Art News January 2022

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Happy New Year! Let’s hope that it truly is. I do have some happy art news to begin the year: I am very pleased to be one of the Edmonton Arts Council’s artist-in-residence pair at Yorath House, along with writer, poet and historian Adriana Davies. We are there for January and February 2022. I am grateful to the City of Edmonton for supporting local artists in this way, and I am delighted to have dedicated studio time in this beautiful heritage house.

Marlena Wyman & Adriana A. Davies in front of Yorath House, 15 January 2022. Photo by David Johnston.

Most often artist residencies are comprised of accommodation plus studio space.  However, this is a studio residency for Edmonton artists, so I travel to Yorath House from home each day. The house was built in 1949 as a mid-century modern private residence for the Yorath family, and was purchased by the City and renovated into a multi-purpose rental space (for use during non-pandemic-wave times). It is situated in the City’s beautiful Buena Vista Park in the river valley.

There are more photos of Yorath House in the summer on the City website, and it has a separate, distinctive beauty in the winter while we are spending time there.

The house and the river valley area around it are inspirational in different ways, so my art will reflect those varying inspirations.

Both Adriana and I have had lifelong involvement in the heritage community, so our artist residency will reflect that proclivity, and our creative explorations will be inspired by the history of the house, of the land and of the river.

Because we began our residency during a prolonged polar vortex, other than our commute we stayed warm, tucked away inside Yorath House, and we documented some of the original interior features that were retained through the renovations. I understand the need to make some changes to bring the house up to code as a public facility, but much of the original interior is altered and I wish I could have seen the house when it was a family home. Nonetheless, I am grateful that the City retained and designated this house as a Municipal Historic Resource within its location in the the Ribbon of Green in the North Saskatchewan River Valley and Ravine System.

This feature was a bit of a mystery. They look like ice box cabinets. We spoke recently with a member of the Yorath family who can said that they were freezers that were set into one of the kitchen walls, but they were electric rather than actual ice boxes.  

I want to remain true to the features of the house that I am documenting, so my drawings of the interior are more detailed. I am beginning to explore a freer style inspired by the outdoor environment, and I will continue to allow the sense of place to lead me, as I do with any artist residency.

We will be publishing regular posts on the Edmonton Arts Council blog, so you can keep informed of our residency happenings there, as well as on my blog.

Here is our first post with Adriana’s words and my drawings.

More arty exploring to come…

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal: Beauty over Brutality

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Both beauty and brutality exist in the world and sadly, some choose to amplify brutality. As the pandemic drags on, beauty becomes more essential.

Art can expose brutality to change minds, and can emphasize beauty to soothe our souls. This article by writer Maria Popova expresses that concept through the art of Franz Marc and the poetry of Mary Oliver.

I do not know how to thank you, Franz Marc.
Maybe our world will grow kinder eventually.
Maybe the desire to make something beautiful
is the piece of God that is inside each of us. …
Mary Oliver

Christmas was small and quiet for us again this year and I was grateful for the warmth of home, and enough to be comfortable. Not everyone is as lucky.

Urban Sketchers Edmonton’s theme for December was “Celebration”, and there is still much to celebrate. Even though it seems otherwise at times, it’s good to remind ourselves that there is more kindness than cruelty in the world, and more beauty than brutality.

Christmas cards in the living room window of our little 1950 bungalow.

I enjoy sending and receiving Christmas cards. I like to see them nestled in the mail box, and then open their simple beauty and read their messages from friends and family across the nation. I hang them from strings on the window in the living room, and they become part of the Christmas decorations.

Post-Christmas I’ve been spending the cold snap in my studio working on a commission: a set of four watercolours of the ill-fated Ring Houses at the University of Alberta. I am painting them from photos taken at different times of year.  I have spoken of the Ring Houses before, and of the sincere work taken on by concerned citizens to save the houses from demolition or removal. It seems that we have not been successful, and some of the oldest buildings on campus that embody the identity and foundations of the university will likely be gone in the spring.

