March is art month


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I have been working toward two exhibits that open in March. An artist’s life is odd on more than one level. We can send out submissions and get polite rejections after polite rejection, and then two exhibits are accepted almost simultaneously. No complaints, though.

At least I am not having to produce madly for both exhibits. The exhibit that opens first, Illuminating the Diary of Alda Dale Randall, will be at the Okotoks Art Gallery in southern Alberta from March 3 to April 7, 2018. It was originally mounted in the Provincial Archives of Alberta’s exhibit space in 2016, and I am thrilled to see “Dale” travel to Okotoks. I wrote about that exhibit in previous posts on my blog but I will be writing more posts that are specific to the Okotoks venue.

The exhibit that follows closely on the heels of the Okotoks exhibit is Regarding Mary. It is at the Bleeding Heart Art Space in Edmonton from March 10 to April 7, 2018. It includes a few pieces that were in the SkirtsAfire festival last year at the Nina Haggerty Gallery, but I have been in the middle of a creation storm in my studio for Regarding Mary, so watch for posts about that too.

Enough for now – I need to get back to Mary in my studio.

Marlena Wyman’s studio


Posted by Marlena Wyman



“Headwind” installation and exhibit by Marlena Wyman


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Headwind installation by Marlena Wyman at the Ortona Armouries Arts Building, Edmonton, AB

Wind has long been known to have an effect on the psyches of those of us who live on the prairies. My art installation, Headwind inhabits Edmonton’s Ortona Gallery as an embodiment of wind.

The clothesline was first featured in my 2014 Sisterhood of Longing Exhibit.

You can take a tour of my exhibit with this video:

in my former work as an archivist, I saw that the voice of early prairie women is largely excluded from mainstream history. This spurred a desire in me to bring their stories to light.

When I research early prairie women’s diaries and letters, I see many references to the wind and how it impacted their lives, mainly as a hostile force.

Cecily Jepson Hepworth’s diary page, April 1931. 

The few times that it is referred to in the positive, it is labelled a breeze, appreciated for keeping the swarms of mosquitoes and black flies at bay, and helping to dry the constant rounds of laundry.

However, most often the wind on the bleak southern prairie gave rise to physical and mental torment, amplified by the isolation and loneliness that the homestead system created. This was felt most keenly by the first wave of settler women who rarely had the opportunity to travel to see neighbors or go to town for supplies and the socializing that these trips allowed the men.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, immigrants were lured to the prairies by government propaganda promising a utopia that did not exist. Their lack of knowledge about living within the harsh prairie environment caused loss and privation. They fought to tame the soil that was often not suited for cultivation, and the wind then took the soil from them.

The settler women whose quotes and photographs inspired this exhibit are listed below:

(view video above to see quotes and images in exhibit)

Diaries, letters and memoirs:

Evelyn Springett’s published memoir, For my Children’s Children, 1937. Evelyn came to the Macleod, Alberta area from Quebec in 1893. 

Anne Pringle Hemstock’s letter to her Aunt Nell, May 6, 1932. Anne came to the Hanna, Alberta area from Chatsworth, Ontario in 1918. Letters: The Alberta Women’s Memory Project, Athabasca University.

Cecily Jepson Hepworth’s diary, 1931 and 1934. Cecily came to the Readlyn, Saskatchewan area from Chorley, Lancashire, England in 1930. Diaries: Saskatchewan Archives R-E190.

Esther G. (Vann) Cooper’s memoir. Esther came to Pangman SK (south of Regina) from Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire, England in 1912. Saskatchewan Archives #R-E539.

Edna Banks’ memoir, 1911. Edna came to the Swift Current area of Saskatchewan from Ontario in 1911. Memoir: Saskatchewan Archives S-F137.1, R-E2912

Photos: Pauline ____, Baintree, Alberta, ca. 1920s, private collection.

Ms Averbach, ca 1920s. Jewish Archives and Historical Society of Edmonton and Northern Alberta.

