The Forest Is Medicine: An Interview With Artist Anne Bell
Updated: Mar 11
Anne Bell is a local Indigenous artist from Charlie Lake, BC. She's best known for her stunning beaded moccasins and organic products. Anne is deeply inspired by Native tradition, which shows in her many creations. As a consignment artist at the Indigenous Artists' Market, we were lucky to sit down with Anne and ask her about her life, art and creative process.
Author's Note: This transcript includes brackets for laughter, as it is difficult to translate every nuance of an in-person conversation to text.
What's your background?
I’m of Dene and South Slavey descent and am a member of Fort Nelson First Nation. I grew up here in Fort St. John, but my mom is from Fort Nelson. My earliest memories are of her – And she’s always sewing in them. As soon as I could manipulate the needles, I was sewing alongside her and my aunties who lived nearby. So, my childhood was lots of visiting aunties and crafting. It’s just what we did.
And so, I’ve been crafting for many, many years. I did take a break when I had my kids though, because they would just get into things, but I’m back at it again now.
Since there's so many different types of indigenous art, why did you choose to make the specific art that you do now?
We moved out of town to live on a farm and started producing commercial beef cattle, and honey. I actually have been sewing to build up my registered herd of Gelbvieh cattle.
As for the honey, my husband and his brother were going to take care of the honeybees, but then they got stung and life gets busy so I kind of “inherited” the bees.
I really enjoyed working with them, so it wasn’t a problem. They really are fascinating little creatures and I am continually learning new things about them.
For the soaps and salves, I loved all-natural products but there wasn’t necessarily a whole lot available in town and I tried some of the DIY recipes in a magazine and loved the results. Today, I source a lot of my ingredients off the land because nature is filled with medicine. You can always find what you need in nature, if you know what you’re looking for.
I do beading and crafting because it’s therapy, in a sense. It keeps my mind calm and always busy. And it’s quite gratifying when you take a pile of materials and then see the finished product. You can sit back and say, “Wow, I did that?”
Beading was passed down for as long as I can remember in my family. We’ve always been doing it, along with moccasin making.
What does your artwork represent to you? Are there any specific themes you associate with your art?
It’s hard for me to put into words, but I wouldn’t say my craft represents any themes in particular. It depends a lot on my moods, the colourings I use, or if I’m in the ‘zone’. I have to be in a very crafty mood to get stuff out there.
Otherwise, I’ll draw something and go “yeah, no, no.” and I’ll put it away for a different day. And the same can be said with the different colours I choose in my beadwork. It’s based on nature, how I’m feeling and obviously, when I do custom orders, I get to play with the customer’s colour choices too. I try to incorporate that with the moods of the weather, myself, and the seasons.
Who or what inspires you?
I would say my mom is my biggest inspiration, because I just watched her as I grew up and learned everything I know from her. She helped our family pay the bills as well. My dad was in the oilfield and when the oilfield crashed and he was injured, it was my mom’s craft that was getting us through. Auntie Mimi, she used to be here at the Market, would come over and craft with mom lots. Auntie Theresa and her daughter Amber are others I have learned so much from. It was always a nice time, lots of visiting and so much laughter.
Can you give a brief summary of how you make your art? How would you describe your process to someone who knows nothing about what you do?
For the outsider looking in, it would probably look like complete chaos. I have multiple projects going on at any given time and they’re all over the house. If I’m riding passenger in our truck, I’ll be beading. If we’re out hunting, fishing, or camping, I’ll have beading and drawing supplies with me. So, there’s no set way I do things, it’s just always on the go.
And that goes back to earlier, when I said that my moods and the weather affect my art, because I’ll lean towards the project I’m going to be working on based on that. As an example, I just finished a pair of wraps today. It was a rainy day and I needed sunshine, so I just went with it. The wraps had bright yellow sunshine colours and I thought, “This one’s gonna look really good!” and it also helped with my mood because I don’t like gloomy days.
Do you have a favourite piece you've made?
I think my favourite would be a pair of rose mukluks I did for the Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot Program. It was the very first pair of mukluks I had completed on my own and I’m proud of that. Making mukluks is really labour intensive, I had to make lots of phone calls to my family asking, “How do you do this?” and then having to take them apart and put them back together when things didn’t look right. So, it was definitely a process and I’m glad I had lots of family to help guide me through!
Finally, do you have any wisdom you think is important for young Indigenous artists to know?
I grew up here in town, so I was off reserve. It was difficult for me going through the public school system being one of the only Indigenous students.
There’s so much negativity in youth, lots of people are ashamed of their culture as children. And it shouldn’t be that way. In my teens, I actually went away from Indigenous art because there was a stigma towards it.
I think it’s important for youth nowadays to find their pride. How do you go about that? For me, it was through getting back into my art and really taking ownership of it. I remember as a kid wearing mukluks and getting laughed off the schoolyard for them, but now I make my own and wear them with pride.