I have completed two of the four so far.

Their demolition is a waste of precious resources and a shameful disrespect for what makes the university and Edmonton a unique place in the world. Edmonton (and Alberta) is becoming a victim of its own low self-esteem; of our constant and pathetic need to prove that we are “world-class”, while actual world-class cities understand the importance of their heritage and culture, and exist as examples for us of what vibrant, mature cities can be.

In architecture too, it is important to choose beauty over brutality. BTW I’m not referring to Brutalist architecture – I’m talking about the brutality and waste of demolition. It is notable that French architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, who won the 2021 Pritzker Prize (the top prize in architecture) were awarded it because of their innovative approach to architecture:

Never demolish, never remove – always add, transform and reuse. Demolishing is a decision of easiness and short term, said Anne Lacaton. It is a waste of many things – a waste of energy, a waste of material, and a waste of history. Moreover, it has a very negative social impact. For us, it is an act of violence.

Small instances of beauty can provide refuge and make this life more livable. Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal: Questions

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As the pandemic drags on, with yet another new variant hanging its sword over us, some questions have come to mind. BTW I am not actually asking anyone to give me answers to these questions, because that tends to just cause defensiveness and a halt to true contemplation. I also suspect that some answers would be abusive or conspiracy theories. Nobody needs that, and anyway, conspiracy theories are of zero interest to me – they neither bewitch nor beguile me.

These are really just questions for all of us to contemplate as we inhabit this small planet of interconnectedness. My questions go beyond “What we are doing to protect ourselves individually?” since I think most of us can answer that one way or another. These are questions of community.

  1. What are you doing to help end the pandemic?
  2. What are you doing to protect other people from the Covid19 virus?

And for those who do not believe that there is a pandemic, or that Covid19 is no worse than a cold:

  1. Do you think there ever could be a dangerous new disease that could cause a pandemic?
  2. If a preventative vaccine or other medical prevention was developed by experts that could end this (future) pandemic, along with a pandemic’s collateral damage of global deaths, suffering, job losses and economic woes that accompany such a devastating disease, what would be the best way to get the word out to people about this preventative protection?   

I do also wonder whether the risk of drowning in your own lungs is not horrifying enough for some to take preventative measures.

Anyway, these questions are just food for thought.

However, here are a couple of good news stories re: the pandemic. Both NE Calgary AB and Brampton- Peel region ON had some of the highest rates of COVID 19 in the country. Now NE Calgary has one of the highest vaccination rates (99% of the over-12 citizens have had at least one shot). The Brampton-Peel region have 90% for that stat. The cases are also way down. Brampton-Peel region had a COVID case rate 10 times higher at this time last year. Eliminating the barriers of transportation, language and lack of internet access along with a focus on having trusted community experts help reduce misinformation and assist in an understanding of how the vaccine works was what did it. So yay!

As for art, only one sketch this month – a prompt from my Urban Sketchers Edmonton group to sketch one of the Edmonton Public Library branches and include people in the sketch. If you look really closely you will see one human in this side view of the Old Strathcona Library.

Here is a sketch that I did of the front of the library last February, which also provides a bit of historical background:

Speaking of sketches and history, I wrote an article for the December 2021 issue of Drawing Attention, the magazine of the international Urban Sketchers organization. The article is about how sketching heritage buildings can bring attention to them and can sometimes help to save threatened heritage resources. Sadly, that does not appear to be the future for the ill-fated Ring Houses at the University of Alberta. This issue includes articles from urban sketching chapters in Switzerland, Spain, Australia, USA, and South Africa. A great community of sketchers from around the globe.

Hoping for more caring and community all around in the very near future. Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal: Imagine Peace

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After two long years, I finally flew to BC to visit family. It was so wonderful to actually see and hug my family in person, but it was also strange to be venturing out after all this time. Having lived through 19 months of Terrible Pandemic Alberta (the province with the most Covid19 cases and lowest vaccination rate) and to then travel to a province for a taste of real freedom was a bit of a culture shock. Of course, masking and other restrictions in public places still exist, but the private realm is pretty darn normal among double-vaccinated BC citizens.

