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Fiber Art Studio Heritage Craft Gallery Educational Butterfly & Fiber Farm
Catching a Wave, Winnipeg Free Press,  Sept 2, 2006


MORE than 30 Interlake artists are throwing open their doors this weekend for the fifth Wave Artists' Studio Tour.

Travelling north of the city along Lake Winnipeg's western shore, the self-guided tours offer visitors the chance to explore the communities and the diverse array of art produced in the region.

Artists located along the driving route are inviting the public into their studios to watch them work and browse through their arts and crafts. Among the artisans participating in the event are watercolour painters, photographers, potters, quilters and stained glass and jewelry craftspeople.

Others prefer more unusual canvasses for their artistic spirit. Take Dianne Fitzmaurice, for example.

At her Creature Comforts Cottage on Siglavik Road south of Gimli, Fitzmaurice practises a rather unusual handicraft -- she spins hair right off the backs of her brood of angora bunnies to make handspun wearables, such as baby clothes,sweaters and hats.

We spoke with Fitzmaurice to find out more about her unique brand of fibre art. 

CB: How exactly do you spin the hair off a rabbit?

DF: Four times a year a rabbit sheds its hair, so you can pull it off using your hand -- it just comes right off. Then I take the hair and spin it on a spinning wheel to make hats, scarves, mitts, sweaters and slippers. Angora is eight times warmer than wool so it is great for this climate. For public demonstrations I sit the rabbit down on my lap and draw the hair right off the rabbit into the orfice of the spinning wheel. But this way takes longer, so I only use this method when people are there to watch.

CB: Does it hurt the bunnies?

DF: Not at all. They just sit there. They don't move or flinch. They like it because you're sitting with them and giving them attention.

 CB: How many rabbits do you have?

DF: I have 16 rabbits right now -- English, Satin and French angora rabbits. They all have different qualities of fibre so I use different rabbits depending on what I am making. I have had up to 50 rabbits at one time. I've been raising them for 25 years.

 CB: How did you first get interested in rabbits?

DF: When I was a kid my mom told me a story about growing up on a farm where she had pet rabbits. One day she and her brother were supposed to bring lunch out to their grandfather in the field, but they fed the lunch to the rabbits instead. He was so mad he killed the rabbits. That story upset me but also made me want a pet rabbit. So at the age of eight I went to the pet store and bought two rabbits and brought them home. I have had rabbits ever since.

 CB: Have you tried to spin any other animal hair?

DF: I also make teddy bears -- I call them Tessie bears, because they are more feminine-looking than teddy bears -- from raw angora goat hair that I spin.

I also make fibre sculptures of pelicans and polar bears that are made of wool that is sculpted using a compacting tool. I cover the polar bear sculptures with dog hair to make their fur and mount them on a rock. I have also made some sculptures from cat hair and I am going to try horse hair next to make horse sculptures. I also make fibre sculptures of dogs using dog hair.

DF: Usually people see one of my sculptures and order one and collect the hair from their own dog from brushings or clippings.

As well, I have nine Maltese dogs. They are very small -- about three to eight pounds each, so really, all nine of them equal one regular-size dog -- and they produce these lovely long coats. So I use their hair for the fibre sculptures as well.

CB: According to your brochure, you have butterflies, too.

DF: I always wanted silk moths but I've heard they're difficult to raise so I decided to try butterflies first. I raise them for release at weddings and memorials, and in the spring, schools purchase butterfly kits with the larvae and food so kids can grow their own butterflies and release them.

 The Wave Artists' Studio Tour is organized by the Winnipeg Beach Art and Cultural Co-Op and takes place today and tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tour brochures are available online at www.watchthewave.ca.

 You can also watch Fitzmaurice's fibre art demonstrations on Sept. 23 at the New Iceland Heritage Museum on First Avenue in Gimli.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 2, 2006