Sewing Stewardship

Curated by Lore Arts

What does stewardship mean? Today “stewardship” is commonly understood as the act of caring for the environment with recognition to the first stewards of the land; Indigenous nations and their long-standing relationship with the land and each other. Conversely, from a Western historical perspective, the etymology of the word “stewardship” served to describe the management of buildings, properties and institutional assets. Beginning from Middle Ages and over the centuries, “stewardship” was used to reference the management of large households, law courts, college dining halls and many other large organizational buildings. The word denotes asset management and the maintenance of one’s ownership over properties

Viewing the act of “stewardship” through this historical lens brings to light the complex and fraught impacts of colonialism and what it means to “care for” the land. Interwoven within its definition are tightly knotted paradoxes, co-dependent relationships, and competing actions. To steward the land means both ecological restoration and human intervention, both regenerative farming and colonial land ownership, both erasure of cultures and nations working side by side, both environmental conservation and seeing nature as central to the resource economy.  

There is no straightforward path towards soil remediation and environmental repair.  

Through their land-based artworks, Kingsbury, Cazzola and Kessler are taking steps to loosen and unravel the paradoxical knots of stewardship through manual care; mending, sewing and weaving together new understandings and relationships of what it means to care for our environment and relationships within the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. Giving agency to plants and relational care, these three artists are sewing (and sowing) the seeds of repair through their works titled ReMediate, The Botanical Reclamation, and The Stewardship Quilt. 

ReMediate is a collaboration with Pollination Guelph, poet Anna Bowen and artist Christina Kingsbury in the form of a 3000 square foot seed paper quilt made for the Eastview Landfill. The quilt was sewn together on site with public participation and is now yielding a garden for pollinators and other threatened species. Anna Bowen produced a series of poems about the layered history of the site and the making of the quilt. Part performance, part installation, part ongoing relational engagement with land.  

The Botanical Reclamation project by Anita Cazzola celebrates the resilience of wild plants through naturally dyed textiles. “A Flag for the Plants I” is comprised of fabrics dyed with seven wild plants growing in the former Lafarge Quarry in Guelph. The flag serves as a way to amplify the voices of the plants that have worked so hard to reclaim this degraded site, and is a proud emblem of reclamation. Now installed in the Eastview Pollinator Park, the flag speaks to these same plant species growing in and remediating this former landfill. This movement forms an alliance of plants and a unification of Guelph’s ecosystems. 

The Stewardship Quilt, made by Jenna Kessler from botanically dyed fabric scraps, has been embroidered with quotes from authors who write about land stewardship and what it means to be a care-taker of land. The inspiration for the quilt was born out of Jenna’s inner questions about her own role on the land as an ecological farmer. She hopes the quotes will inspire discussions about land access and justice, and what it means to be a land steward with responsibilities to rehabilitate soil after prolonged abuse through industrial agriculture. 

"A Flag for the Plants I" installed at the Eastview landfill, in front of "ReMediate" by Christina Kingsbury

"The Stewardship Quilt", foreground. "A Flag for the Plants I", background.

"A Flag for the Plants I", detail.

"A Flag for the Plants I" installed at the Eastview landfill

"A Flag for the Plants I", detail.

"A Flag for the Plants I", detail.

"A Flag for the Plants I" in behind flowers from the ReMediate garden.

"A Flag for the Plants I", detail.

"The Stewardship Quilt", Jenna Kessler, 2021