Pat Bruderer is one of a few current birch bark biting practitioners and today, she introduced the art to the students at Alexis Park Elementary.
The students in grades 4 and 5 started with a sheet of paper, folded into quarters, and then drew a simple pattern in one corner. They were taught how, when folded, patterns can transfer to the whole sheet, creating an intricate design. The students then applied their newly learned skill to small pieces of birch bark.
“Birch bark biting teaches mathematics and develops spatial reasoning,” said Bruderer. “The artist has to take their artistic concept, and fit it into a specific space, sometimes breaking it down into quarters, or even as small as sixteenths.”
Birch bark biting involves making careful bite imprints into a single layer of birch bark from the birch tree. The bark is taken off trees that are free of knots after a tobacco ceremony in which the harvester asks forgiveness for what he is about to take. Historically, birch bark bitings were used to create beadwork patterns on clothing and moccasins, to share stories and to record ceremonies.
As the students carefully unfolded their pieces of birch, they were amazed how their tiny bites made beautiful patterns; sounds of awe and amazement filled the classroom.
During Pat’s time in Vernon, she will have introduced nearly 500 students to the art of birch bark biting. “I have always felt great responsibility as a carrier of this valuable art form,” said Bruderer. “I strive for it’s preservation, and for the teachings that it holds.”