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Hidden talents

An embroidery artist, an adventure kayaker, a beachcombing 'sculptor' and rock-climbing colleagues

Campus and Community

By Mandy Cook

When the work day is done, how do you like to spend your off hours?

Many members of the Memorial University community have hobbies or pastimes or even full-on passion projects.

Each year at this time, the Gazette features just some of the fun and sometimes fascinating activities that Memorial folks like to get up to in their free time.

Read on to learn more.

Kate McClintock

Kate McClintock is a self-taught embroidery artist by way of the internet.

The library assistant in the Cataloguing and Metadata division at the Queen Elizabeth II Library learned the craft by watching tutorials on Instagram and YouTube and by admiring hoop art on Pinterest.

Kate McClintock, a white woman in her late 20s, works on an embroidery hoop while sitting in a livingroom facing a window with sunshine streaming in.
Kate McClintock connects with hundreds of other embroidery artists around the world on her Instagram account, @kates.embroidery.
Photo: Submitted

“Strangely, I never thought to try an embroidery pattern or kit with step-by-step instructions,” said Ms. McClintock, who is from Toronto but grew up in Massachusetts and Atlantic Canada. “I just looked at the techniques and outcomes and connected the dots myself.”

She starts with a photograph or mental image and visualizes it made of thread.

This involves colour matching, using the needle to “draw” the different angles and paying attention to scale and details.

Her subject matter tends toward pet portraits, anything botanical and food.

Her all-time favourites are her first thread-painted golden retriever portrait, her cousin’s wedding flowers and a breakfast scene complete with a cinnamon bun.

She is currently working on developing locally inspired designs, particularly puffins.

An embroidery hoop with an image of a golden retriever. There is a houseplant with pink flowers in a a window in the background.
Seamus the golden retriever
Photo: Submitted

Embroidery’s appeal for Ms. McClintock is its “seemingly limitless” possibilities, she says.

“There’s tons of potential to make a special, meaningful gift for someone. Physically stitching the thread through fabric can also be very relaxing or even cathartic, depending on the day. I also think it’s neat that this art form has been around for centuries, and the basics of hand-stitching fabric with a needle and thread haven’t changed.”

You can find her work on Instagram @kates.embroidery, where she says she’s been overwhelmed by positive responses from her customers.

She says her account is “all about cheerful hoops” and likes that she could be inspiring others to get crafty and creative.

Another benefit is having a gallery to look back on the hoops she’s stitched over the past few years.

But a large part of her enjoyment is knowing she’s brought beauty and meaning to someone, near and far.

“It’s especially touching when they order a hoop as a gift, and the recipient is reminded of a special memory,” she said. “Some have told me they’ve cried happy tears! It’s incredibly rewarding to make such meaningful art for people — family, friends and kind strangers alike.”

Greg McDougall

Growing up in Calgary, Alta., Greg McDougall says there weren’t “many oceans” available to him, so he spent his time climbing mountains.

But since moving to Newfoundland and Labrador in 2020 to take on the role of chief risk officer at Memorial, he’s traded his hiking shoes for a kayak.

A first-person view of the front of a kayak in front of a large sea cave.
The view of a Bell Island sea cave from Greg McDougall’s kayak.
Photo: Submitted

He says kayaking is a way to explore the province’s coastline from a different perspective.

“During the pandemic I spent a lot of time hiking, and hiked the entire East Coast Trail,” he said. “Paddling is about seeing a different perspective looking up, as opposed to looking down. It also allows you to explore this beautiful province — the best in Canada — and see resettled communities, ice bergs and communities with no road access.”

He’s speaking from experience: this past summer he kayaked for a week along Newfoundland’s South Coast.

A white man in his early 40s sits on a rock at the top of a high mountain overlooking a small town surrounding a harbour.
Greg McDougall post-climb above Francois.
Photo: Submitted

From Francois he and his travel companions paddled into Chaleur Bay and Rencontre Bay, experiencing the sight of fjords he says “make Gros Morne look small.”

In La Hune, they went ashore and hiked the highlands, ascending the peaks and hills. From La Hune they paddled to Grey River.

“Grey River looks like the location of a Bond villain’s lair,” he said, joking about the community’s unlikely location.

The entrance into the community is small and hidden in cliffs.

It’s marked by a beacon, but you can’t see it until you are there, Mr. McDougall recalls. He says it looks “impassable and implausible.”

“And then, as you are kayaking up Grey River, it is all steep trees and then at the base of an alluvial fan [a triangle-shaped deposit of gravel, sand or silt] is the town of Grey River. You would never think it was there. The people there were beyond kind and welcoming. The people made the trip and the little communities.”

A large fish with oversized fins.
Greg McDougall sees different kinds of wildlife on his paddles, such as whales, seals, sea birds and sun fish, pictured here.
Photo: Submitted

While he says some of his favourite locations to paddle are Cape Broyle and Cape St. Francis, one of the best experiences of his life was paddling around Francois and Grey River.