Clara Lawrence, Peace River area Alberta, 1902. Glenbow Archives #NA-2502-16

Mrs. Hugh Leavitt, Cardston area, Alberta, ca. 1920s. Glenbow Archives #NC-7-970

Exhibit hours: Saturdays & Sundays    1pm to 5pm    May 13 to 28, 2017

The Ortona Gallery, Ortona Armouries Arts Bldg, 9722 – 102 Street, Edmonton, Alberta

For further details, see “Exhibits”, “3-D & Installation” and “Prairie Series” on my website.

My artwork centres on the concepts of memory, remembrance, history, and storytelling. In my work as an archivist at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, I found a significant gap in women’s history in archival collections and in the historical record.

As an artist, I honour these women’s considerable contributions, advocate for their rightful place in history, and encourage women to deposit their own and their foremothers’ records in archives.

I wish to acknowledge that the land on which early prairie immigrants settled, in what is now Alberta and Saskatchewan, includes Treaties 4, 6, 7, 8 and 10, the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples.

Artist Marlena Wyman

–  All photographs and artwork copyright Marlena Wyman.

Mary, Star of the Sea


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20170304_140638_resized_1Marlena Wyman with her installation Mary, Star of the Sea at the Nina Haggerty Gallery, Edmonton

I spent yesterday setting up my installation at the Nina Haggerty Gallery, and I am happy with how all my pieces work as a whole. My studio is small, so I wasn’t able to see everything together until they were installed in the gallery.  I saw some of the other other artists works for the first time and they are all exciting and thought-provoking.

img_6017In/Hospitable exhibit at Nina Haggerty Gallery showing works by Lana Whiskeyjack, Michelle Lavoie and Marlena Wyman

The title of my installation for the In/Hospitable Women group exhibit at the SkirtsAfire Festival is Mary, Star of the Sea. It is an ancient name for the Virgin Mary that is common in Catholic coastal and fishing communities. Newfoundland has numerous Catholic churches named for Mary, Star of the Sea and Our Lady, Star of the Sea.

My installation includes ten 8”X10” Mary Portraits …img_6005

…and a 30” high Mary figure made from plaster, modeling clay, sea shells, beach glass, china shards and other mixed media.



Over time, I have collected small Mary figures at thrift stores, and these also form a part of the installation along with seashells, many of which I collected on Newfoundland beaches.


The curator for the exhibit, Mary Joyce, states:

Women who love art enough to want to make it have to make hard choices that allow them time for their work. Traditionally, women are hosts of their children from conception onwards, for their husbands, for their parents, for their friends, for household livestock, feeding, washing, medicating, teaching, entertaining. Only love makes it sensible. Certain guests might find a woman who wishes to be an artist lacking in hospitality. Visitors such as flocks of birds, oil wells, a divine embryo, explorer-colonizer-thieves of culture, penetrations of invisible electronic global information, and pressure to stay traditionally “grounded” get beautiful, thoughtful examination in this show.  


Photographs and artwork by Marlena Wyman

The Mary Portraits


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My first experience of Newfoundland was via an artist’s residency in 2006. Artist’s residencies and retreats have always affected and guided my work. After discovering the cemeteries in the area where I was staying, my artwork took a new direction, and I ended up spending most of my residency photographing and painting in the cemeteries, which is where I found many inspiring Marys. I have returned to Newfoundland many times, and each time I am drawn to the hand-painted Marys in the graveyards.

img_0273Photos of the Newfoundland Marys on the Mary wall in my studio.

As I mentioned in The Mary Wall post, Newfoundland seems to have three or four unfinished plaster-cast versions of Mary that can be purchased and hand painted by family and/or friends of deceased loved ones and placed beside headstones in graveyards.

I have recently completed a series of ten small 8″X10″ portraits based on my photographs of these Newfoundland Marys. They will form part of my installation in the upcoming In/Hospitable group exhibit at the SkirtsAfire Festival in the Nina Haggerty Gallery.

The portraits are image transfers onto encaustic on cradled birch panels. The backgrounds are image transfers of vintage ocean-themed wallpaper.

