Melanie Bronwen Cookson was born in Lillooet, B.C. in 1972. She studied fine art at Okanagan College for two years before going to Poland in 1994 to be the first artist-in-residence at the International Artist’s Centre in Poznan. From there she opened a new gallery space in Szczecin. Naming her business Sovka (which translates to “little owl” in Polish) pays tribute to her time in Poland. She then returned to BC with an invitation to complete her third year at Emily Carr Institute.
After continuing to live and work in various places around North America, Melanie settled back in Vancouver in 2004 and was introduced to porcupine quills by an Ontario resident who brought some quills to Vancouver. They soon landed a contract with local fashion designer Richard Kidd. After the contract ended, Melanie continued to work with the quills on her own, developing dye techniques and learning traditional quillwork online while honing her own methods.
The process of quillwork takes many steps to complete, and requires time and patience. Each quill is examined closely, tipped, sterilized, and then dyed up to five different colours before being cut into beads. The quill beads must be soaked in warm water before working with them, and then flattened repeatedly while being sewn on, one by one. Traditionally the First Nations artisan women softened the quills by holding them in their mouths and then pulling the quills through their teeth to flatten them (like eating an artichoke). But there is a substance in the marrow of the porcupine quills that causes eventual blindness, so this traditional method has stopped. Porcupine represents the spirit medicine of “Innocence” in traditions of First Nations throughout North America, and while not of First Nations descent, she hopes that her quillwork pieces embody and pass on that medicine. Melanie uses recycled leather and found objects here and there in her work. The quills are sourced from road-kill in Ontario. Melanie also dabbles in up-cycled fashion design, and is a licensed and active herbologist.
Her inspirations boil down to chance, punk rock, contemporary and traditional First Nations art, and a heavy, edgy Earth vibe. Her Mother continues to be her greatest influence. Having faced and overcome many challenges including substance addiction, trauma, and compromised health, Melanie now focuses on her goal of growing her design label into a successful business that can give back to her community.