Karen Gummo is the artist-in-residence at a Calgary school where she works with grades K-6 as a storyteller. She uses storytelling to enrich childhood learning by teaching children about oral traditions and encourages children to see themselves as storytellers. Her stories relate to both the science and social studies curricula.
A member of TALES (The Alberta League Encouraging Storytelling) and the Storytellers of Canada, Gummo has taken her storytelling to concerts and festivals around the province – to Fort Edmonton Park, Fort Calgary, to the Galt Museum in Lethbridge, to the public libraries, radio programs, museums and churches as well as to “story cafes”. The latter are restaurants and cafes where a small stage has been set up and stories and songs are shared with patrons. Gummo knows that adults need stories just as much as children. She is part of a living storytelling community where she has been mentored by many master storytellers. They hold “tell arounds” where storytellers sit in a circle, the story stick is passed from hand to hand and all are welcome to tell and to listen. She has attended the Storytellers of Canada annual conference and performed her stories in cities such as Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Regina. She has also toured Newfoundland telling her Icelandic and Scandinavian tales.
The oral tradition in Iceland stretches back to the days of the settlement of the island by Norwegian Vikings in the 9 th and 10 th centuries when poems and the stories of the sagas where told at night around the family hearth. In fact, it was in the family home that Gummo learned to love the art of storytelling from her father who recited stories to his family, and at family gatherings. Her mother too related cherished family memories and modeled a love for story. It was Karen’s great grandfather Ofeigur Sigurdsson who came with his new wife Astridur Tomasdóttir in 1889 one year after the first Icelandic settlers came to Markerville, Alberta. He highly valued his Icelandic heritage and his efforts to honour his community were rewarded in 1939 when the Icelandic government bestowed on him the Order of the Falcon.
Karen Gummo incorporates into her repertoire both traditional Icelandic stories and stories from the Icelandic settlements in Alberta. Language and literature have always been at the core of Icelandic culture. Karen tells of Ooin, Allfather of the Norse Gods who sacrificed himself to ensure that all might gain a command of words so that wisdom would be loved and remembered.
Here, Karen Gummo is telling the Icelandic folktale “Half a Kingdom” in Regina at the 2004 Storytellers of Canada Conference. Gummo’s props include a basket where she finds trinkets and a birchbark man figure to help tell her stories. She sings small songs to make bridges between her stories.
Gummo has a great deal of experience as a storyteller and is very comfortable in front of and interacting with audiences of all ages. She cherishes the story world as a place where we can go to make deep human connections.