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Hidden talents

Habitat for Humanity, rug hooking, musical theatre and blacksmithing

Campus and Community

By Mandy Cook

There’s always someone in your faculty, school or unit who dedicates a substantial number of their non-working hours to something interesting that you may or may not know about.

Typically, if asked, those members of the Memorial community who specialize in a particular hobby or side interest will tell you they are compelled to do so — there is a passion that drives them.

Read on to learn a little more about your colleagues in the Office of the Chief Risk Officer, Memorial University Libraries and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Holly Tobin

Holly Tobin, emergency management analyst, Campus Enforcement and Patrol, has volunteered locally with Habitat for Humanity since 2008 and internationally since 2012. She’s worked on builds in Thailand, India and El Salvador and has lost count of how many she’s worked on in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Holly Tobin on a build in India in 2015.
Photo: Submitted

One build in particular, though, will always hold special significance for Ms. Tobin.

While building a home for a family in India, she befriended Rosie, the family’s then 11-year-old daughter. Between Rosie’s broken English and Ms. Tobin’s bits of Tamil, they pieced together conversations and created a bond.

“She would work by my side on the build site and, while counting baskets of sand for the concrete, she would teach me how to say the numbers in Tamil,” Ms. Tobin recalled. “She taught me how to do some traditional dance moves and also loved to spend time braiding my hair.”

When Rosie shared that her favourite pastime was skipping but didn’t own a rope, Ms. Tobin tracked some down and presented the little girl with the gift.

Holly Tobin and Rosie skipped together whenever they weren’t working on Rosie’s new house.
Photo: Submitted

“The happiness on her face the next day made the whole trip worthwhile.”

Next up, Ms. Tobin is headed to Warsaw, Poland, for a build from Oct. 20-29, 2018. If you are interested in joining her, she encourages you to get in touch.

Ian Gillies

Ian Gillies, who works in the Serials and Acquisitions division in the Queen Elizabeth II Library, says he picked up the art of blacksmithing when he and his son discovered they could mould metal pokers into different shapes while stoking a fire pit in their backyard.

Ian Gillies is a blacksmith when he’s not working in Serials and Acquisitions in the QEII Library.
Photo: Submitted

From there, he built a small gas forge and then progressed to a coal forge in his garage at his home in Conception Bay South and another standalone forge on the Southern Shore in Brigus South.

“I am a very physical person and creative, so this is the perfect mixture of the two for me,” said Mr. Gillies. “It is something I can do and explore with my brother and my son and I love that I do it in the traditional way with coal.”

Mr. Gillies learned his craft by researching in books and, yes, YouTube videos, as well as straight up experimentation. He also developed his skills by visiting other blacksmiths in the province, taking a course at a Nova Scotia blacksmith school, and just recently, travelled to Italy to train with world-renowned blacksmith and artist, Roberto Giordani.

Ian Gillies at the Art Factory north of Tuscany in Italy.
Photo: Submitted

While Mr. Gillies’ forged creations vary, he says he enjoys making artistic items from his own imagination best. After that, he likes to make usable household items, which he sells at the Colony of Avalon gift shop in Ferryland.

“I try to recreate items that would have been made and used in the early days of the colony, everything from hooks and hangers, to kitchen items and tools,” he said. “The colony has been a great resource for research items and they discover new items every day.”

Most popular of all, though, are knives made from Newfoundland Railway spikes, which people collect for him.

“They are very usable knives, but are just as much functional art pieces as they are conversational parts of Newfoundland history.”

Some of the Newfoundland Railway spikes forged into knives by Ian Gillies.
Photo: Submitted

You can follow along with Mr. Gillies’ blacksmithing adventures on his Facebook page.

Dr. Madeleine Mant

By day, Banting Post-doctoral Fellow Dr. Madeleine Mant, Department of Archaeology, works with human skeletal remains and archival documents to investigate health and disease in the past.

By night (and weekends), she is involved in community musical theatre – something she says “kept her sane” during graduate school.

Dr. Madeleine Mant in a production of Hair.
Photo: Submitted

Originally from Alberta, Dr. Mant says she auditioned for two shows within two weeks of moving to St. John’s.

“There is no better way to make friends in a new city,” she said.

She’s been performing off and on throughout her life as part of choirs, concert bands, jazz ensembles and theatrical casts.

Some of her favourite roles include the “Baker’s Wife” (Into the Woods), “Sheila Franklin” (Hair), “Sara Jane Moore” (Assassins) and “Mrs. Lovett” (Sweeney Todd). She’s got her eye on “Dolly Levi” (Hello Dolly!) and “Dotty Otley” (Noises Off) for when she’s a little older.

For inspiration, Dr. Mant says her “ultimate heroine” is Carol Burnett.

“She performs with every cell, but makes the comedy appear effortless.”

Dr. Madeleine Mant in the recent A Nice Family Christmas production in St. John’s.
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Mant recently performed with the St. John’s Players in A Nice Family Christmas and will be part of the chorus in Rent from March 15-17 at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.

Heather Wareham

Heather Wareham, archivist at Memorial’s Maritime History Archive in the Henrietta Harvey/Math building, grew up in a craft-oriented household.

She learned to knit and sew at a young age, and her mother and grandmother both hooked rugs.

Heather Wareham’s rug hooking of Mary March.
Photo: Submitted

“I always admired their work,” said Ms. Wareham. “When I finally had time in my life to learn to hook, I took a class at the Anna Templeton Centre from Elizabeth Tucker and I was completely ‘hooked.’”

Ten years on, Ms. Wareham has hooked geometric patterns (they work well with bright colours and creating the patterns is challenging, she says), abstracts, landscapes and Newfoundland scenery.

She also likes to challenge herself scale-wise: a few years ago, Ms. Wareham hooked a rug designed by Christine Little of Encompassing Designs in Nova Scotia. At five feet by seven feet, it’s considered to be on the large size for a rug.

Catch of the Day, by Heather Wareham
Photo: Submitted

Rummaging through thrift stores to find the perfect bits of fabric to recycle into a piece of art is also part of the appeal, she says.

“I really like the idea of taking discarded clothes and repurposing them into a beautiful rug.”


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