We Are How We Define Ourselves
with Deanne Fitzpatrick
When my family and I lived in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, I had a friend with a beautiful home overlooking the ocean. In her front entry hung a stunning hooked rug with the image of a woman with her back turned toward us, completely naked. Every time I looked at that rug, I was inspired by it. Its beauty, the design, the tactful and skillful blending of the colours; it drew me in every single time. My friend told me the rug had been hooked by Deanne Fitzpatrick in Amherst, Nova Scotia, and that it was Deanne’s influence that inspired my friend to start hooking rugs herself. Several years later, we moved to Sackville, New Brunswick, which is my hometown and where we decided we would raise our three children.
Not long after settling in I walked into Deanne’s studio in nearby Amherst, Nova Scotia and introduced myself indicating that my friend had suggested that I meet her. Since then, Deanne and I have done business together, I have facilitated workshops in her studio, she has helped me talk through various problems – personal and business. Sometimes we meet on the street in downtown Amherst and go for a walk. Sometimes we meet for coffee and chat. Last time I was in her studio, I picked up a copy of the newest of her seven books called Making a Life and I was drawn to a paragraph where she describes growing up in Newfoundland where being an artist was a concept that she wasn’t familiar with as a child and how she had stepped into that title in her own life. I reached out to her to join me on Ripple Effect, to talk about embracing her identity as an artist and in true form of a conversation with Deanne we took many turns that go beyond identity and life changing moments to the seasons of life, what makes us tick, and how the ways we define ourselves change over time. Deanne began her professional career as a therapist. She enjoys asking questions and learning about people as much as I do and she loves making people feel at home. Deanne is a celebrated rug hooking artist who is recognized across Atlantic Canada, across Canada and in the United States. She grew up in Freshwater, Placentia Bay, Newfoundland and is the youngest of seven children. Her mother and both of her grandmothers hooked rugs as a pastime and as a chore of necessity. By the time she was born, both of her grandmothers had passed away and her mother had long since abandoned rug hooking is a chore of poverty. In Newfoundland, in the late sixties and early seventies very few people were hooking though there were still a scattered mat hanging about people’s back doors.
Deanne learned to hook rugs because she wanted rugs for an old farm house where she had settled with her family. It began as purely a practical craft and later turned into an art. As a teenager, Deanne began to see rugs for what they were. She marveled that a woman’s hand had pulled up every loop in a rug that lay on the floor of her sister’s farmhouse. In her mid-twenties, she went to an annual meeting of the Rug Hooking Guild of Nova Scotia where Marion Kennedy taught her the basics; how to cut her wool and how to pull up a loop and then told her to get to it. And like that, I will let this conversation unfold and let’s just get to it.
April: I had no idea that you were a therapist.
Deanne: Oh, didn’t you?
April: I did not know this! But it makes so much sense.
Deanne: It does, doesn’t it? I know. I use it every day.
Deanne: I know.
April: So did you ever practice professionally?
Deanne: Yeah, I worked at Mount A, one day a week for a few years and I worked for a couple of different companies like corporate health consultants and Health and Welfare Canada in a private practice. And then I worked at the Transition House too, in Amherst, for a few years.
Deanne: Yeah. But, uh, and so I did some there, but it was more in private practice.
April: That’s incredible. So you obviously got into rug hooking as a hobby it seems like?
Deanne: Well, I was doing, while I was working at the Transition House and, and I was Acting Director there for like a short term, maybe a year. And I would go to these meetings and I would have the rug hooking with me, like would just take it because they were like kind of casual, like it was all the directors from around Nova Scotia or something. And we’d have these weekend retreats and I would take the rug hooking with me and at some point I realized that I wanted to do that more than I wanted to do what I was doing, you know? I just, I dunno, I just felt it and then everything just sort of, I was pregnant on my son and I thought, ‘I really want to be home with this child.’ Like I, had, I don’t know why I decided that, but I did. I want it to be home with him and I thought, ‘I’m just going to start a little business.’ I borrowed two thousand bucks from my mother and I started this little, you know, supply like business out of a trunk basically, like, in my front room and just grew it slowly. But I found, I guess I was starting to find that the whole idea of talking things through, I was starting to question the value of talking about the same thing over and over again.
Deanne: And I started to think that really like I started to understand that the idea is that the idea of making something and using your hands and talking to yourself and thinking things through had a lot of value.
April: Yeah. Kind of like an active meditation.
