Growing up in Saskatoon with parents who had struggled through the Great Depression taught Serena DuBois to live frugally, spend wisely and make do with very little.
“My father was a war veteran and died when I was 13 years old. I was the fourth of seven children and each of us had our responsibilities around the home; mine was to take care of my older sister who had cerebral palsy. I’d read to her and entertain her for hours with various crafts. I recall building a bedside table one day from two wooden apple boxes and using nail polish to dress it up,” she says.
Although the DuBois family was not well to do, they frequently shared what they had with others. “Mother was an extremely generous woman, hard working and very creative. She was a stay-at-home mom who babysat to earn money. On Saturdays she would bake 17 loaves of bread, another eight during the week. She cooked three chickens on Sunday, as many pies; plus doughnuts, buns, cookies and cakes. We lived in a poor neighbourhood, and I remember kids lining up at our back door asking for food. Somehow we always had plenty to eat, and we certainly never thought of ourselves as poor,” she said.
Serena met her husband-to-be, Ed Schille at the University of Saskatchewan where she was studying physical therapy and he was pursuing a diploma in vocational agriculture. Ed worked for United Grain Growers as a field representative giving them the opportunity to travel with Blue Shield Tours, a subsidiary of the company. This allowed Serena to investigate the local artisans and visit art galleries and museums.
While raising their three sons, Serena worked full time as a physical therapist, yet found time for arts and crafts. “We had very little when we first got married,” she says. “We had to start from the bottom and build up, so we were always ‘gathering’ — growing vegetables, canning, making jams, jellies, pickles, wine, bucking up firewood and refinishing furniture.”
Serena feels a sense of accomplishment in creating handmade items for the home or to give as gifts, whether it’s jars of jam, homemade soap, quilts or stained glass items. Watercolour art continues to be one of her favourite endeavours, along with quilting and cross-stitching.
Over the years she’s also done pottery, woodworking, woodcarving, pyrography (wood burning), stuffed animal and doll making, basket weaving, folk-art painting and tatting.
Serena also assists Ed with one of his retirement hobbies — constructing wooden rocking horses. While Ed does the carving, Serena prepares the mane and tail for these beautifully crafted toys.
As much as she enjoys the artistic process, Serena also derives great pleasure from sharing her creations with family and friends. The couple’s children, grandchildren, friends and other family members are often recipients of her work. “I’m always looking for something that’s unique for somebody else. For instance, if I’m purchasing fabric for a quilt, I’m thinking of whom it might be right for.
“When you’re giving a gift, I believe it should be something of value; an item that shows you really thought about that person. It’s a part of yourself — a gift of your time; a gift from the heart,” she says.
Serena is passing on her skills and love of crafting to her grandchildren ages five to nine, hoping to inspire another generation of artisans and crafters.
“My happiness comes from creating and planning — I’m always thinking about the next project,” she says.
To learn more about Serena’s and Ed’s work visit www.canadianrockinghorse.com or call (306) 933-2645. †