I realized when I was in BC that sadly, I didn’t want to advertise that I was from Alberta lest I be painted with the same tainted brush as some other Albertans who have been making the news. Alberta has often been viewed over the past couple of years as a political and intellectual backwater; a place where some aggressive, sometimes violent, Covid19 deniers and separatists dwell. We are not the only province dealing with that, but it seems to be more prevalent here. However, they are a fringe group. I know that the majority of Albertans are still decent, peaceful folks who care about other people. We may not be as loud or obvious or make the news as much, but we are here.

And now, art!

When I was in Vancouver, we went to see the Yoko Ono “Imagine Peace” exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. She and John Lennon have been sending out that message of peace in so many ways for so many years, and she continued that message through her artwork after his death. We need peace now more than ever with all the crazy anger in the world. I hope we can continue to imagine and create peace and make things better for everyone.

We visited the Van Dusen Gardens in Vancouver and the trees were wild with autumn colour. My time there was too rainy for most outdoor sketching, but I’m not complaining. I love the rain. It made the air fresh and fragrant with autumn earthiness, and it intensified all the colours. No haze of dust or smoke to peer through, thank goodness.

I also sketched my son’s and his partner’s living room, and some colourful local produce that we bought at the farmers’ market.

Our last in-person Urban Sketchers Edmonton sketch-meet of the season was at Edmonton’s Pioneers Cabin. Due to pandemic concerns, we won’t be sketching together indoors until things get a whole lot better here, but we will continue to do urban sketching on our own, and post on our Urban Sketchers Edmonton Facebook page and blog. It is important to have a positive, supportive community no matter what or where, and our sketching community is that. 

Hoping for a kind, healthy winter. Peace and courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal: The Barn Door

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There is an old country saying: “Don’t close the barn door after the horse has bolted” but that is exactly what Alberta’s UCP government has been doing during the pandemic. Over and over. A huge door was left open when our premier announced in June that the pandemic was over. He taped a “Best Summer Ever!” sign to a horse’s arse and then it bolted out the open barn door to the Calgary Stampede. Lately, the horse has been escaping to look for the de-wormer that was stolen from it. 

Century Horse Barn, University of Alberta Farm, ink & watercolour sketch by Marlena Wyman, Sept 2018

I know there are still good people out there who have been vaccine-hesitant up to now, and who have just been overwhelmed by the agitation and noise of misinformation that has been beating us all over the heads throughout this entire pandemic. We’ve all been through a lot and it’s exhausting.

Perhaps it was easier to believe the lure of false information when things were not so dire, but now our situation is desperate. If you are worried that you might be shamed or bullied in your home community (which is certainly a sad state of affairs but apparently it is happening) maybe go to another community to get vaccinated. You don’t have to advertise or defend it . It looks like this shape-shifter virus could be with us in some form for years. We need to all stay safe and be able to carry on with our lives and livelihoods.

One piece of good news out of Alberta was that the federal riding of Edmonton-Griesbach elected Canada’s first two-spirit MP, Blake Desjarlais. This makes me proud to be an Albertan at a time when there hasn’t been much to make me feel that way lately.

On to art news:

Magrath Mansion pen & ink sketch by Marlena Wyman, Sept 2021

I met up with my sketching group, Urban Sketchers Edmonton, for an outdoor, distanced sketching event on the grounds of Edmonton’s beautiful Magrath Mansion. This grand 1912 house was designed by architect Ernest W. Morehouse. The fourteen room, three storey home is the showpiece of the Highlands neighbourhood, and was built by developer William Magrath. Magrath came to Edmonton 1904 and with his business partner Holgate, they developed the Highlands neighborhood; one of Edmonton’s oldest. Concordia University has recently acquired the Magrath Mansion partly through a generous donation from the Braaksma family, who had lived there just before and restored the home to its former glory.

