A Vanishing Culture

Two of my art quilts, A Vanishing Culture and Fundy Flame Agate have been accepted into SAQA exhibitions – My Corner of the Word, International and National.

The My Corner of the World exhibitions will debut at the Stratford Perth Museum in Stratford, ON, May 21 to August 14, 2016 and will be on tour for two years. There is info on the exhibition’s here.

A Vanishing Culture, was one of the 41 entries juried in to the show out of 189 pieces from 115 artists, SAQA members, from around the world. It is a piece I created specifically for the Call For Entry and was inspired by my Russian grandmother, Dora. I wanted this piece to look like it had travelled through time and like the title it might vanish if not acknowledged.

I was in my late 30’s when my mother, who I knew had Russian heritage, revealed a secret she had kept from me and my siblings until that time.


closeup of A Vanishing Culture

Her mother, Evdoitia Oosichoff, who I knew as Dora Streliaf, had come to Canada by ship with 7500 other Russian peasants in 1897 from the Georgia area of southern Russian. They called themselves ‘Doukhobors’ which translates to ‘Spirit Wrestlers’ in English and were one of the largest group of immigrants to land in Canada.

All I had known about the Doukhobors was that they used to protest nude down the streets of Nelson, BC back in the 1950’s and that they burnt their own homes and schools. They wanted to demonstrate that material wealth was against their religion. They defied anything to do with government regulations involving the keeping of statistics and mandatory placement of their children in public schools. This small group of less than 200 protesters were called ‘The Sons of Freedom’ and were a renegade group of the larger community of 7500 Doukhobors in southern British Columbia. It is a shame that all Doukhobors were then labelled and blamed for the actions of the Sons of Freedom.

My uncle has told me several stories about his living near Castlegar BC, as a young child of his mother moving all the household belongings out into an apple orchard, including his bed which was put under an apple tree. She lived in fear of having their house burnt to the ground. He recently gave me a wool yarn rug handmade by my grandmother and her mother. And a hand woven linen shirt which he called Dora’s ‘birthing’ shirt, a shirt she wore during the delivery of her six children. And there began my journey into my heritage and this rich and often over looked culture.


24″ x 70″  A Vanishing Culture

In Russia the Doukhobors had been persecuted by the Czar as they believed it was wrong to kill and they refused to fight for the Czar. With the help of Leo Tolstoy and British Quakers they negotiated with the Canadian government to bring three shiploads of people to settle the farmlands of the Canadian prairies, and to help to build the railroads and integrate into Canadian society.  The government acknowledged them as pacifists so they would not be called upon to bear arms to fight in any wars.

The majority of the immigrants were women and children as their men had been imprisoned, tortured and killed in Russian camps. In 1895 in three areas of southern Russian, they publicly burned their weapons in what is now known and still celebrated annually as ‘The Burning of Arms’. This may have been the first pacifist protest in modern times.

The info below is from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/doukhobors/

The Doukhobors rejected church liturgy, believing that god dwells in each human being and not in a church; they rejected secular governments; and practiced pacifism. They replaced the Bible with orally transmitted psalms and hymns, which they called the Living Book. These are sung to this day at the Molenie (religious gatherings). Group decisions are made collectively at Sobranie (community meetings). Doukhobors do not use any religious symbols at these meetings except for the display of bread, salt and water, which represent the elements that sustain life. Some Doukhobors revere their chosen leaders, whom they regard as especially inspired by god, but Doukhobors generally believe that all people are equal because all have god within them. Many of them still live by the slogan coined by one of their leaders, “toil and peaceful life.” Most Doukhobors no longer live communally, but many are still vegetarians and all practice pacifism.

In Canada in 1941 the self-identified Doukhobor population reached 16,898 and by 2011 the census number was down to 2,290 still active in their culture.

3 thoughts on “A Vanishing Culture

  1. Pingback: My Corner of the World, International, SAQA – Kate Madeloso

  2. Kate – I found out about your piece related to the Doukhobors via Koozma Tarasoff’s blog. Very interested in you taking this on, and hope if have a chance to get down to that part of Ontario this summer I will be able to see it in person!

    The topic of preserving this vanishing culture and spirituality has been very much on my mind as of late as well (I am from the youngest, and perhaps last, generation of Doukhobors in Saskatchewan). Thought you may be interested in a piece I recently wrote on the topic here: http://ryanandrosoff.ca/spirit-wrestling-in-the-21st-century/

    Best wishes!


    • Thank you Ryan! I did not know Koozma had written about my art quilt. Quite flattered that he did. I have another piece on the back burner about the Burning of the Arms which I feel is so relevant today with all the gun issues in the States. With the passing of my mother in 2014 my connection to my heritage is now limited to my one uncle and once cousin. I feel such a close connection to the spirituality of the Doukhobors without ever having been taught anything, taken part in a prayer service, or learned the Russian language. I look forward to your projects – a virtual Prayer Home is a really wonderful idea. All the best, Kate.

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