norfolk News

Drive down Windham Road 7 on a summer night and you’ll see the silhouette of an old tobacco kiln lit up against the inky sky.

Tobacco kilns are a familiar sight in Norfolk County, but this is no ordinary kiln house. Sections of the outside walls are missing, covered with a clear Plexiglas that allows passersby to glimpse over 500 plaster casts of arms and hands hanging inside. At night, solar panels illuminate the exhibit from within.

“It’s like you lifted the skin off the kiln and peeled it away, exposing the bones of time,” said Deirdre Chisholm, curator of the Norfolk Arts Centre.

Saskatchewan-based artist Heather Benning transformed an abandoned century-old kiln into a unique public sculpture that coincides with the International Year of Family Farming.

Benning’s permanent installation was unveiled to the public last Friday after three months of intensive labour.

“I will miss this building quite a lot, but I won’t miss hanging the hands inside it,” Benning told onlookers at the official opening. “Holy moly, you kiln hangers! I don’t know how you do it.”

The sculpture is titled “Kil(n) Hand,” with the optional letter referencing the local pronunciation of kiln as “kil,” Benning explained.

Large-scale, site-specific installations are Benning’s expertise, and the Edinburgh-trained artist is particularly interested in exploring themes of memory and loss in relation to domestic rural architecture.

This made her a perfect fit for Norfolk Arts Centre’s first artist-in-residence, said Chisholm, who emailed Benning last spring asking if she would be interested.

“We wanted to embark on a project that would connect the Norfolk Arts Centre with the wider agricultural community,” Chisholm said.

Benning spent the past winter in Norfolk conducting research into the area’s local history, teaching art classes and scouting out locations for the planned sculpture.

When Melissa Stickl heard Benning was looking for a site, she spoke with her family, Hungarian immigrants who have been tobacco farmers in Norfolk since 1958, about letting the artist use one of their two remaining original stick kilns. They stopped using the older kilns in 2002, when tobacco farmers were required to retrofit their burners and switch over to bulk kilns.

“It was an easy decision for us and we watched as Heather’s ideas took shape over the summer,” Stickl said. “We see the sculpture as a commentary on how the family farm has changed from hands-on labour to mechanized labour.”

The Stickl family also participated in Benning’s project. They and two of their offshore workers from Jamaica were the hand models for the polyester-resin casts that hang inside the kiln.

“When we look at hands, we think of all the hard work, dedication and devotion it’s taken to have 56 harvests on this farm,” said Stickl. “Opa is always talking about the array of people who have had a hand in this farm’s story over the years and that’s what we see when we look at this project.”

Coun. Jim Oliver, representing the mayor and council at the unveiling, also touched on the rural roots that inspired the sculpture’s theme.

“Farming is a very, very important part of the heritage of our county and the economy of our county,” he said. “Tobacco has had a greater impact on our county in the last 100 years than any other crop, and what better way to recognize its importance at the same time as celebrating the year of the family farm than with this structure.”

That’s part of what makes “Kil(n) Hand” so meaningful to the community, Chisholm said.

“All art should excite some aspect of your imagination,” she said. “People look at ‘Kil(n) Hand’ and draw all sorts of connections to it because of our agricultural past, present and future.”

“Kil(n) Hand” is available for free public viewing throughout the year at 1823 Windham Road 7 in Vanessa.

Helping hands

New art installation tells tales from the tobacco kiln

News Aug 16, 2014 by Katie Starr Norfolk News

Drive down Windham Road 7 on a summer night and you’ll see the silhouette of an old tobacco kiln lit up against the inky sky.

Tobacco kilns are a familiar sight in Norfolk County, but this is no ordinary kiln house. Sections of the outside walls are missing, covered with a clear Plexiglas that allows passersby to glimpse over 500 plaster casts of arms and hands hanging inside. At night, solar panels illuminate the exhibit from within.

“It’s like you lifted the skin off the kiln and peeled it away, exposing the bones of time,” said Deirdre Chisholm, curator of the Norfolk Arts Centre.

Saskatchewan-based artist Heather Benning transformed an abandoned century-old kiln into a unique public sculpture that coincides with the International Year of Family Farming.

Benning’s permanent installation was unveiled to the public last Friday after three months of intensive labour.

“I will miss this building quite a lot, but I won’t miss hanging the hands inside it,” Benning told onlookers at the official opening. “Holy moly, you kiln hangers! I don’t know how you do it.”

The sculpture is titled “Kil(n) Hand,” with the optional letter referencing the local pronunciation of kiln as “kil,” Benning explained.

Large-scale, site-specific installations are Benning’s expertise, and the Edinburgh-trained artist is particularly interested in exploring themes of memory and loss in relation to domestic rural architecture.

This made her a perfect fit for Norfolk Arts Centre’s first artist-in-residence, said Chisholm, who emailed Benning last spring asking if she would be interested.

“We wanted to embark on a project that would connect the Norfolk Arts Centre with the wider agricultural community,” Chisholm said.

Benning spent the past winter in Norfolk conducting research into the area’s local history, teaching art classes and scouting out locations for the planned sculpture.