“Hats Off!: Edmonton Ladies Curling Club, 1900” by Marlena Wyman, Sept 2021 (inspired by a detail from photo no. B6539, Provincial Archives of Alberta) #hatsoffforcarfacalberta

I made this painting for CARFAC Alberta‘s Silent Auction FUNdraiser exhibit and silent auction taking place Oct 8 – December 4, 2021 in the CARFAC Alberta Project Space on the 3rd fl of Harcourt House, 10215 – 112 St, Edmonton. CARFAC (Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens) is an excellent organization that serves as a valuable resource and voice for visual artists across Canada, and I am grateful to them for their valuable work. 

Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Art news, September 2021

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Finally a blog post that is not about the pandemic. Well, ok it sort of is, but then what isn’t lately?

But mostly it’s about my art news. The group exhibit You Are Not Alone, in which I have an artwork, opened at the Penticton Art Gallery in September 2020. It is co-curated by Paul Crawford of the Penticton Art Gallery, B.C., and Humam Alsalim of Syria.Art, Nice, France. It has now travelled to the Salon Am Moritzplatz in Berlin, Germany. My painting is travelling even if I am not! This is a mail-in art exhibit, “including 180 artists from all around the globe whose works and stories boldly illustrate the power of the shared experience through the Covid19 pandemic.”

You Are Not Alone exhibit at Salon Am Moritzplatz, Berlin, Germany

My artwork in the exhibit references an archival photo and quotes from early prairie women’s diaries and letters. Today, one of the groups for which the coronavirus pandemic has had a particularly adverse effect is women. The isolation and loneliness that was endured by early prairie women reminds us that we are not alone in our present experience of isolation and adversity, in all of its various forms. Many have come before us; their strength and perseverance is with us. We can make it through this with the support of good people everywhere.

Fortitude and Forebear-ance by Marlena Wyman, 11” X 14”, Image transfer, ink and graphite on Mylar, 2020

I have also begun a series of paintings based on my family. I have been going through my family’s archives, listing and filing them and finding interesting stories about my ancestors. The early pandemic and health advisories to stay home allowed me time to go through the photos and documents that were left with my father by his parents. They go back a couple of generations and are mostly about the Wyman side of the family, but there are some of my Mom’s photos in there too. Some of the archives are of family who I never met, but as has been said, our past begins before we are born. One such family member is Mattie Wyman, the subject of my painting Mattie’s Transactions of the Panama Pacific Dental Congress.

Mattie’s Transactions of the Panama Pacific Dental Congress by Marlena Wyman. 12” x 24”. Image transfer, oil, acrylic and mixed media on Mylar and birch panel, 2021

In my painting, I have decorated Mattie’s hat, and surrounded her, with the fruits and vegetables of the diet that she recommended in her dental practice. More on that later.

Mattie was my paternal grandfather’s sister; my great-aunt, born in 1872 in New Brunswick, Eau Claire County, Wisconsin. She attended the Yankton College Conservatory of Music in North Dakota, graduating in 1891, and then attended nursing school. In 1893 she entered a post-graduate course for nursing in New York and worked as a nurse in Duluth, Minnesota until 1903. She had hoped to become a medical doctor, but as a woman, too many barriers stood in her way. I still need to see if I can confirm this part of her story; it’s just a family story at this point but I don’t doubt it. Although small inroads were being made into allowing women to attend medical universities and practices at the time, there was still much opposition to female doctors. In fact, the Harvard Medical School created a formal policy against women attending lectures; the school wouldn’t open its doors to women until 1945.  

Mattie Wyman, ca 1903

After leaving nursing, Mattie attended Northwestern University Dental School in Evanston, Illinois, graduating in 1905 as a Doctor of Dental Surgery. She was one of the early female dentists in the United States. She started her dental practice in Cleveland, Ohio, but most of her career as a dentist was in Seattle, Washington, where she lived for many years.

