|Porcupines represent ‘innocence’ in First Nations traditions but for Melanie Cookson they are also the natural materials she uses when creating the jewellery and purses for her fashion accessory line, Sovka Art and Design.
She enjoys the challenge of working with porcupine quills but equally enjoys the spiritual concepts connected to working with animal materials.
“I feel that my work can embody some of that innocence,” she says. “In a way, I feel that the medicine is passed on to the owner of the quillwork which is what I’m thinking about while I produce the pieces.”
|Cookson makes quill earrings, pendants and purses but also creates herbal skincare products from B.C. wild plants as well as plant pressing art and embroidery.
Cookson’s work is inspired by ancient artifacts, landscape, rocks, botany, the art of the Northwest Coastal First Nations and world famous Canadian artist Bill Reid.
Sovka is Polish for “little owl” and that has significance for Cookson as she had her first solo exhibition in Poznan, Poland, while she was an artist in residence there. “Owls symbolize the dark mysteries of life for me without being too macabre,” she says.
She recalled a strange experience with owls many years ago and it led to her learning about the basic concepts of spiritual animal medicine. “Ever since then people give me owl everything – figurines, pyjamas, pendants, dolls, cups and cookie jars.”
For those interested in Sovka beauty kits, they include a corked glass vial of pure green clay used for facials and spot treatments as well as an enamelled pillbox containing salve made from fresh plant compounds. It’s used for lips, hands, dry spots and wrinkles but also has specific medicinal properties. Also included is a perfume vial of Sovka’s signature fragrance oil which is a blend of essential oils, coffee and flower essences produced from tree buds and medicinal plants from the B.C. wilderness.
Cookson describes her line as “genuine, edgy and timeless.” Her target audience is anyone who wants to own or give away something original, genuine and long-lasting.
“The materials I use are mostly found, or recycled, things that are given to me or I have kept around for years,” says Cookson. “The quills are ethically harvested in Ontario where I bought a quantity of them several years ago.”
She developed her own dye methods while working with a friend from Ontario and hand-dyed and hand-cut the beads herself but Cookson’s idea of real success is “creating things that people keep for a lifetime and then pass on to their loved ones.”
Cookson studied fine arts for two years in Kelowna at Okanagan University College before attending Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. She also got her herbology license from Burnaby’s Dominion Herbal College in 2002 while living in the Kootenay Valley.
“I love B.C. landscape and the history of all the people past and present. Although porcupines are an Eastern species, using quills is my way of honouring the First Nations that are part of my own past and present landscape,” she says. “I have had women from First Nation’s families ask to buy my quillwork for their own mothers, which really struck me and made me sit and contemplate it for hours.”
Cookson is a bit of an anti-consumer when it comes to mass-production but now feels like there may be a place for her in fashion. She believes clothes and accessories can be an emotional extension of ourselves. She loves comfy knits in natural fibres, vintage items such as her metallic gold cardigan and clothes with meaning like the fishing sweater her mom knitted for her dad before she was born.
“Quills are challenging enough to work with that I aim to elevate my work to a couture level someday and work with other designers and really push the medium to the max as art and fashion,” she says. “I see huge potential that will take years to master and produce which excites me.”
The Sovka line can be purchased at:
One of A Few (Gastown)
Virgin Mary’s (Commercial Drive)
Flaming Angels (Main Street)
Cookson also sells her custom work out of her home and online through Facebook. Search under the name Sovka or contact her through her own personal Facebook page.