Lorraine Francis has devoted herself to helping keep the Mi’kmaw culture alive.
A resident of Pictou Landing First Nations Reserve, Francis began to learn the art of beadwork in 1978 through a course offered by the Pictou Landing Band Council.
“At first it was a means of support for my family,” explains Francis. “I had just gotten married.”
But Francis grew to love beadwork and in 1990 decided to further her skills by learning how to use porcupine quills in her crafts.
“I received formal training in the Mi’kmaw craft from Mary Jane Lafford of Afton First Nations in 1991,” says Francis. “I find quill work relaxing and meditative. I really enjoy it.”
To create her works of art, Francis requires a steady hand, so when she first took up working with porcupine quills she decided it was time to give up drinking and smoking to progress her craft.
In the beginning, Francis made jewelry with beads as well as purses, wallets, belts and even moccasins with leather. I still do those things, but I also try to incorporate quills into my crafts and mix the different skills I have learned,” she says.
Beadwork requires the use of a needle and thread while quills require pliers and an awl, a piercing tool, and is similar to needle point.
“I usually get my quills from local trappers, and hand pick the quills myself,” explains Francis. “But there have been times where people have brought me road kill.” This isn’t very useable as the quills are squished.
“It’s very time consuming and then the quills have to be soaked in warm water so they are more pliable,” she says.
Francis also uses birch bark and sweet grass, which she picks herself, and has put on courses in the past.
Her craft has allowed her to meet various famous and influential people as well. “I met the Queen when she came to Halifax in 1990 and was able to show her some of my work,” says Francis.
A quill box was the first thing Francis made when learning to use porcupine quills, her favourite thing to make, and it took her about two months to make, working every day. Now, depending on the size of the box, it can take one to two weeks.
Francis, who hand-dyes her quills, also makes dream catchers with beads and quills as well as wall hangings.
“All of my pieces are very unique,” she says. “I am a bit of a perfectionist so I never let anything go unless it is completely done and finished to my liking.”
Beadwork and quills are just a pastime for Francis now as she spends a lot of her time working in the school with pre-schoolers.
Francis took her early childhood education class in Truro in 2009 and then over a three-year period each summer for three weeks, Francis would travel to Alberta to get her linguistics degree.
“I graduated in 2011 and was the first in Nova Scotia to graduate with a linguistic degree (in Mi’kmaq). It’s a way for me to represent my culture (through linguistics and crafts) and keep my culture alive.”
Francis makes her work for others to enjoy.
“It’s so much fun for me to make and I get so much pleasure from making these crafts that I want others to get as much pleasure from them. All of this wouldn’t be possible without the support of my family and friends.”
Francis can be reached at 752-8683 or email email@example.com.