By Rachel Woodward, June 9 2016 —
Rachel Thomas is a Calgary artist who began working with a blacksmith in Ontario four years ago after receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts from York University. Creating armour has been her passion ever since.
“I’m using [armour] as a vessel for exploring ideas of identity and this idea that armour is supposed to be this beautiful, silver, resplendent thing, and on the inside the body edges away,” she says.
Thomas is a sessional instructor at the University of Calgary. Her course, ART 501.4: Sculpting Armour, gives students the opportunity to create their own armour and explore the contextual layers connected to the process.
“We aren’t using armour for protection anymore,” Thomas says. “In terms of traditional armour, it’s starting to be appropriated into contemporary contexts as this iconic protection, and it’s interesting that a lot of female artists are using that to talk about identity and protection — this duality between a public identity and a private identity. Because, of course, armour has two sides.”
Students are required to construct a traditional helmet as well as an armour stand to display their work. Students across various faculties are enrolled in the class.
“It’s pretty diverse and I think that actually adds to the experience of it and getting to know people outside of the department,” she says.
The course filled up quickly when enrolment opened. Thomas attributes student interest to the unique nature of the course for students compared to other spring art courses.
“There was a lot of excitement about it because it hasn’t been offered before,” she says. “I think it was this idea of learning processes that are going to be helpful in terms of technical understanding of material, but it’s also opportunity to make something really interesting and new.”
Student work will be exhibited in the art department’s Little Gallery from July 4–8. The exhibition will be a part of the final project for the course.
“The product is basically a conceptual self portrait, so they are using this icon of armour to describe facets of their identity. It’s going to be pretty diverse,” Thomas says.
Thomas hopes students walk away from the course with a deeper understanding of armour in more than just a technical sense.
“It started off with being interested in how it was built and the potential function of it. It evolved into looking at this from a contemporary art context and how it’s been appropriated in our time,” she says.
Thomas knows her course will provide students with more than a practical understanding of the armour-making process.
“I’m hoping my students will get a really solid understanding of the technical processes involved, but then also understand the ways that this can be applied to other projects and the conceptual exploration that is associated with it,” she says.
The exhibition featuring the work of students in Thomas’s class will take place in the Little Gallery on the sixth floor of the arts parkade from July 4–8.