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Meet Kathryn Corbiere, the Indigenous Designer of the New NLL Cup

The National Lacrosse League recently introduced its newest championship Cup trophy.

The new NLL Cup trophy design integrates the legendary history lacrosse – North America’s original pastime created as highly revered cultural events by Indigenous peoples throughout the U.S. and Canada – with a bold and modern look fitting for the NLL, “The Next Major League.”

Today, trophies celebrate the winners – and the new design also symbolizes the celebration and thanksgiving the players and their communities gave to the Creator during these gatherings that started generations ago, inviting everyone to welcome the sacred, spiritual, and communitarian aspects of the sport, and to honour not only the winners, but all players, the spectators, and the history of the game.

The new NLL Cup trophy was designed by Kathryn Corbiere, an Ojibwe metal worker and artist from M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island. NLL.com’s Anna Taylor spoke with Kathryn this week to learn more about the process of designing and making this inspiring piece of art for the League.

AT: First question. I have to get this one out of the way first because everyone wants to know. Can you drink out of the cup?

KC: Yes you can. That was definitely one of the requirements.

AT: The players are going to be so happy to hear that.

KC: Yeah, I can imagine. And it can hold quite a few drinks, let’s say.

AT: How did the NLL approach you or find you to do this project?

KC: It kind of just came out of the blue. I received an email from Darren Sudman (a Corporate Social Responsibility consultant with the NLL). That was a year ago. And at that point I don’t think it was the intention to recreate the trophy. He was just kind of going to throw it out there and see where it went. A few months after that he asked for a concept, so it took a while to actually get a concept to him and a description. And from there the League had a few designs to choose from.

AT: How much of the design was suggested by the league and how much was your own design?

KC: All the League required was that they could drink out of it, and that they could pick it up somewhat easily. It’s got a little bit of weight to it, but that’s just given the material that’s used. It’s solid stainless steel. They’re all strong men, so I have no doubt they’ll have any issues with it.

AT: You said it started the process about a year ago. How long did it take to create the physical trophy?

KC: Well that didn’t start until this winter, near December, when they approved the concept. And then after that then I started sort of thinking, “Okay, where am I going to get this material? How am I going to do this part of it?” Because there’s a lot of steps to the trophy itself, so it took some time from the concept development to the actual completion of the trophy, let’s say three months.

AT: Can you walk me through the process of creating the physical piece?

KC: The main structure is made out of one solid piece of stainless steel, seven inches thick, so that was the kind of tricky part. I [worked with] a local machinist here, Pierre Masbou… He has a lathe large enough that can handle something of that circumference. And basically I did all these drawings and had to put on an engineer’s hat for him to create the cup on the bottom and hollow out some of the top and the bottom to eliminate the weight, because that piece itself, the seven-inch stainless steel, was 240 pounds to start. We shaved it off and we got it down to just under 20 pounds. Then I was able to create the base and the handles, which are sort of wings, two different meanings to them, that were attached to the top of the trophy.

AT: How many different variations did you go through before settling on the current design?

KC: Honestly, I would do some sketches, but as soon as they said they wanted to drink out of it, I knew it had to be a circle. And from there it kind of just led to that tapering, sort of like a delicate looking shape, but it’s so durable and strong and just something that’s kind of elegant looking. So, maybe one or two sketches to get to this design.

AT: Can you tell me about some of the design elements and if there was any Indigenous inspiration behind the design?

KC: So being in Northern Ontario, we didn’t grow up with lacrosse. But I do have family members that are Mohawk and grew up playing lacrosse, and so I’ve watched some games. So that required me to do some research, which I enjoy doing with projects because I genuinely learn a lot. And just reading on the entire history of lacrosse, and how it was created with the creation story of the mammals and hundreds of players across kilometers long, these fields and kind of both animals and people playing together. And that’s sort of what led to the tapering from the bottom to the top where the handles are, which I’m calling wings. And those represent the wings of the mammals of the game historically. The numbers of wings also represent the number of players that played when it first came into conception. The handle of the trophy itself is hand engraved, a mesh type of feel that represents the traditional lacrosse stick and current lacrosse sticks, the pockets. So when you put your hand on the center part of it, you can sort of feel that mesh that would be the pocket of the stick.

AT: Can you give us the specifications of the trophy, the height and the weight, etc?

KC: The overall height is 25 inches. The cup opening on the top is seven inches, and it kind of tapers down to a cone on the inside. The width is 11.5 at its max. And the weight is about 24 pounds.

AT: Is this the first trophy/cup that you have designed?

KC: Yes. Most of my stuff is sculptural design. Most of my works are quite larger scale, so to kind of create something on a smaller scale but hold more medium let’s say was definitely a challenge. And it’s more attention to detail versus a large piece where you got such a working area, a vast working area where this one was just kind of shrunken version. So it was very unique.

