For most people, carving a brain sounds like something out of a horror movie.
But, for Tottenham sculptor, printmaker and photographer Tiffany Folmeg, it’s just another way to boost awareness around mental health while creating art.
A few years ago, Folmeg got involved with the Baycrest Foundation’s Brain Project, where she spent around 50 hours mapping out and chipping away at a 250-pound limestone brain to raise awareness around dementia and Alzheimer’s.
"Generally, when you knock it down at first it doesn't take much time…it's all like mathematics, you're just sitting there measuring,” Folmeg explained.
"It ended up going off without a hitch and was displayed at Todmorden Mills, which is across the highway from Evergreen Brick Works, down in the city (of Toronto).”
Folmeg still spends time carving brains, hearts, or other pieces of human anatomy, but also focuses on creating pendants, prints and masks.
As an artist, she’s very open about her battle with mental health and uses her art as a platform to boost awareness, eliminate stigma and advocate for others.
Folmeg is a high school art teacher and works to educate her students on these topics as well.
"Tiffany approached the Canadian Mental Health Association York Region and South Simcoe Branch over four years ago as part of her personal commitment to raise awareness and erase the stigma associated with mental illness,” said Rebecca Shields, CEO of Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) York and South Simcoe.
"As an artist and teacher, she constantly inspires by creating new ways of evoking conversations around mental health in a safe and compassionate manner. I always look forward to discovering her newest projects."
Folmeg said participating in artisan shows in Tottenham and throughout Simcoe County is a great way for her to share her art with the community while raising awareness around mental health.
She noted that its unfortunate that they’ve all been sidelined this year, due to COVID-19.
“I’ve had people from pediatrics, doctors, heart surgeons and brain surgeons who come and chat with me about their stories…I've had people who've had brain injuries or mental health concerns,” Folmeg said.
"They've told me their stories, which is really endearing to the point that my friend and I – she sometimes helps me out – we've become like a therapy tent, at times, which is really sweet because when you're a teacher you want to listen. You want to listen to these stories and I feel that its really benefited my practice as a sculptor, artist and teacher."
The communication component of sculpting and creating art is what motivates Folmeg the most, she said.
“It’s the really neat commentary that comes from it, like that they're very personal about their experiences and it really truly touches my heart strings because you realize that you're doing something for the greater good,” she said with a smile.
“Being in touch with the local community and supporting the broader community… it's really neat to be a part of that and be very communal.”
Meanwhile, a subsidiary of Folmeg’s work is the Carved Anatomy Project, which involves hand carving a fully-grown, life-sized wooden skeleton, accompanied by soapstone organs. When complete, the skeleton will be used for education about anatomy and garner donations for the CMHA.
A full-size skeleton has been purchased for the project, which Folmeg said will mirror with her carving.
When complete, she said it is hoped the piece will help to merge science and the arts together as one. The project is a long-term goal, and, in the meantime, Folmeg told The Times she’s getting lots of great practice for it through her commissioned pieces.
This past month, Folmeg carved a commissioned brain that’s heading to Russia and a commissioned heart that’s being sent to Pittsburgh.
A majority of her commissions come through her Etsy store where she also sells necklaces made up of the debris and chipped away pieces of stones from her larger projects to eliminate waste and raise funds for the CMHA.
A unique part of Folmeg’s art is the connection she has with each customer and the story behind their purchase.
Sometimes when people hear that she carves anatomy and internal organs they get grossed out, but after seeing and feeling the pieces in-person, they develop a greater understanding.
"Because I carve primarily out of soapstone, it just has a beautiful feel to it and people seem to be very enamoured and they realize its not about disgust, it's about appreciation out of what we're made out,” Folmeg explained.
She said her work is also meant to examine the incredible nature of the human body.
“The really neat thing about our body, despite if we get angry at it because we get hurt or it takes longer to heal – it heals,” Folmeg said.
“It is such a complex infrastructure that does a lot of things on its own without you thinking, so the goal for me is to continue that commentary.”
Sam Odrowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Tecumseth Times