When Melissa Stickl heard Benning was looking for a site, she spoke with her family, Hungarian immigrants who have been tobacco farmers in Norfolk since 1958, about letting the artist use one of their two remaining original stick kilns. They stopped using the older kilns in 2002, when tobacco farmers were required to retrofit their burners and switch over to bulk kilns.

“It was an easy decision for us and we watched as Heather’s ideas took shape over the summer,” Stickl said. “We see the sculpture as a commentary on how the family farm has changed from hands-on labour to mechanized labour.”

The Stickl family also participated in Benning’s project. They and two of their offshore workers from Jamaica were the hand models for the polyester-resin casts that hang inside the kiln.

“When we look at hands, we think of all the hard work, dedication and devotion it’s taken to have 56 harvests on this farm,” said Stickl. “Opa is always talking about the array of people who have had a hand in this farm’s story over the years and that’s what we see when we look at this project.”

Coun. Jim Oliver, representing the mayor and council at the unveiling, also touched on the rural roots that inspired the sculpture’s theme.

“Farming is a very, very important part of the heritage of our county and the economy of our county,” he said. “Tobacco has had a greater impact on our county in the last 100 years than any other crop, and what better way to recognize its importance at the same time as celebrating the year of the family farm than with this structure.”

That’s part of what makes “Kil(n) Hand” so meaningful to the community, Chisholm said.

“All art should excite some aspect of your imagination,” she said. “People look at ‘Kil(n) Hand’ and draw all sorts of connections to it because of our agricultural past, present and future.”

“Kil(n) Hand” is available for free public viewing throughout the year at 1823 Windham Road 7 in Vanessa.

Helping hands

New art installation tells tales from the tobacco kiln

News Aug 16, 2014 by Katie Starr Norfolk News

Drive down Windham Road 7 on a summer night and you’ll see the silhouette of an old tobacco kiln lit up against the inky sky.

Tobacco kilns are a familiar sight in Norfolk County, but this is no ordinary kiln house. Sections of the outside walls are missing, covered with a clear Plexiglas that allows passersby to glimpse over 500 plaster casts of arms and hands hanging inside. At night, solar panels illuminate the exhibit from within.

“It’s like you lifted the skin off the kiln and peeled it away, exposing the bones of time,” said Deirdre Chisholm, curator of the Norfolk Arts Centre.

Saskatchewan-based artist Heather Benning transformed an abandoned century-old kiln into a unique public sculpture that coincides with the International Year of Family Farming.

Benning’s permanent installation was unveiled to the public last Friday after three months of intensive labour.

“I will miss this building quite a lot, but I won’t miss hanging the hands inside it,” Benning told onlookers at the official opening. “Holy moly, you kiln hangers! I don’t know how you do it.”

The sculpture is titled “Kil(n) Hand,” with the optional letter referencing the local pronunciation of kiln as “kil,” Benning explained.

Large-scale, site-specific installations are Benning’s expertise, and the Edinburgh-trained artist is particularly interested in exploring themes of memory and loss in relation to domestic rural architecture.

This made her a perfect fit for Norfolk Arts Centre’s first artist-in-residence, said Chisholm, who emailed Benning last spring asking if she would be interested.

“We wanted to embark on a project that would connect the Norfolk Arts Centre with the wider agricultural community,” Chisholm said.

Benning spent the past winter in Norfolk conducting research into the area’s local history, teaching art classes and scouting out locations for the planned sculpture.

When Melissa Stickl heard Benning was looking for a site, she spoke with her family, Hungarian immigrants who have been tobacco farmers in Norfolk since 1958, about letting the artist use one of their two remaining original stick kilns. They stopped using the older kilns in 2002, when tobacco farmers were required to retrofit their burners and switch over to bulk kilns.

“It was an easy decision for us and we watched as Heather’s ideas took shape over the summer,” Stickl said. “We see the sculpture as a commentary on how the family farm has changed from hands-on labour to mechanized labour.”

The Stickl family also participated in Benning’s project. They and two of their offshore workers from Jamaica were the hand models for the polyester-resin casts that hang inside the kiln.

“When we look at hands, we think of all the hard work, dedication and devotion it’s taken to have 56 harvests on this farm,” said Stickl. “Opa is always talking about the array of people who have had a hand in this farm’s story over the years and that’s what we see when we look at this project.”

Coun. Jim Oliver, representing the mayor and council at the unveiling, also touched on the rural roots that inspired the sculpture’s theme.

“Farming is a very, very important part of the heritage of our county and the economy of our county,” he said. “Tobacco has had a greater impact on our county in the last 100 years than any other crop, and what better way to recognize its importance at the same time as celebrating the year of the family farm than with this structure.”

That’s part of what makes “Kil(n) Hand” so meaningful to the community, Chisholm said.

“All art should excite some aspect of your imagination,” she said. “People look at ‘Kil(n) Hand’ and draw all sorts of connections to it because of our agricultural past, present and future.”

“Kil(n) Hand” is available for free public viewing throughout the year at 1823 Windham Road 7 in Vanessa.