Although most of the plaster-cast Marys are from similar molds, two of the molds differ from the rest:

1-wide-eyed-mary    2-disfigured-maryWide Eyed Mary by Marlena Wyman               Disfigured Mary by Marlena Wyman

Wide-Eyed Mary is from one of the Stations of the Cross at the Sacred Heart Grotto in Lance Cove on Bell Island, Newfoundland. Her piercing blue eyes are encircled by generous eyelashes.

Disfigured Mary is an interesting enigma. The plaster cast obviously did not release properly from the mold, leaving her nose and mouth disfigured, but that did not seem to bother whoever painted her and placed her beside a headstone at St. Anne’s Cemetery in Conception Harbour, Newfoundland.

I have grouped the other Mary portraits in pairs:

3a-cross-eyed-mary3b-mydriasis-maryCross-Eyed Mary by Marlena Wyman           Mydriasis Mary by Marlena Wyman

Cross-Eyed Mary is one of my favourites. There is such an aura of sweetness to her. She was one of the first Marys that I found in 2006 at the Bellevue Roman Catholic Cemetery in Newfoundland. Her heart bursts forth in a bright startling red, perhaps resulting in her optical condition.

She is paired with a Mary who suffers from another eye condition: Mydriasis Mary’s eternally dilated pupils are a striking feature, as is her finely detailed sacred heart. She resides in St. Anne’s Cemetery in Conception Harbour, Newfoundland.

4a-plain-mary4b-glamorous-maryPlain Mary by Marlena Wyman                     Glamorous Mary by Marlena Wyman

Plain Mary is sweet in her simplicity, and she is the only Mary who I have seen with a valentine sacred heart. Her home is in the Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Colliers, Newfoundland.

She is paired with Glamorous Mary of St. Anne’s Cemetery in Conception Harbour, Newfoundland, who has been made up with bright red lipstick and a beautifully detailed sacred heart.

5a-suspicious-mary5b-concerned-marySuspicious Mary by Marlena Wyman           Concerned Mary by Marlena Wyman

Suspicious Mary is on the lookout for any potential wrongdoings at St. Anne’s Cemetery in Conception Harbour, Newfoundland.

She is paired with Concerned Mary at the same cemetery. Do these two know something that the others are not aware of at St Anne’s?

6a-world-weary-mary6b-sleeping-maryWorld Weary Mary by Marlena Wyman         Sleeping Mary by Marlena Wyman

Poor World Weary Mary has had enough.  Not even the peaceful surroundings of St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Ship Cove, Newfoundland are enough to lift her tired countenance.

She is paired with Sleeping Mary of the Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Colliers, Newfoundland, who has found the secret to everlasting contentment in slumber.

The commercially produced Virgin Mary that most of us encounter is one of consistent beauty. The hand-painted, heartfelt Marys of Newfoundland evoke both humour and pathos, but above all, represent a loving tribute that is touchingly and imperfectly human.

My next post will include some of the 3-dimensional artwork that I am including in my installation.

All artwork and photographs by Marlena Wyman


The Mary Wall


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img_0270The Mary wall in Marlena Wyman’s studio

I am not a religious person. I spent a few years of my youth in the United Church but I stopped attending church when I left home. There are aspects of organized religion that I know are positive such as charity and community, but I am troubled when I see intolerance and inequality.

It is odd, then, that I have a fascination with the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, as an artist whose work is largely memory-based, I visit cemeteries for inspiration, both at home and when I travel.  They provide me with history and stories of the community. I think of them as creative spaces as well as places of private contemplation and reflection.

When visiting cemeteries, I seek out and photograph the Virgin Mary for her aspect of meditative calm and peace. My interest in women’s history also brings Mary to me; a strong female figure in a religion that can be inhospitable to women.

I began to create a wall of photographs of Mary in my studio, and have added Mary figures and collectibles that I have found in thrift stores. It has become an unintentional shrine of sorts.


When Mary Joyce, curator of the In/Hospitable exhibit at the upcoming SkirtsAfire Festival, came for a studio visit, she saw my Mary wall and immediately suggested it as inspiration for my artwork in the group exhibit. I have been looking for a possible creative project for my Marys, so I was delighted to have this spark to get me going.