Deanne: It definitely is. Yeah. It is. It’s very meditative, right. Yeah. You’ve done it, right?
April: Yeah. I have, yup.
Deanne: And I don’t just mean rug hooking. It could be any – I think anything where there’s hand over hand, you know? I think. And there’s research now that proves, you know, one research study I read, she talked about that whole, uh, the notion of hand over hand, which really intrigued me, but that doing that over and over again, that it increases, you know, some levels, I’m sorry I couldn’t be more be more accurate, but some levels in your brain that actually makes you feel better. And I found that really interesting. And that was with knitting. I can’t see how it wouldn’t work with, you know, crochet.
April: Yeah, no. Yeah. Any handwork.
Deanne: Any handwork. Yeah. It also builds community, right?
April: Yeah, it does.
Deanne: Community is one of the things that some people end up lacking. They’re struggling, right? Oftentimes. So, uh, and, and we all know that, we all know the value of community. So just, like, as soon as people start rug hooking, they join an online group or they join a group in their community. They’re out, they’re socializing, they’re making contacts, they’re making connections, they’re having to be empathic because other people are experiencing difficulties. So they’re not focused so much on their own difficulties. They’re sharing, they’re learning. You know, there’s a lot of things happening. There’s a lot of things happening through handwork.
April: Mmm hmm, yeah, that’s true. And what I’m really interested in is, I think it’s in your new book that you spoke about never thinking of yourself as an artist and I would love to hear that story of how you emerged, how you, how you sort of transformed in your own head. Cause I know, um, you know, for me, like I took up running in my thirties and I still don’t think of myself as an athlete. It’s just not, you know, an athlete to me has a certain look and a certain profile and I could see there’s, it’s probably a similar, maybe a similar transition that an artist was something that you had made in your head to be something other than what you felt you were?
Deanne: I grew up in a community that was, we all worked on, like, all our fathers pretty much worked on an American Navy base that was, we had civilians of course, and it was rural Newfoundland in the 1970s, right? So you know, people, there weren’t artists in our community. There was no art school. There was no, so the idea of being an artist, honest to goodness, you know, it was just, I didn’t even think there were really artists, you know what I mean? Who was Andy Warhol? Like we didn’t talk about anything, like, we don’t know anything about any things that were happening in New York at that time. Like, you know, New York with folks going to work on high steel. Right? That’s all we knew. So, um, it was something that was like far away in my mind, I guess. It never occurred to me. So you know, you were going to be a nurse or a teacher or a doctor, whatever it may be. You’re going to, you’re going to go to school, you’re going to get educated. But no one even talked about the fact that there was value in creating.
April: Yeah, I think that’s a really common Maritime value actually, you know, of hard work and kind of nose to the grindstone and that creativity is something for other people.
Deanne: I think, yeah, it probably is. April, you probably grew up with the same expectation.
April: Yeah, I sure did.
Deanne: So, and I don’t, I mean I’m not, not saying that it was a bad thing. It just was a thing. It just the way it was. So, because I love those values of nose to the grindstone and hard work. You know, I love, I love all those values, I think those values are really important. And I was saying to someone the other day, like really our generation was the first generation that I know of that really had time to consider art, you know? My parents never had time to consider art.
April: No, the choices opened up a little bit more.
Deanne: But then I went to visit the artist John Neville, who was a printmaker and a painter. And at that time he was working in Hall’s Harbour and I was talking to his wife Joyce and then this man walked in and he was so unassuming and he was so quiet, and he was dressed in a plaid shirt. I didn’t know that was him and I knew it, but it was just like this feeling of ‘oh, artists’, you know, it was, it just confirmed to me, ‘artists are just regular people who act like artists. They’re just regular people who make stuff.’ And the more time I spent with artists, the clearer that was, right? You know, because we, especially Maritime artists, like we’re just, you know, just regular working people. And I think Mary Oliver, the poet said that, you know, she in a, in an interview that I listened to, she talked about how she loved going to the general store because there was this, like, men who worked there would come in and ask her, ‘Oh, how’s, how’s your work going?’ Like, oh, it was like, she was really working too, like, they were asking about her poetry, you know what I mean? And so I started acting like an artist. I just started making stuff. But I did other things too. Like I started reading books, like Letters to a Young Poet or you know, the books that talked about what it is to be an artist. Emily Carrs’ Hundreds and Thousands. And uh, you know, I started reading and I started going to galleries and just doing the things that I thought artists must do. And then I just became an artist. I’m sure I’m an artist now. I mean there was a long time when I wasn’t sure.
