To Linda Freeland, artwork was always more than just a piece of material or a simple photo. In her eyes, artwork was a story.
“She always wanted to hear the story behind the artwork I did in school,” said Michael Freeland, one of Linda’s sons. “My mom shared in my love of all things artistic.”
Linda, who taught 39 years at Four Seasons Preschool in Salina, passed away on August 5, 2019, after a two-year battle with breast cancer. Now, her family is using the power of art—and a story—to honor her memory and help others.
It all started when Michael’s eight-year-old son, Dominic, signed up for the Summer Art Program at the Salina Art Center. The art program, which received grant support from the Greater Salina Community Foundation, aims to provide high-quality, affordable art experiences for area youth.
Dominic participated in the “Furry Friends” class, led by instructor and local artist Shawn Delker. Students created an animal of their choice by learning to draw a pattern, thread a needle, stitch pieces together and sew on buttons.
“Dominic chose to make a little brown bird out of fabric,” said Michael. “He stuffed it and sewed it together himself. He was so proud of that little bird.”
A few weeks later, Dominic decided to give the little bird to his Grandma Linda. She was in the ICU due to complications from her cancer, and he thought it might bring her some comfort.
“When someone created something for her, it made Grandma Linda happy and put a smile on her face,” said Dominic. “I enjoy creating and building stuff for other people because I like it when they have a smile on their face.”
Dominic had no idea how meaningful his little brown bird would become—both to his Grandma Linda and to his family.
“When my dad saw this little bird, he initially thought it was a canoe because of its simple shape and brown color,” Michael said. “We all had a good laugh about this, and the bird’s name became ‘Canoe’ because of the joy it brought to us.”
Michael said Linda never let the “Bird Named Canoe” leave her side. She proudly showed it to everyone who visited. If the bird went missing from her bedside, she adamantly asked for it back.
“Canoe was the perfect size for her to hold in her hand. She fidgeted with the eye button if she got nervous and squeezed Canoe when she needed comfort,” said Michael. “It became kind of a stress ball as the days passed and the hope of her coming home began to fade.”
During Dominic’s last visit with his grandma before she passed, Linda was intubated and had to use an alphabet board to communicate. That didn’t stop her from making a very special request.
“She simply spelled out ‘make more’ and pointed to Canoe,” Michael said. “This is a promise that we are definitely going to keep.”
The Freeland family is doing just that. Along with Delker and the Salina Art Center, they will present the “A Bird Named Canoe Workshop in memory of Linda K. Freeland” on Saturday, February 1, 2020. The public is invited to visit Salina Art Center from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to create “Birds Named Canoe,” which will be donated to patients who need comfort during difficult times. The workshop is free and open to the public.
Delker said she no idea what the family was facing when Dominic was in her class.
“The story about him giving his ‘Bird Named Canoe’ animal to his terminally ill grandmother touched my heart deeply,” said Delker. “Younger children and teens have a very different grieving process than adults. Getting a chance to express grief through art can be a healthy way of healing. I find this an exciting opportunity to convey to our community the power of art in healing situations.”
The Freeland family is excited to share their story of art and healing with the community.
“We greatly appreciate the outpouring of love and support we received after Mom passed, and still do, to this day,” Michael said. “Through this event and the support of the Salina Art Center, we hope to raise awareness of our ‘Bird Named Canoe’ initiative while allowing more people the opportunity create something that may seem small, but can have a huge, lasting impact.”
Those who are unable to attend the workshop may visit The ARTery at Salina Art Center throughout February to create birds for the “Bird Named Canoe” initiative.