Angie Bishop

Angie Bishop, a graphic designer in Marketing & Communications at the Marine Institute, has an alter-ego: Angie Bee.

A "tree" made of driftwood stands on a rocky beach with buildings slightly out of focus in the far distance across the water.
Angie Bishop’s driftwood Christmas “tree”
Photo: Submitted

The name hints at her busyness in her time outside of work, as she has several creative and crafty outlets.

A love for turning found objects into something interesting and beautiful led her to driftwood sculptures.

She spends as much time as she can absorbing the serenity of the beach in her home of Conception Bay South and other provincial beaches, collecting the wood.

“It’s so good for my physical and mental health,” she said. “It appeals to all my senses. I can walk the beach and I may not have a project in mind but when I see a particular piece, I think, ‘That would make a good [fill-in-the-blank.]'”

The uniqueness of driftwood makes the crafts one-of-a-kind, she says.

“No two pieces are the same. I love the textures, the shape, color, curvature and with some bigger woods, I like to think of where it originated from and how long it’s been drifting.”

Angie Bishop, a white woman in her early 40s, takes a selfie with a beach full of driftwood on a rocky beach and a rocky cliff in the background.
Angie Bishop enjoying some beachcombing at Cedar Cove West, N.L.
Photo: Submitted

It was during the pandemic that she built her largest project to date: a six-foot-tall tree.

Ms. Bishop says she had spent a lot of time scouring beaches and her driftwood collection more than doubled.

“It ended up being featured on the Marine Institute Christmas card. And this year, my driftwood star is being featured.”

In addition to beachcombing, Ms. Bishop thrifts and upcycles wool hats and scarves, baby clothes, rabbit fur and seal skin items.

The pieces become gnomes, either as pins, ornaments or decorative figures, that she sells at local craft fairs.

She says she enjoys how they all turn out different, with their own personalities.

“I’ve considered giving them names and adoption papers because they really feel like my kids,” she said.

A collection of handmade gnome figures from upcycled items, all with big beards, noses and hats.
Just some of Angie Bishop’s “children.”
Photo: Submitted

Up next for Angie Bee? Suncatcher pictures made of collected sea glass, likely patchwork quilts on clotheslines.

Research Initiatives and Services

In recent years, a number of employees in Memorial’s Research Initiatives and Services unit have caught the rock-climbing bug — and it is growing.

Marc Bolli, the IT manager in the Core Research Equipment and Instrument Training Network, freely admits he’ll give you a hard sell on the benefits of the sport if you are interested.

Three people hanging from a climbing wall and smiling.
From left are Marc Bolli, Amanda Crompton and Jon Canning at Wallnuts Climbing Centre in St. John’s.
Photo: Marc Bolli

The pluses are many, he says: it’s a total body workout, is inexpensive compared to many other activities, is highly social and the climbing community is supportive.

In fact, you don’t even need to have strong arms.

“Climbing is really inclusive of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels,” said Mr. Bolli, who is originally from Switzerland. “You don’t need to be physically strong or in good shape to get on a wall. You use your legs as much, or more so, than your arms. It’s an awesome way to work on your strength, endurance and cardio, all at once.”

The office has been a fruitful recruitment ground for new climbers, thanks to Mr. Bolli’s and others’ enthusiasm.

There are climbers from other units across the university who have joined in, with new people coming into the mix all the time. There is even a Memorial climbing club.

A woman in climbing gear with ropes climbing a rock face on a sunny day.
Amanda Crompton scales the rock face in Flatrock.
Photo: Marc Bolli

Locations are indoors and out. Wallnuts Climbing Centre and The Cove Bouldering and Café, both in St. John’s, are regular climbing spots, which offer training if you’re new.

Favourite outdoor locations include Flatrock, Holyrood, Manuels and Swift Current.

“It’s a beautiful way to see parts of the province from a whole new vantage point,” said Mr. Bolli.

But it’s the bonding that comes from putting your safety in another person’s hands that has a lot of appeal for the members of the group.

When on rope climbs, your partner catches you if you fall.

A man in climbing gear with ropes on a rock face with barrens and blue sky in the background.
Climbing in Witless Bay
Photo: Amanda Crompton

The required trust develops good friendships and good collegial relationships, Mr. Bolli says.

Climbing inevitably means falling sometimes and pushing you out of your comfort zone — teaching risk management skills and conquering difficult problems.

“It’s all really transferable to the office,” said Mr. Bolli. “It’s also excellent stress management. You’re too busy trying to figure out how to reach that hold that’s just beyond your grasp to worry about the state of your inbox or that report you need to finish. We finish up a climbing session feeling relaxed, excited and happy. That’s always a good way to finish off a day.”

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