Sandra Racine is from Elsipogtog First Nation and had always dreamt of being an artist, but like most people, she put it off to look after her family. That all changed 2 years ago when she went back to school to follow her dream of making traditional Mi’kmaq baskets.
“My family is artistic but I never really got around to it,” said Sandra. “I focused on my son and other children as an educator for 18 years. I always did crafts and I used to draw. Now my son is all grown up and I’m going to focus on what I want to do. Once I saw Katie Nicolas’ work, I signed up to go to NBCCD.”
Going back to school as a mature student was tough but basket making is in Sandra’s blood. She has uncles and aunts who were basket makers but her main inspiration has been her Uncle Louie. He has passed away but Sandra has some of his tools of the trade.
“I have my uncle’s tools, his molds, and ash pounder,” said Sandra. “When I touch his tools the magic comes to my fingers.”
Sandra was selected by her school to submit one of her baskets for the 2014 BMO 1st Art! Invitational Student Competition and she was very excited when she learned that she was one of the regional winners of the competition.
“I created the basket specifically for the competition,” said Sandra. “The workload at school was high but I still made this basket while I was at school. Uncle Louie helped me, he told me to think about Mother Earth, so I decided to do a green basket. I shipped it to Toronto and then they called me and asked me questions. Later on I got a call that I was the New Brunswick winner of the competition!”
Sandra focuses mainly on basketry but also does quill work and works with birch bark. She finds her inspiration in old baskets.
“I collect old baskets,” said Sandra. “I can look at them for about half an hour and take one little piece out of those baskets and incorporate that design into my baskets. I also ask my elders for help, like my Uncle Louie. Then it will come to me; I know what to do. I always say to my husband, ‘how did our ancestors discover this wood and make baskets out of it when they had no tools? How did they come up with these ideas?’ I have baskets from the late 1800s and I’m amazed.”
Sandra started her own business, Woven Dreams, in May 2014 after completing the entrepreneurship class at NBCCD. She sells most of her baskets by word-of-mouth and one of her biggest challenges so far is trying to keep up with the orders.
“Right now, every time I go somewhere I just take out my baskets and I sell them and then I have to make more,” said Sandra. “I do get some orders, sometimes for private collections. I have a friend in Toronto and she works in advertising. I’m working with her to promote my work. As soon as my husband retires this summer we are moving to Nova Scotia and I plan to open a shop there. My own shop and studio, and I want to do workshops and have artists in residency. I’ve started doing workshops here. I want to pass down the tradition of basketry and my husband will be my support.”
Sandra has been teaching basketry all over New Brunswick.
“I teach non-natives, natives and the younger generation,” said Sandra. “I’ve been invited to volunteer with the Brownies, Maliseet girls in Oromocto. I taught my son to make baskets too. You never know, he might want to make some in the future. It’s important to pass down the traditions. I’m going to teach basketry at the penitentiary in Dorchester; a 3-day course with the option for follow ups. I have no fear going, I think it is awesome. You are giving those guys something to learn. I wanted to learn myself and no one was there to teach me. When I found the college I told myself that I was going to teach other people. It just might open the door for someone else and give them an opportunity to do something else. If you are good at something you should pass it down and share it with others.”
Sandra has her own mentors, she looks up to George Neptune, a Passamaquoddy from Indian Township Maine, a Master Basket Maker, and his grandmother Molly Neptune Parker also a Master Basket Maker.
“When I want to talk to someone I get hold of George,” said Sandra. “He helps me find materials and has shown me how to make flowers. I’ve been to his grandmother’s 2-day workshop where I learned lots of good tips from them. Someone did a presentation on him during my first year of NBCCD and I asked her how she met him, then I found him online and followed his work. Finally I got to meet him and we have been friends ever since.”
Sandra has some advice for other Aboriginal artists and people with a dream.
“Once you have a goal, go for it, you don’t know where it will take you. This is my goal and look where it took me, to Toronto and I won the New Brunswick title. As soon as I came back from Toronto I went to the college and told the other students ‘if you have a goal go for it’. If there is something standing in your way don’t let it knock you down. Being Aboriginal, there are so many doors that you could open and there are so many opportunities for the young generation. There are opportunities for them to reach their dream. When I was young we didn’t have all of this stuff. Reach for the goals. That’s what I always tell my son. Go for it.”