“These are meant to be your special things that you love and every time you put them on you feel connected to them. They’re talismans you know? Maybe it’s even something that’s tucked under and you don’t even know it’s there because it’s serving a different function.” – Athena Theny
I first met Athena while strolling through the outskirts of Gastown with a friend. Her store and studio caught my eye – the walls are covered in angled wood panels, the space is small yet each surface is cleverly utilized to strategically showcase her work. Created with this exact intention in mind, her space was designed by local UBC architecture students as a thesis project. Beaded bracelets, rings, bags and pendants, headbands, jewelry and accessories are all found on display with a stretched raw deer hide mounted front and center.
Through each piece that Athena creates, she strives to reestablish that sense of connection towards our belongings, igniting that relationship which we have somehow lost along the way. What really drew me into me into Athena Theny’s work was her openness towards sharing every detail of her physical process. Through learning about her finished products, I also gained an in-depth perspective on her spiritual journey as every single element she includes in her varied pieces contains its own unique story.
A wolf tooth cast in silver and bronze is an heirloom passed down from her grandfather and this same wolf’s hide was also been tanned by her great grandmother. A killer whale tooth was passed down to her from her great grandfather and yet another talisman is from a Haida friend that passed away. Each object is carefully cast so as not to affect the original item. She explains to me the delicacy of this process and the difficulty in finding people who cast real animal pieces in such a way that it doesn’t destroy them, enabling her to continue to use the same piece time after time.
A few common themes are seen throughout her work – knots being one of the elements playing an important role in her both her decor and in her pieces. The small ‘wish knots’ are meant to represent middle eastern soothsayers traditions passed on from an Arabic friend of hers – when your future is being read, each event is represented by a ‘tie of a knot’. Each knot on your ‘string of life’ and are meant to have a say in your destiny while others are simply representations of future events yet to come.
Athena knows exactly where the animals she uses in her work have come from and she’s very involved in the process. She soaks and stretches the raw hide herself and she’s dedicated to learning the dying art of skinning an animal in order to preserve the hide to use as much as possible for her pieces. She is completely committed to preserving the natural elements of the animal and her tanning process does not involve anything that isn’t already a part of the animal’s natural state.
Athena possesses a deep sense of attachment to all of her items. Not in the sense that she seems to carry any reservations around selling them, but her intentions purely being that for those who wear her accessories create their own personal connections to her work.
“LOOK AT THIS” she says, excited to show me her new pieces. “It’s so delicious, the texture, I just love how it came out.”
One braided bag takes upwards 8 hours to finish, the Spanish braiding requiring her to weave one continuous piece. Conversation is easy and her passion for every aspect of what she creates infectious. We discuss many things – from Vancouver as a laboratory for creativity, her connection to her grandfather, the history of film, the origin of Cowichan knits in addition to a wide variety of other topics. Each new subject we explore showcases her depth of knowledge and respect for the cultural heritage and elements and experiences from her past.