AT: What are some of your favourite projects that you created?

KC: A few of my sculptures I have. There’s one near French River along the highway. It’s kind of like a 17 foot windswept pine that you’d be able to see. I have one in the entrance of the stock exchange in Toronto. That’s more like a abstract shaped piece. I just put another one up in Toronto yesterday actually. It’s why I went down there, and I dropped off the trophies at the same time. And that one’s in another high-rise development. And then there’s a few local ones around here that I’ve done, so there’s definitely a few around.

AT: What materials do you enjoy working with the most?

KC: Out of the metals, this one was pure stainless steel and I enjoy the finishes you can produce with it and just the shine that it gives off and such an elegant look, but primarily I work with mild steel, which is just your regular steel. And generally I like to mix the two together. And I’ll dabble in some woodworking and play with stone once in a while, but it’s all primarily metal.

AT: So how did you get started in artistry and metalworking and sculpture?

KC: So I was actually a welder by trade. Where we live here, I don’t know if you’re that familiar with Manitoulin Island, but it’s quite secluded from a lot of jobs in the industry unless you want to be working in a small shop. And I just wasn’t willing to leave Manitoulin, so I kind of just started developing my own things and what I liked, furniture and whatnot, and one thing led to another.

AT: Who are some of your inspirations?

KC: Family. My grandmothers here both passed, but definitely family I’d say, number one, nature, just history of my ancestors, and that’s about it. I definitely have a lot of people that helped me out along the way that I’ve asked questions to, but they’re mainly into the trades itself, not so much in the artistic side.

AT: How did growing up Ojibwe influence your desire to be an artist and work with materials?

KC: Within my family, more so on my mother’s side, there’s definitely more the crafty side of people, and on my father’s side, it’s mostly trades people that worked in the logging industry. It’s like I’m surrounded by a mix of two different worlds where it’s like a delicate side of crafting with delicate materials and another side where it’s dealing with rugged materials. In my head I try and blend the two of my families together to create something that kind of complements each other.

My mother has worked at a place called The Ojibwe Culture Foundation for about 40 years, so as a kid I would be surrounded by art and she would buy me sketchbooks and try and get me introduced into arts, which as a kid I wasn’t really into. But looking back, that’s definitely something that I can be inspired by. [Another influence has] passed now, Carl Beam, who was one of Canada’s most prominent Indigenous artists. His daughter Anong Beam is now also an artist. So there’s a lot of strong art here. And I think without knowing, I was impacted by that deep down.

AT: Can you tell me a little bit about life on Manitoulin Island?

KC: It’s six hours north of Toronto. That’s probably the easiest way to put it. We’re the largest freshwater island in the world. From end to end, you’re about two hours give or take. Within Manitoulin there are so many lakes and hills and mountains and stuff that you could do outdoors. If you enjoy fishing, hiking, boating, there’s so much to offer here with the beauty of the landscape. And growing up here, born and raised here, I feel very fortunate. While I enjoy my time elsewhere, there’s no better feeling than coming back home and getting to do what you love to do every day in the midst of family and nature.

AT: You said you weren’t super familiar with lacrosse, but now that you have worked on the trophy, have you watched any games?

KC: Yeah, I’ve been watching the games on TSN. And it’s quite the sport! As a hockey player myself, there’s so much energy behind these guys playing this game. I’m going down to the game in Buffalo on Saturday, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing one live. And around here, it’s a growing sport as well. Younger kids are getting into the game here now.

AT: Have you figured out who your favorite team or player is yet?

KC: The team, I don’t know if I’m just hopping on a bandwagon here, but I’m going to go for the Bandits. I think next year I want to assess the teams a little bit more and pick a favorite team, but for this year I’m going to go Bandits. My dad’s never been to a lacrosse game, but he just loves sports and he’s coming with me, and I think we’re both so excited to see it live.

AT: What feelings do you hope the winners of the NLL Cup feel when they lift that trophy you made?

KC: I hope they feel pride in what they’ve done, what they’ve accomplished, and how far this game of lacrosse has come. And I hope they enjoy hoisting that cup, and they feel a sense of pride in themselves and what they’ve created and what they’re a part of.

AT: What is one thing that you would like everybody to know about the new NLL Cup?

KC: That it wasn’t made by a factory or somewhere where they just grabbed a design off the shelf and created a generic cup. I thoroughly enjoyed researching the history of lacrosse and working on my own designs and introducing different hands-on trades that were so involved in creating this piece. I’m proud to be the designer and creator of this trophy. It’s a piece of art, and I understand that art is subjective. Not everyone likes one thing and that’s totally fine. You have to be open to people’s opinions, and I want people to give their opinions. That’s just a part of art and sculpture, and that’s what this piece is. And I’m just enjoying the whole process of it.