For the exhibit, I decided to focus on the cemeteries of Newfoundland which are populated with small Mary figures. Newfoundland seems to have three or four unfinished plaster-cast versions of Mary that can be purchased and hand painted by family and/or friends of deceased loved ones. These Marys suffer some of the most inhospitable conditions of Newfoundland’s wind and weather due to the local tradition that the dead be buried overlooking the ocean.

bellevue-cemeteryBellevue Cemetery, Newfoundland

img_3543Conch, Newfoundland

I will post photos of my art installation over the next few weeks, leading up to the In/Hospitable exhibit at the Nina Haggerty Gallery, which will take place at the SkirtsAfire Festival from March 6 to 12, 2017.

All photographs by Marlena Wyman

Family Reunion at Illuminating the Diary of Alda Dale Randall


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My exhibit at the Provincial Archives of Alberta ended with a bang. The archives hosted a Randall family reunion at the exhibit on August 20th, and 53 Randall family members were there. I had a wonderful time talking with the family, finding out even more about this amazing woman, and seeing photos of her for the first time.

alda-dale-randall-in-gardenAlda Dale Randall, [1920]. Photograph courtesy of the Randall family


When I first thought of creating my exhibit from Alda Dale Randall’s diary, I tried to locate family through obituaries and the High Prairie Museum, but had no luck. Then three sisters who are Dale’s granddaughters, noticed an ad for the exhibit in the Edmonton Journal. Surprised at seeing their grandmother’s name as an exhibit title, they came to take a look. They contacted me through the archives and I met with them and had a lovely talk with these three warm, engaging women. The Events Coordinator at the archives then had the brilliant idea to host a family reunion at the exhibit.

dsc_2013Sisters Kitty, Heather and Lisa: Alda Dale Randall’s granddaughters

With just a few weeks’ notice, the sisters were able to contact Randall family members to come together in Edmonton from across Alberta and as far as Victoria, Kelowna, Saskatchewan and San Diego, California. Some family members had not seen each other in decades.dsc_1873




Speeches of welcome were made by the Provincial Archivist Leslie Latta and Edmonton-Mill Creek MLA, Denise Woollard. I spoke about Dale as my inspiration, and Lisa Randall spoke on behalf of the family. Media were in attendance to cover the event, including the Edmonton Journal and Global News, and the story was picked up in Florida by art, agriculture and agri-tourism blogger Shauna Lee Lange.


I was glad to have the opportunity to talk to the family about how inspirational and touching I had found their grandmother’s/great-grandmother’s diary to be.

dsc_1905Lisa Randall’s informative and entertaining talk

Randall family members brought photos and family archives to the event as well as artworks that Dale had painted (yes – she was also an artist!)


One of my objectives as an artist is to create a connection with history (most specifically women’s history), my artwork and the viewer. The Randall family reunion that took place at the Provincial Archives of Alberta was a rare and moving opportunity to directly connect all three. Past and present lives were reunited in an exchange of thoughts and feelings with and between Alda Dale Randall’s descendants, within the environment of the exhibit that was inspired by her, and surrounded by her historic words.



I am so happy that another of “my” prairie women is receiving attention and recognition for her story and achievements.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs are courtesy Provincial Archives of Alberta. Thanks to the Provincial Archives of Alberta and its dedicated staff for their considerable part in this exhibit and for their dedication to preserving Alberta’s history. Thanks also to the designers and communications staff at Alberta Culture and Tourism. 


Posted by Marlena Wyman

A tremendous thunderstorm hovered around us


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Harcourt House Gallery in Edmonton has a members’ exhibit every year during The Works Art & Design Festival. I am a member of Harcourt House and I like members’ exhibits, so I try to paint something for the exhibit each year.

A tremendous thunderstorm hovered around us - Marlena Wyman (1)A tremendous thunderstorm hovered around us by Marlena Wyman, encaustic, oil stick and image transfer

The subject of this painting, as has been the subject for most of my recent artworks, is the experience of early settler women on the prairies. This piece is inspired by a quote from the diary of Jane Frances (Warne) Sutton.

A tremendous thunderstorm hovered around us from W. to N. all this evening. The lightening was terrible. 10:30 I think it has gone beyond us. The air is fearfully hot and the wind is whistling, but no rain.

