Eco-artist Evelyn Roth shares secrets with Kits House

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Back in the 1970s, eco-artist Evelyn Roth was known for crocheting everything from bags and hats to full building canopies from recycled videotape, and creating a giant nylon zoo, complete with inflatable fabric animals that children could crawl inside for story time.

At the age of 77, Roth is showing no signs of slowing down.

Now based in Australia, Roth is back in Vancouver for two months, and Kitsilano Neighbourhood House is taking advantage of her presence with an event called A Day with Evelyn Roth on Saturday (June 28).

During this day, the workshop group will create a storytelling tent for use when Kits House reopens its doors in the fall.

Tonight (June 27), Roth will be giving a free demonstration of videotape crocheting at the Kitsilano Showboat at 6:15 p.m.

“Catherine [Leach], the executive director, she had this idea of a curtain or veil that would come down over Kits House that we would somehow throw up as part of the opening,” Mary Bennett, Kits House’s celebration planner, told the Georgia Straight , reached at the house’s temporary location. “And I laughed, ‘cause I didn’t know that Evelyn regularly came to Vancouver. I said, ‘that should be an Evelyn Roth design!’”

After connecting through Facebook, Bennett realized that she and Roth had many mutual acquaintances and Roth agreed to do something when she was in town.

“I’ve been a Kitsilano resident since the ‘60s, ‘70s, and I lived at 2nd and Stephens,” Roth said, relaxing in a chair next to Bennett. “At that corner block, there’s a plaque that says, ‘these are the animals that lived here with Evelyn’. My whole development as an artist has been in Kitsilano.”

Roth began working with old videotape because it’s resilient and costs nothing.

“Videotape was free and abundant and strong and made all these incredible things,” Roth said. “It’s a wonderful material for workshops and public interest. It’s a nice material for children and adults to use, to use your hands with, to experiment with.”

In 1971, Roth received a Canada Council arts grant, and used it to drive from Vancouver to St. John’s, Newfoundland. During her journey, she stopped in major cities to collect old videotapes and create artwork for the city.

Eventually, she started working with nylon. She was commissioned by the Haida people to create a 50-foot salmon, and she decided to use the material after noticing how material from sleeping bags was durable, waterproof, and lightweight.

“If you layer it, it becomes like stained glass,” said Roth. “You’ve got all these colours. When you’re inside one, you’re like in a cathedral.”

Since then, Roth has continued her career making things in both these mediums, as well as other artistic forms. For her, however, the most important part about being an artist is inspiring future generations.

“To me, the artist is like the magician,” she said. “And you’re making big, magical, wonderful things. And why not inspire children to be creative and to think.”

Roth added, “As we get on, there will be more materials or different kinds of materials that are garbage or recyclable or chucked. Let’s find ways that we can use them. So that’s part of my ongoing challenge [and] philosophy.”

For more information, you can visit the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House website.

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