April: Yeah. So it’s almost like kind of trying on the clothes.
Deanne: It’s like kind of trying on the clothes. It’s like, you know, but being, trying on the clothes, but being really comfortable in them.
Deanne: And I, and I don’t walk into a room and say, ‘Oh, I’m an artist.’ You know what I mean? Like it’s just like, that’s just my job. But it is also who I am.
Yeah. It is. There, there was a shift in identity. But the nice thing I think, and the important thing about being an artist, for me anyway, is really being in touch with my roots. So, and there’s a shift in identity, but knowing that, that little picture of the girl, you know, standing on the, you know, backstep in Freshwater is essentially all I am. Right. And that’s really who I am and all I am. So, you know, like, so it’s a shift in identity without taking on notions. So, yeah. And I really started to feel like an artist even when my kids were at home and I would use words like studio, like I would call my back room the studio. I felt it was pretentious, but I thought, ‘I’m going to use the words because I have to. Artists work in studios and that’s your studio.’ And we still call it the studio. And of course my kids never knew any different. You know, I mean, kids just accept whatever you say. They’re so great.
April: Yeah, that’s right.
Deanne: But you know, they love you, your kids, when they’re little. Your kids are still little, aren’t they?
April: Well, they’re less little.
Deanne: Do you feel like an artist?
April: Um, no, I would not consider myself an artist. No, I, you know, I actually did apply to go to art school once upon a time and I ended up in engineering school.
Deanne: Good maritime value.
April: Yeah, absolutely. And you know what? It was largely because I remember my father telling me, ‘What good is an art degree going to be to you compared to an engineering degree?’ And that shaped everything, that changed everything. Like there was, I knew I wouldn’t have, sort of support behind me and I couldn’t really face that.
Deanne: Yeah, I can understand that.
April: So yeah, I went to engineering school because that’s, you know, that’s a good steady job with a good paycheck and…
Deanne: You know, it has served you well.
April: It has served me very well. Yeah. In business, that’s for sure.
Deanne: Yeah. I would say in business and also in like in chemistry and do you know what I mean? In, in procedures and how to do things and everything has art in it, right? So engineering to me is, to me engineering has a very, I know that you have to be, I would assume that you have to be fairly rigid about certain things, but I think that good engineers are very artistic.
April: Yeah. You have to know the rules well enough to know when it’s okay to bend them. And that’s what makes a good engineer. Yeah. And thinking through theories, for sure.
Deanne: You have to really be thinking of the possibilities and that’s all art is just taking an idea and thinking of all the possibilities for it.
Deanne: I also think about this nun who was, we went to Catholic school, and this nun who used to go paint and she was the only example of anyone I knew who did like any art sort of as any adult who did any art. Like I knew lots of kids who drew and stuff, but, and her example of going out on the track like by our house, by our school to be by herself and paint was so unusual to me. But that unusualness as a child, when I wanted that myself as an adult, it made it less strange. There she was, as an example. You know, I, I think that there’s a lot, and I, and I never really related well to her or had any connection, but she was an example.
April: Yeah. I was just going to ask actually if, if you ever spoke to her about it?
Deanne: No. No, I don’t think so. And I never saw her again. She was in, she was in, she was a Principal at our school for a couple of years and, but she did have an art class. Like we got to have art class while she was the Principal and I loved art class. It was so much fun, you know, just that, those big blocks of colour and the chance to, the chance to, to go down into a room that was just all about art. Like that was, you know, we only had that for a couple of years, but I still can see the dust, like, in the light, on the white newsprint, you know? I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so beautiful.’ But it was years later. It was probably, that was the first point I remember. And then years later I went to Newfoundland, uh, to the outports in Newfoundland with my uncle Donald. I went to this place called Paradise where my father had grown up and he had told me stories about, and, and there was no other kids there, just me and my first cousin and, and uh, I was alone a lot. Like I was walking on the hills and just walking around and, and I thought that – I was 15 – and I thought that that was like another sign that, ‘Oh, I like solitude. I like doing things. I like quiet. I like not much happening.’ I never knew that, you know, I always thought I liked a lot happening, a lot of action, a lot of people around. But I was out there for a couple of days and it’s just me and my cousin it was quiet and we were staying in this house with these really elderly people who had kept a house in this place that was abandoned, you know, and, and I was writing the other day and it was like a foreshadowing of what I really wanted out of life, but I didn’t, it was like the first glimpse that, ‘Oh, I, I’m really happy with a quiet life.’ But one of the first times where I really saw how beautiful the place I was living was.
