Bogs, bodies and art

The visual arts have always been a way for Kathleen Vaughan to engage and understand the world. Vaughan, a third-year Faculty of Education PhD student and a visual artist, recently completed a series of mixed media works on canvas and linen entitled The Bog Series, inspired by the ancient remains of the “bog people” unearthed in northern Europe.

Right: Kathleen Vaughan

Vaughan never imagined that her Bog Series would be the subject of so much interest. Her first gallery display at the Galerie Montcalm in Gatineau, Quebec, last spring garnered a great deal of attention. Vaughan is now working with Dominique Laurent, curator and director of the Galerie Montcalm, Dutch artist Karel Zijlstra, and Netherlands embassy officials to put together the arts exchange that will see her exhibit travel to Europe this fall. It will go on display in the Netherlands in association with the international archeological exhibit The Mysterious Bog People, which will complete its world tour at the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands (Sept. 6, 2004, to Jan. 3, 2005). 


Above: A mixed media work created by Kathleen Vaughan and inspired by the bog people of Northern Europe

The Mysterious Bog People, which was displayed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in the Ottawa area last year, is the first international touring exhibition to showcase the wealth of precious objects deposited in the bogs of northwestern Europe over the course of 10,000 years, and to explore the reasons why these riches – and human bodies – were placed in the perilous wetland environments. Archeologists believe that the reasons were spiritual in nature: that the objects were placed as offerings and the bodies as sacrifices, a gesture to the spirit world for wishes sought or gratitude expressed.

Vaughan’s Bog Series, a cycle of mixed media works on canvas and linen, incorporates life-sized photographic images of Iron Age figures, full-scale drawings from models, textile elements, and highly textural paint and wax. “The series is a visual and visceral celebration of the life-death continuum and an exploration of the connections that our shared human corporeality allow us to build between one another,” says Vaughan. She developed the series as a part of her Master of Fine Arts thesis Modes of knowing and artistic practice: of beauty, bog bodies and brain science. In exhibition and discussion, the series also shows how the visual arts can promote and stimulate both classroom- and community-based learning.

Vaughan’s interest in the bog people was sparked by photos of bog bodies that she saw in an anthropologist’s account of their unearthing – and by stories of their willingness to be sacrificed to an earth goddess for the benefit of their communities. “The beauty of the photos of these bodies moved me, as did the mysteriousness of these individuals’ deaths and the value systems of their pre-literate cultures,” says Vaughan. “The more I researched the bog people’s late Iron Age cultures, the more their world-view seemed a much-needed complement to our post-industrial ethos.”

Vaughan is herself very curious to experience the response to her Bog Series in the Netherlands, where bog bodies are as much a familiar part of history and folklore as they are the “bogey man”. To view samples of Vaughan’s work, visit her Web site at

More about Kathleen Vaughan

Now in the third year of her doctoral degree, Vaughan’s present dissertation, Finding home: Knowledge’s, art and the local environment will use text and visual arts to explore the benefits of local knowledge, linking educational and cultural theory. She will relate these concepts to her own process of coming to know her own Toronto neighbourhood. The premise of her research is that individuals may “find home” through immersion in and learning about local environments, particularly as expressed through hands-on engagement with the visual arts – with the texts and images of collage.

Vaughan’s research and artistic works show how learning can be enhanced through the visual arts. As artist-in-residence for the Faculty of Education, Vaughan has worked with close to 500 student teachers creating masks that reflect teacher identities; collages that portray the journey towards teaching; and textile projects that embody philosophies of teaching for social justice. She has also worked with more than 2,000 Toronto-area elementary and secondary school students as an Artist in Education for the Ontario Arts Council and as an artist-teacher for the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Learning Through The Arts initiative.