Dr. Halina Bienkowski is well known for her healing hands.
Those hands, however, do more than heal her patients; they also create magnificent works of art that will be showcased during the 12th Annual Nova Scotia Fibre Arts Festival in Amherst from Oct. 15 to 19.
Bienkowski is the festival’s 2019 featured artist and her work will be showcased at her office at 158 Robert Angus Dr., Suite 100, on Wednesday, Oct. 16 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
“It’s a tremendous honour and I’m very appreciative,” Bienkowski told the Amherst News. “I’ve enjoyed living in Amherst, where there are so many talented artists in our area. They inspire me and this is an encouraging environment.”
Her work will also be on display at the festival’s headquarters at Amherst town hall.
Bienkowski, a native of Wroclaw, Poland, loved to draw as a child and later picked up oil-painting soon after coming to Amherst from Halifax with her husband, Dr. Kris Bienkowksi. She attended artist Shirley Hallee’s Amherst studio and learned the craft.
However, she found oil painting had its challenges in how to dispose of the oil paints and diluters. She later met Deanne Fitzpatrick, who encouraged her to try rug hooking.
“One day I decided that was enough of the oil painting and decided I was going to do rug hooking from then on,” she said. “It was not difficult.”
She started taking classes from Fitzpatrick in 2003 and it wasn’t long after that she began producing her own rugs that are prominently displayed at her and her husband’s Amherst clinic, their home and at other locations.
Her work has been featured in several journals, including Rug Hooking Magazine, The Medical Post and Celebration of Hand-Hooked Rugs XXII. Her rug, Murder of Crows, is featured on the front of the Nova Scotia Fibre Arts 2019 brochure.
Fitzpatrick speaks highly of her former student.
“She is a gifted human being and a gifted artist,” Fitzpatrick said. “She observes the world around her and gives it back to us candidly and with humour.
“I love going to her office and looking at her rugs. I always learn something.”
Bienkowski remains a regular participant in the annual fibre arts festival that celebrates everything fibre and often attracts visitors and participants from across Atlantic Canada, Ontario, British Columbia, the United States, Europe and as far as Australia and New Zealand.
Many hookers tend to follow a theme or vein of thought with their work. For Fitzpatrick, many of her rugs are about growing up in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. For Bienkowski, she follows the theme of faces and hands as well as nature – the flora and fauna in everyone’s backyard.
“Faces and hands say so much about how a person communicates,” she said. “You can learn a lot from facial expressions and how people move their hands. My latest work features backyard creatures like birds and nature. It’s a good combination. We may not notice the nature that’s around us, but it’s there and it’s so beautiful.”
Being a doctor, she faces a lot of stressful situations and she does a lot of things to help her deal with the stresses of her job, including reading and gardening. She finds to most relaxation from creating things.
“It is satisfying because there is no one to tell you do this or do that. There are no rules or regulations, you are the judge,” she said. “It’s the freedom I like the most. People often ask me where I find the time, but just like you have to find time to work; you have to find the time for pleasure. That’s why I do it, for the pleasure.”
Creating a rug is not something that’s easily accomplished. She begins with a thought and puts it down on paper, using the drawing skills she loved as a child, to come up with a design that is then transferred to the burlap canvas that will eventually become her newest creation.
From there, she has to find the wool she likes and the right colours (she does not dye her own wool) and then she begins to hook. She is very careful as she hooks because if she makes a mistake there is only so much she can fix before she has to start from scratch.
Some days she makes good progress and is pleased with her progress; other days, she doesn’t like what she’s doing and may not accomplish as much.
“I can make about three big rugs a year,” she said.
As accomplished as she has become as a fibre artist, she has no intentions of slowing down, adding she has a large stockpile of wool at home and many ideas in her head for future projects.
Something she has turned to is soutache. Soutache is a narrow, flat braid, a type of galloon, used in the trimming of drapery or clothing.
It is created by weaving a decorative thread around and between two parallel cords and completely covering the cores. This produces a piece of trim with braided or herringbone pattern.
It is also incorporated into items like jewelry with Bienkowski combining the braid and minerals and gemstones from around the Bay of Fundy, including items she picks up each summer at the Nova Scotia Gem and Mineral Show in Parrsboro.