April: The landscape of Newfoundland is special.
Deanne: It’s unique, beautiful. It is.
April: It’s wild. And it is. Um, yeah, like you said, it’s unique. I know every time I go, I’m inspired.
Deanne: Yeah. Yeah. It’s really, really, it’s strong and terrible and beautiful, and rough, soft you know? It’s so many different things. It’s like, you know, and then of course the water is such a force. The water is very different than the water here.
April: Yes, it is. Yeah. Yeah. I would agree with that. I have one picture I took on the, on the South Coast, when I was there in 2001. I was there for a month in Grand Bank, actually, doing, um, I was working on the water system there. I was 20 years old and staying in a fifth wheel travel trailer for my job, doing tests on the water system there. And on Sunday I would take myself for a little drive around the peninsula and I took a picture. Um, there were, you know, you can see across the South Coast kind of mountain range and I have one picture, back when we still printed photos on paper and I, you know, I don’t have a negative or anything like that and I must have, I have rug hooked that scene, I have painted, I have cross stitched it. I have turned it into everything. It’s the picture I just keep coming back to because I want to perfect it. I want to remember it because I don’t know that I’ll ever get back there. But again, like you, it was a time I was all alone there for a month with the exception of, you know, the guys who worked on the town crew for the Village of Grand Bank or the Town of Grand Bank who were wonderful to me. Um, but yeah, it was just such a nice time of kind of figuring out what I was capable of because I was out there all alone had to get this project done.
Deanne: So that was one of your pivotal periods?
April: Yeah, it really was. Yeah. I mean, I’ve got a lot of them too. I could, I could probably sit here and talk for four hours about, you know, times in hindsight that I realized I had just turned a few degrees in another direction. You know, if you take the time to kind of reflect.
Deanne: We’re turning now, you know, April? And like we’re still turning. That’s what I like about life is about every 10 years we change significantly, I think. Every 10 years there’s a, I, for me anyway, like every decade…So, so like we’re developmentally, we have stages, right? So there’s that, right? But then also there’s, there’s like the people we meet, the little influences, and that doesn’t stop, you know, it happens at 20, it happens, that can happen at 35 it can happen on 67. It can happen at I, you know, I’m hoping it’s happening to me now. I’m 54 I hope it’s happening at 54 like I want it. I know it’s happening because I know I’m doing some things like we’re doing this year long masterclass online and that’s changing me. Like I’m teaching other people about, I’m teaching other people how to act like artists, you know, how to become artists and we have a really large group and that’s changing me.
April: What do you think is the hesitation for people to step into those identities? Do you think it’s a self-esteem thing? Do you think it’s a…?
Deanne: I think it has to do with the notions of what those things are, right? And also, yeah, it might have did something to do with confidence. There might be a confidence level to us, but I, I think a lot of times we have notions about what an athlete is, right. You know, an athlete is, you know, Michael Jordan or you know, that’s so we get notions right as opposed to sort of thinking there’s a whole range. So that’s what I think it might be. But for me, that’s what it was.
April: But that’s true. I mean, if you do something, you are that thing. It’s that simple.
Deanne: So, yeah, it is that simple. Yeah, it is.
April: And I know I have stopped myself from using those labels because I didn’t have the right education or I didn’t have the right experience or I wasn’t getting paid for it. And so therefore it’s not, it’s not real. It’s just a thing that I do. It’s a hobby. It’s a,
Deanne: Yeah, like Alden Nowlan, you know, the poet? He, he wasn’t educated as a writer. I mean, poets don’t go to poet school, you know, like there’s, there’s so many good examples of people who just did beautiful things just by doing them. So, you know…
April: What do you think the single biggest impact you’ve had on the community has been in your life as an artist?
Deanne: Like writing probably has what is what reached a lot of people. So my blog, you know that I did for years, I woke up one Christmas one, like around New Year’s, and I said, ‘I’m going to commit to doing this every day.’ So I have this huge blog that’s on my website and I’ve written seven books, I think, about rug hooking. So I think that was, that affected people and was able to reach people and, and my communication, through YouTube or whatever. I think that’s probably the impact. And it sort of made people feel like, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ Yeah. So I think that is probably, I mean I hope that’s the impact that I had is that I made people feel like, ‘She can do what I can do it’. Yeah, I hope so. I don’t really know. You never really know what your impact is.
