Pulling at threads: Artist explores identity after adoption

Shannon Peck was given up for adoption as soon as her mother was legally allowed to sign the paperwork, 11 days after her birth.

Now, at 47 years old, the Chemainus based artist is connecting with others affected by adoption through a textile art exhibit in Duncan.

"I think, perhaps, because I've been very vulnerable and open in what I've been presenting to people, people have felt safe in sharing their experiences with me."

Peck says she lived an "idyllic" life, raised as the daughter of a logger near the remote shores of Nitnat Lake on Vancouver Island with her adopted family.

She didn't think she'd been affected by the experience until she was forced to address issues in her personal relationships.

"I was making the same mistakes over and over," said Peck.

Redacted files 

She started searching for her birth mother in 1996, when the B.C. government changed the adoption act to release birth records to both parents and children.

She was given about 40 pages of redacted files from social services and learned that her birth mother had applied for a veto.

Peck wasn't able to learn her own surname or any information about her birth mother's identity.

Her biological father's name was not listed on the birth certificate or in any of the paper work — but beyond the redaction, the documents revealed personal connections that Peck holds close to her heart.

She says what she most loved learning was that her father was described as having a "happy-go-lucky" personality.

"I love that, because I feel like I have a happy-go-lucky-personality. Although I'll probably never know who my father is ... I feel like that's my connection to him."

Like mother, like daughter

The mixed-media artist has worked with thread — textiles and sewing, since she was a child.

While weaving together her own story, she discovered her birth mother also loved to sew.

About two years ago, Peck reapplied for her adoption records because the ones she was originally given were low-quality photocopies.

The new forms included a line that was supposed to have been redacted but was apparently missed.

It revealed the surname she was given at birth. Combining that with the power of online genealogy records and details such as birthdays and physical descriptors included in the paperwork, she was able to track her birth mother to the Victoria area.

She says she wrote hundreds of letters she never sent until this past fall, when she finally put one of them in the mail.

"I told her I wasn't going to show up on her doorstep but I just wanted to tell her I had a good life and I wanted to thank her ... I haven't heard from her and I'm not surprised by that. She's had this secret for 47 years and that's probably not an easy thing to let go of."

Peck's exhibit Your Daughter is in Good Hands will be on display at Portals at the Cowichan Valley Arts Centre until April 26.

With files from CBC's All Points West