Central Alberta’s vibrant artistic heritage is celebrated in a new exhibit
A massive bear presses his square muzzle against barbed wire. Historic strongman Louis Cyr strains to lift 18 men standing on a platform on his back. And two young Hutterite girls peer soulfully into the camera.
These memorable images are all part of Central Alberta’s vibrant artistic heritage and can be seen in the display of paintings, prints, ceramics and photographs in the Kiwanis Gallery at the Red Deer Public Library.
The Rooted in the Arts II show is made up of 46 creations by Central Alberta-based artists from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Collection. The display from the 1950s to the present, curated by Diana Anderson, co-ordinator of the Red Deer Arts Council, could have been much larger, based on the treasure trove of works in the AFA collection, but was limited by gallery space.
“There’s a richness of artistic heritage in Red Deer and Central Alberta and this vibrancy is still going on,” said Anderson, who wanted to share it with the community.
While perusing artworks in the AFA’s vaults, Anderson sought out a diverse cross-section of pieces by regional artists, past and present, in honour of the city’s centennial.
She also consciously chose the output of artists who are recognizable to many local residents. She hopes some local art lovers may have even followed their careers through the decades.
Viewers will undoubtedly see familiar names — such as that of former Red Deer College art instructor Chuck Wissinger, whose ceramic demons inhabit Of Intellect, Instinct, and Myth, a sizable vessel-shaped work from 1987.
While Wissinger now works in the U.S., fellow art instructor Jim Westergard remains in Central Alberta, and Anderson believes viewers will get a kick out of his The Ranger’s New Mask wood engraving on paper.
Westergard has depicted the untanned skin on the Lone Ranger’s expansive nose after he dons a skimpier new mask.
A sense of whimsey or humour permeates other works, including Brian McArthur’s ceramic depiction of French-Canadian Cyr, once considered the strongest man in the world.
There is Dawn Detarando’s clay homage to rural life — a sculpture of rubber boots embossed with wheat decoration — and Dawn Rigby’s brass sculpture Abacus with Pears, from 1992, which is true to its title.
There’s also RDC art instructor Jason Frizzell’s oil pastel and ink on canvas Own Worst Enemy, which depicts wincing and grimacing visages under the slogan Two Faces, One Neurosis.
Anderson said this work has probably received the most public reaction — mostly negative, in keeping with the subject matter.
But part of the reason she picked pieces is for their ability to elicit emotions from viewers. “They resonate ... and if someone can’t stand a work, it still evokes a response.”
Other pieces that make a lasting impression are the haunting black-and-white Hutterite photo by Tim Van Horn and Confrontation, Mark Spowart’s 1994 coloured pencil depiction of a bear and wire fence. (A city commissionaire told Anderson he had a similar bear encounter in the West Country.)
Anderson said Spowart, who was one of her classmates when she studied art at RDC in the early 1970s, was more known for creating large abstract paintings. She was saddened to hear of his recent death.
Many pieces in the show are now part of this city’s artistic legacy, since the artists who created them are no longer around.
These include the late Ingrid Plaudis’s 1987 silver gelatin hand-coloured photograph, Dance Marathon, from 1987. There’s also Margaret Seelye’s Sylvan Lake Holiday acrylic painting from 1990. (Seelye also left the area another artistic legacy when she’d lobbied to save the Allied Arts Council.) And there’s the pastel collage My Garden, from 1991, by late artist Pat Pelletier.
But many eye-catching works were created by artists who continue to live and produce in Central Alberta, including David More and his sister Kate More, whose individual works (respectively Poppy Pink Morning and Deep Woods) share an energetic pink under painting.
There’s Shane Young’s Prairie watercolour Looking South from Antler Hill, Elyse Eliot-Los’s flamboyant I am the Dreamer, a mixed media on fabric creation, and ceramicist Shirley Rimer’s bell-like Greek Goddess of Regeneration sculpture from 1999.
There’s also Janice McEwen’s minimalist acrylic on paper Coming Storm, 1989, and Pierre Oberg’s mysterious Portal IV, 2001, made of glass, stone and metal, and featuring a cut-out male form.
Anderson has witnessed artworks spark discussions between strangers, who have shared their preferences and debated the meanings of various works in the Kiwanis Gallery.
She believes this show, with its diversity of offerings, is particularly popular. “People have been coming in droves, even during the election.”
Hopefully, viewers will leave with an appreciation of how many “fabulous” professional and community artists live and work here, she added. “Our arts scene has never been more vibrant ... and I think people forget, sometimes, that Red Deer has such a strong arts community.”
Rooted in the Arts II: The AFA Collection continues to Dec. 1. A First Friday reception will be held on Nov. 1 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. with some of the artists in attendance and musical entertainment.