I’ll tell you a little story. Can I?
April: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Deanne: Okay. So I work with, like, there’s about five of us work together at the studio and one of them is a graphic designer and I’ve always wanted one of those really thick, nice business cards, you know? But she was making me this business card and she said, ‘Well what do you put on the front of it? Like, what are you?’ And I said, ‘Well I don’t know. I’m a writer, I’m an artist, teacher.’ She said, ‘You’re a mentor?’ ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘yeah, I guess.’ And, so I put artist, writer, teacher, mentor, entrepreneur, right? Because I’ve got the women’s clothing store and I got the card back and it’s beautiful, right? It’s so beautiful. But I could not give that card to anyone. It did not feel, right? So I was carrying that card around in my wallet.
I had like 200 of them or something, you know? Well, that’s a lot. So, I was carrying that card around in my wallet. And I’m out to Breakfast at Brittney’s like this little breakfast place in Amherst and I take it out and I show it to my husband and I knew there was something wrong with it, right? But I didn’t know what it was. I just, I just wasn’t feeling right, but I was like holding myself together. And I said, ‘What do you think? Oh, this is my new, what do you think?’ He said, ‘Oh, full yourself, aren’t you?’ And I laugh and you know, I am like, ‘I love what I do, and I’m excited about what I do’
April: That is the most Maritime expression to say ever!
Deanne: I know. I know. I know. But this is not, but I didn’t, I didn’t, okay…I wasn’t feeling it, you know? I didn’t feel, I didn’t feel that card. I didn’t feel that was really me. It’s not really how I think about myself. Well, it is how I, I think about myself, but it’s not how I speak about myself. Anyway, so he said, well, I said, ‘Well, I am all of those things, Robert!’ And he said, ‘Yeah Deanne, but, if you’re a mentor, that’s for someone else to tell YOU that you’re their mentor, not for you to tell them.’ And I thought, that is a really good point, you know? Who’s your, like, we choose our mentors, we don’t tell people I’ll be your mentor. We, I can mentor you if you want, maybe? But no, you know, like mentors or something, a mentor is something that you seek. And, and I thought, I said, and of course at the moment I just kinda, I don’t know, I got kinda crusty, and said, ‘I dunno, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I think it’s good.’ And that really rang true to me what he said. And it isn’t because I don’t believe myself to be all of those things or isn’t because I don’t believe myself worth those things. But I don’t really need all those labels. I’m just Deanne, really. That’s who I am. I’m that little girl from Freshwater who didn’t know anything about being an artist. I’m a woman who’s, you know, raised children, and a mother. I’m a woman who’s built a business. I’m a woman who’s, you know, I’ve done all those things, I know that. I don’t need to write it all on a card and I don’t need to. And so I just threw all those cards in recycling yesterday and I had a new card made and it just says Deanne Fitzpatrick Create Beauty Every Day.
April: I love that.
Deanne: I love that too. And that’s what I want to be. I don’t want to be, you know, and so, so I was a little like, I didn’t know what to write on the card and we were just trying to, you know? And I just want to be somebody who makes beautiful things and helps other people make beautiful things. And if someone looks to me and sees something that they can, that I’m doing that makes them more able to do what they do. That and my mother-in-law, you know, my mother-in-law said, ‘Dear, we are here to be good to each other.’ And to me that is the ultimate, that is the ultimate wisdom in Buddism. Really like, she was like this, she was Christian too, but she was like, oh, well, I always think of it as a little Buddha saying to me, you know, ‘We are here to be good to each other.’ Why are we here? And I always say, ‘Well, we are here to be good to each other.’
One of my favourite takeaways from this conversation is how Deanne consciously cultivated her identity as an artist starting on day one as a hobbyist rug hooker at home with her small children and how that has allowed her to really step in to her role in the community. As a studio owner and a small business owner, as the author of seven books, it really does show the possibilities of what we can become when we decide what we are. Every conversation I have with Deanna is amazing. She is always so approachable and so authentic and she’s always up for a laugh, which I enjoy so much. As you could tell from the audio quality, Deanne was actually traveling while we were recording this podcast. She was NOT doing the driving. I just want to point that out for safety’s sake. A huge thank you to Deanne for joining me today. You can find links and show notes at podcast.anointment.ca. Subscribe to Ripple Effect where ever you enjoy your media. You can find Ripple Effect on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and Spotify. I’m your host, April MacKinnon, join us again for future episodes. It’s been such a pleasure being with you today.
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