Don Russell – CAFKA

Don Russell – Stone Clay and Fire: Making a Circle

rare Charitable Research Reserve, 1679 Blair Rd, Cambridge
Produced by CAFKA

For CAFKA.18 artist Don Russell has proposed to build a 20′ diameter clay circle in the RARE Charitable Research Reserve. The artist will dig an 8”deep by 8” wide trench in the middle of a meadow on a hill overlooking the Grand River valley.. The soil will be carefully extracted and examined for any artifacts that may be present. Once the trench is complete it will be filled with clay, level with the ground. At this point an inner and an outer ring of stones will be placed around the clay. The space between the rings of stone will create a cavity which will serve as a fire pit. On June 21st the wood will be placed within the circular pit and set alight for an 8 day period. Once the project is complete and the fire is doused on June 28th, the stones encircling the ring will be removed revealing the baked clay circle set in the earth. The meadow will return to its usual splendour but the clay circle will “ghost” itself through the flora for many years. Stone Clay and Fire: Making a Circle was conceived by the artist to act as a point of connection between Indigenous and settler populations through creating a safe and sacred space in which people can come together. The inspiration for the project came as a result of research the artist was doing into pre-contact Indigenous village sites found within the Grand River Watershed and the various trails that connected those places.

Due to increasing resource extraction and other forms of human land use in the area there have been important Indigenous sites and objects destroyed and lost. However, despite persistent development, these ancient trails and excavated objects found in the region, such as arrow heads, spear heads, clay pot remnants and chert scrapers, continue to testify to the presence of Indigenous people and their descendants who are still here and very much alive.

The finding and reclaiming of historical Indigenous sites and objects is a way forward in recognizing the link between First Nations and the history of this land and its use. Don Russell wants to connect to the past by creating something today in the same spirit as those forgotten sites and objects. The RARE Charitable Research Reserve currently occupies the land at the confluence of the Speed and Grand River, which has always been an historical area for First Nation Peoples and serves as a fitting area for the project.

Stone Clay and Fire: Making a Circle is a continuation of Don Russell’s interest in land art projects reflecting regional histories. His most recent land art project, Circle Mound (2016), at the Art Gallery of Guelph, serves as a gathering place for all community members as well as a reminder of Guelph’s history of indigenous peoples within the region. Stone Clay and Fire: Making a Circle was born out of the idea that a gathering place will foster community acknowledgement of Indigenous spaces within the urban setting.

Don Russell

About the artist
Don Russell grew up in the bayside community of Stephenville, Newfoundland, he identifies as Mi’kmaq (Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation, Newfoundland) and Acadian French. Russell has practiced painting and sculpture for over twenty years. He is a graduate of the University of Guelph’s School of Fine Art (1995) and of the Dundas Valley School of Art’s postgraduate program (2002). Russell lives and works in Cambridge, Ontario and maintains a studio in downtown Guelph.

Illustration above: Don Russell, Stone Clay Fire, concept drawing.
Right: Don Russel. Photo by Vanessa Tignanelli.
Produced by CAFKA
Stone Clay Fire is made possible with the support of Region of Waterloo Arts Fund