A gust of January wind took down a branch of our beloved Kogawa cherry tree this year. This special tree is the main focus of Joy Kogawa’s children’s book, Naomi’s Tree, in which it became a symbol of her desire to return home after the Japanese Canadian Internment. We couldn’t have this incident remembered as a sad story because there have been enough of those, so we made it a call for wood artists instead.

For the month of April, in sync with the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, we will publish profiles of the artisans currently working with wood of the downed branch. Stay tuned for a show-and-tell of completed pieces later this summer!

Artist Profile: Kjerstin Mackie

Tiny Dolls from the Kogawa Cherry Tree

Retired textile conservator and chaplain at First Unitarian Church in Victoria, Kjerstin Mackie makes the most amazing wooden dolls. Most often these dolls are inspired by Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, a children’s novel by Rachel Field that won the 1930 Newbery Medal for excellence in American children’s literature, told from the point of view of a tiny six-and-a-half-inch doll named Hitty (short for Mehitabel). Hitty was carved from wood in the 1820s and travelled around the world, through many different owners, and she has many tales to tell. Hitty’s story has been reimagined and retold over the years by other writers, including Rosemary Wells, Susan Jeffers, and Jody Provost. The story is also well loved by dollmakers, whose wood creations all must be six-and-a-half inches tall and no taller!

Kjerstin Mackie, Wood Artist

When Kjerstin Mackie heard that cherry wood for carving new dolls might be available from the downed branch of the Kogawa cherry tree, she emailed right away. Kjerstin remembered reading Joy Kogawa’s Naomi’s Tree and thought that maybe this book could also inspire new tiny wooden dolls.

In Joy Kogawa’s children’s picture book Naomi’s Tree, “Naomi played with her dolls and had tea parties in the shade of the tree.”

In Obasan, Naomi longs for her dolls after evacuation and, when she realizes that the doll she left behind on the train is not coming back, she learns a sad and wrenching lesson about loss and acceptance.

“I have always loved dolls, seen them as friends. A tree’s broken branches cannot come back, but I plan to make a doll friend that will be created from a tree friend,” Kjerstin said. “I deeply appreciate the trust of Kogawa House in giving me a way to help remember friendships that live on after heartbreak and loss.”

Click on the Gallery to see some of Kjerstin’s work.