Excerpt is from Jane Frances (Warne) Sutton’s diary, dated July 23, 1908 (Saskatchewan Archives Board #R-2007-09 F-398 File 3)

Jane moved to Fertile Valley, NWT (later Saskatchewan) from England in 1884 and then moved with her husband to Outlook in 1903.

Photograph is of Ann Oliver, Edmonton, NWT (later Alberta), 1895 (Provincial Archives of Alberta #B8376)

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Voices for the Vote


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I am happy to say that this has been active year of art for me. Besides my solo exhibits at the Provincial Archives of Alberta and at The Works Art & Design Festival/Mile Zero Dance, I also have some works in a couple of group exhibits. One of the exhibits is Voices for the Vote. I will be posting about the Harcourt House exhibit tomorrow.

Borealis Gallery exhibitphoto by Legislative Assembly of Alberta (my two paintings are on the back wall, left side)

I have two paintings in the Voices for the Vote exhibit at the Borealis Gallery in the stunning new Alberta Legislative Assembly’s Visitor Centre, housed in Edmonton’s stately and historic Federal Building. This is a beautifully curated exhibit that includes artworks, and archival maps, documents & oral history recordings.

As the Legislative Assembly website states, “This exhibition explores how the places, people and culture of the Prairies (and Alberta specifically) combined to create an atmosphere where women’s suffrage campaigns could succeed.”

IMG_5663photo by Marlena Wyman

The opening reception for the exhibit featured a re-enactment of 1914 Suffrage Rally. Costumed heritage interpreters from museums such as Fort Edmonton Park, John Walter Museum and Rutherford House performed the roles of Premier Sifton and the delegation that petitioned the province of Alberta for the women’s right to vote.

IMG_5595photo by Marlena Wyman

We marched with the suffragettes, from the Federal Building to the steps of the Legislature, bearing banners and signs and petitions. You can watch a few minutes of the march here:

After the march, we attended a lovely reception with food and drink to mark the occasion, music by Maria Dunn and Shannon Johnson, and speeches, including one by Her Honour Lois Mitchell, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.

IMG_5630Cookies for the vote. Photo by Marlena Wyman

IMG_5643      That’s me at the reception. Photo by M. Caskenette

One of my paintings in the exhibit, No Homesteads for Women, is about land rights for women.

The 1872 Dominion Lands Act prohibited single and married women from obtaining homesteads. Georgina Binnie-Clark, a single woman from England, came to the Canadian prairies in 1905 to farm, and had to purchase her quarter section of farmland for $2,400, whereas her male neighbors were able to file for a quarter section homestead for a $10 entry fee.  She and other like-minded prairie women started the “Homesteads for Women” campaign, but Canadian homesteads were not opened to women until 1930, an inauspicious time for homesteading.

Georgina farmed for several years and wrote her book to provide women with information about how to farm and prove that this could be a means for single women to gain financial independence.

She may be the best farmer in Canada, she may buy land, work it, take prizes for seed and stock, but she is denied the right to claim from the government the hundred and sixty acres of land held out as a bait to every man. 

Quote from Georgina Binnie-Clark’s book, Wheat and Woman, 1914.

3. No Homesteads for Women - Marlena WymanNo Homesteads for Women by Marlena Wyman, encaustic and image transfer

My other painting in the exhibit, Unsettled, is about the difficult adjustment to the lonely prairie.

The falsely advertised utopia of the prairies became a harsh reality for settlers upon arrival, especially for women who typically had no say in the move to their new life. In many cases, they left behind what was a comfortable, civilized life to find a new land that presented adversity and privation.

The gap between old life and new was not merely physical in form: isolation, loneliness, and lack of intellectual & cultural life created a daunting emotional hardship. However, most settler women, of necessity and of financial & legal dependency, set to work; they had no choice.  Remarkably, they also found time to fight for the rights that were denied them.

…my thoughts turned to the contrast between the pleasant life I had known in Europe and the struggle for survival on a bush homestead. Fate had played strangely with my life, plucking me out of a happy family and a wide circle of friends, transporting me across the Atlantic in search of I know not what, and throwing me into the arms of a husky western pioneer.

