Monday, March 12, 2012

ENWEYING - The Way We Speak Together: Trent Summary

With my wayward hair and often rumpled sense of style I know I run the risk of being pigeon holed into one of the less flattering artist stereotypes. Add a confession that I’m a Rob Breszny Free Will Astrology groupie and I seal it—at least in some circles.

Photo; Wayne Eardley

Photo: Wayne Eardley

There is probably a Twelve-Step Program out there for me, but I’m not ready to give up on Rob. My weekly indulgence reading his column in Toronto’s NOW Magazine rarely lets me down and heading into my residency at Trent he was spot on.

February 2: Lessons could come to you from unforeseen sources and unanticipated directions during the next few weeks, Sagittarius. They will also come in expected forms from all the familiar influences, so the sum total of your learning could be pretty spectacular. To take maximum advantage of the opportunity, just assume that everyone and everything might have useful teachings for you...Act like an eager student who’s hungry for knowledge and curious to fill in the gaps in your education. 
To bookend the residency, on my final day on campus he had this to offer:
February 17:  You’re getting closer to creating a viable method for achieving your next success. That’s why I urge you to be patient and determined as you continue to tinker and experiment. Don’t keep trying the same formula that didn’t quite work before. Open your mind to the possibility that you have not yet discovered at least one of the integral components.
It’s not like I need his endorsement to continue my work with Voices at Hand. One of my guiding principles for the project is to remain open to influences. Still both predictions made me stop and smile. Thanks for the reminder Rob, and thank you Trent for a refreshing taste of what Universities should be all about.

At Gzowski, Photos: M. Buddle 

For a number of years my work has explored the objects we choose to keep and the stories that are passed on.
My goals heading into the Trent residency were to try to get a sense of whether letter writing was still relevant and to consider the effect technology has had on how and what we communicate.     

Photo: Wayne Eardley
There was no lack of interest from students and faculty throughout the residency, in fact during my last two days in situ there was a rush on letters, and to my delight I was even asked to assign a deadline for the text messages one woman offered to transcribe for me. True to her word they arrived in my inbox before 8:00am the next morning.

As always, a few letters that were promised to me didn’t materialize. I wish I’d had the chance to see the correspondence written in shorthand from grandmother to granddaughter or the scented love letters to a boyfriend serving time in Kingston Penitentiary. Still the conversations the letters provoked assure me Voices at Hand made an impact.

I took in 381 new submissions over this residency bringing the total number of letters in the collection to 3,634. Thanks to my deadline I was able to add some hot off the press submissions to Text Messaging—they’ll contrast nicely with the notes passed in class from the 80s also populating this category.

I added five new categories for a total of 56:

·      Two letters written on Hitler’s stationary inspired the category Six Degrees of Separation. (see Location, Location, Location!) 
·      A suggestion from the audience at one of my talks and a timely submission a day later (a time capsule letter written by a nine year old donated by its now 20-something author) resulted in Note to Self.
·      A selection of letters to and from Frances Stewart (an early settler to the Peterborough area) are now found in the From the Log-house to the Rectory 1823-1830. (see Now This is Fun)
·      Far and Away contains years and years of Pen Pal letters.
·      In the Name of Progress will eventually be filled with links to letters that allude to or illustrate technological developments.

The downfall of amassing such a volume of letters is that with each new submission it becomes increasingly difficult to locate letters I want to feature. On one of my visits to the Trent University Archives the head archivist, Jodi Aoki, offered insights into general archival storage practices and the governing principles of a collection that are sure to help. 

Finding Aids—such a simple, perfect name—I need Finding Aids. It will mean re-reading every letter and generating a document to record origin, breakdown content and indicate access points, but I’ll forge on. I may discover the elusive “integral component” Rob spoke of in the process.

The sub categories I considered for AWAY on Day 5 are a start. Comprised of letters full of hopes and dreams for a new life I Had a Farm in Africa will stick, as will A Year Abroad for letters where the writer is stationed at a school or work overseas. Exchange is a keeper as well. The Grand Tour is a recurring theme as are newsy postcards or letters usually written to children; for them I’m torn between FYI (For your Information) or FYE (FYE For Your Edification).

Inspired by a series of 15 hand-made postcards all written on the same day and never sent, the sub category Feb 13, 2011 is a little quirky. I don’t really imagine I’ll find many letters written on that exact date. I hope I’ll come across others that carry the same potent sense of the time and space set aside for letter-writing.


Recently I’ve been considering ways to give context to the unorthodox archive I have amassed over the past two years. I think Voices at Hand serves as a reminder of our shared or collective humanity, but I’m aware that idea doesn’t resonate with everyone. On my final day at Gzowski College I inched closer.

Enweying is the name of the building that houses Peter Gzowski College and the First Peoples House of Learning. I’d passed and never read the sign bearing its name and translation many times over the course of this residency. Back on campus for my final guest lecture, as I wheeled my installation past the sign on way to class, by chance I glanced upwards and took in the meaning of the word and how simply and poetically it articulates a way of looking at Voices at HandEnweying is Anishnaabe for The Way We Speak Together.

Photo: Wayne Eardley 
Photo: Wayne Eardley

The Trent Chapter of Voices at Hand was hosted by Trent University Archives and Peter Gzowski College. It was made possible through the vision and energy of Jodi Aoki, Head Archivist; Dr. Melanie Buddle, Head of Peter Gzowski College; Dwayne Collins, College Assistant and matchmakers Drs. John Wadland and Colleen O’Manique.  Thank you one and all.

I would also like to extend my thanks to Rob Wilkes of Big Sky DesignWayne Eardley Photography, Annie Jaeger of Trout in Plaid and the Ontario Arts Council for their ongoing support.

My deepest appreciation goes to the many people who have shared their lives (and letters).

Yours truly,


p.s. Stay tuned. There will be another chapter of Voices at Hand later this yearI just haven’t nailed down the details yet.

Photo: Wayne Eardley

Photo: Wayne Eardley


  1. Dear Wendy: It was such a pleasure working together with you on this amazing project! Good luck with all your future endeavors!
    Jodi Aoki

  2. Hi Jodi,
    It was a pleasure working with you too. I know my time at Trent will have a lasting impact on the project. It's exciting to watch it all unfold.

  3. What a lovely blog post and nice tribute to Trent, too! Glad it went so well and it was really a great pleasure to have you here. I received lots of inquiries and positive comments about your work. Thank you for everything.
    Yours till Niagara falls,