Quote from Margaret Charlotte Faulkson Thomson’s memoir, 1920. Provincial Archives of Alberta, PR1984.0156

Unsettled 1Unsettled by Marlena Wyman. encaustic and image transfer

Exhibition Hours June 6 to August 14, 2016
Monday to Wednesday and Friday: 10 a.m. to 5 pm, Thursday: 10 a.m. to 8 pm, Weekends and Holidays: 10 a.m. to 5 pm
Borealis Gallery, Legislative Assembly Visitor Centre                                 Edmonton Federal Building | Main floor | 9820-107 Street

Voices for the Vote

Posted by Marlena Wyman

The Effect of Collected Memory on the Adorned Body


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My exhibit The Effect of Collected Memory on the Adorned Body began at The Works Art & Design Festival in Edmonton in 2013. It returns to The Works 2016 in its completed form at Mile Zero Dance’s Spazio Performativo.

photo by MW (3)photo by Marlena Wyman

When my project began at The Works Festival in 2013, I asked visitors to help create a collaborative artwork by contributing objects such as unused but not unloved jewelery, buttons and other trinkets that could be pinned onto two torsos. I added these objects to the torsos over the duration of the festival.

Over the next three years, I continued to add objects that I had gathered, and that were donated by friends and family.

Edmonton writer Erin Wallace recently featured my exhibit in a post in The Common Good, an Edmonton blog that is “a local catalyst and hub trying to make good things happen in town by connecting good people and resources.”

photo by Tracy Wyman (11)photo by Tracy Wyman

As I spoke to Erin, I came to realize that over time, my former long-time work as an archivist has invaded my artistic vision in this and my other artworks. Years of being surrounded by and wading through stacks of evidence documenting the lives and memories of strangers couldn’t help but be expressed through my art practice.

photo by MW (23)photo by Marlena Wyman

In The Effect of Collected Memory on the Adorned Body, by commingling the personal objects of many strangers within the intimate form of the human body, a new and curious collective memory has been created.

photo by Tracy Wyman (27)photo by Tracy Wyman

And now it is complete – I think.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

As Far as the Eye Can See


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I just attended an artist’s retreat organised by Val Marie artist Diana Chabros that took place in Val Marie, Saskatchewan and at the inspiring Grasslands National Park.

20160516_135607_resizedGrasslands National Park. Photo by Marlena Wyman.

Along with Diana, I was there with Saskatchewan visual artists Ken Christopher and Geoff Phillips, performance artist Eveline Boudreau, and multi-discipline artist Joseph Naytowhow. I felt so fortunate to be sharing creative time and experiences with this exceptional group of artists.

bon fireBonfire, smudge and storytelling with the retreat artists and friends. Photo by Marlena Wyman.

The retreat took place during the daytime when the artists would each seek out our own spaces of inspiration within the vast landscape of the grasslands. We would then come together in the evenings for food and sharing of art, philosophy and experiences.

Riverwalk Trail, Grasslands National Park DSCF1411 (21)Grasslands National Park. Photo by Marlena Wyman.

I took my ink and watercolours out on the land. I think I walked as much as I sketched and painted. When you walk a little way into the Grasslands Park, all traces of civilization disappear. For as far as the eye can see in every direction, which is a very long way indeed, there are no power lines, no fences, no roads, no evidence of humans. I felt that this land must always have been this way.

IMG_5323Grasslands drawing/watercolour by Marlena Wyman.

All the concerns of daily life disappeared and I became immersed in the immense dynamic sky, the sounds of the birds and the wind, and the contrast between the sweeping overview of the landscape and the complex, minute environment of the plants beneath my feet.

Scan0043Grasslands drawing/watercolour by Marlena Wyman.

There is a strong sense of solitude and timelessness; the limitless space of the grasslands allows time for a meditative, tranquil reflection that I have not experienced elsewhere.

IMG_5322Grasslands drawing/watercolour by Marlena Wyman.

I am grateful for my time there.

Posted by Marlena Wyman