At the Panama Pacific Dental Congress of the 1915 World’s Fair in San Francisco, she presented and published the paper “Caries in Children’s Teeth to Prevent, Retard and Cure”. As far as I have been able to determine, she was one of just three female dentist to have presented a paper at the Congress.  The others were M. Evangeline Jordan: “Pathological Conditions Found in the Mouths of Some Children” and Maude Tanner: “Temporary Bridge Work on Deciduous Teeth”.

In Mattie’s 1915 paper, she discussed proper nutrition for pregnant mothers in order to ensure good dental and general health for their babies as well as themselves. At least one orange or apple a day is advised… and a dish of prunes every morning at breakfast time…all fresh, ripe fruits in their season may be taken. During gestation, advise vegetables such as spinach, carrots, lettuce, celery, string beans, fresh peas and watercress.

It is interesting to note that in her paper, she mentions epidemics and weather: Weather conditions that affect the chemistry of plants must affect also the chemistry of animal and human life; this is shown in epidemic diseases. Epidemics, however, are becoming more scarce, because the principal causes, ignorance and filth, are being overcome.

Oh Mattie, if only that last bit were true!

According to Seattle City Directories, Mattie’s dental practice was on the 9th floor of the Seaboard Building, which was built in 1907 in the Art Nouveau, Beaux-Arts style by architect William D. Van Siclen. It is a beautiful trapezoidal shaped 11 story building with a decorative terra cotta façade. It received Seattle City Landmark status in 1989 and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2002. Located in downtown Seattle, it is close to Pike Place Market, Belltown and the waterfront. The 2001 renovation updated the interior, and a penthouse and terrace were added above the 11th floor.  Today the Seaboard Building (1500 – 4th Avenue) is home to a mix of residential luxury condos, offices, and retail space. I checked out a recent real estate listing and the condos are pretty swank! 

Mattie never married which no doubt contributed to her ability to continue her work as a dentist until her retirement. She died in 1957 in Seattle at the age of 84. I wish I had known her.

Thanks to my cousins, Garry Wyman and Lee Pinault, for their contributions of information about our Great Aunt Mattie.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal: It ain’t over til it’s over

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Once again (or is it still?) Alberta is leading the pack, by a huge amount, in the most Covid19 cases per capita in Canada and we also rank (I use that word purposefully) among the least vaccinated. We have been abandoned by our so-called “leadership” in Alberta. Premier Kenney is on holiday!?! On top of that, it’s been weeks since we have heard from him, the health minister, the chief medical officer or anyone in our province’s government on any type of strategy and guidance. Thankfully the City of Edmonton has reinstated masks in public places, as have schoolboards and some businesses, but there is no overarching provincial protection and mitigation strategy. Shameful.  

As baseball great Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over til it’s over.” He famously stated this when his team was far behind in the 1973 National League pennant race. They rallied and eventually won the division title. (Hey look – I made a sports analogy!!!) We can rally and win too, but we can’t do it by pretending that it’s over, and we can’t win without everyone on the team working toward the common goal of getting to the end of the pandemic and winning back our true freedom.  

I realize that the pandemic has brought out many personal demons that we have to deal with, each in our own way, but please don’t release your demons onto other people. Deal with them and do what you can to end the pandemic and to protect others and therefore protect yourself. We all want it to end. What is your strategy for taking care of others and ending the pandemic?

We seem to have forgotten who we are to each other and what it means to share this fragile, symphonic planet.   … Maria Popova, writer of literary and arts commentary

As for art, I have slowed down a bit with my pandemic sketching journal. Summer is when I like to spend my time outside and in the garden instead of the studio. I did go to a couple of the outdoor distanced sketch-meets that we organized for Urban Sketchers Edmonton. It was great to see everyone sketching but we sure do miss being able to go for lunch together afterward. That aspect of community is so important.  

Our July sketch-meet was at the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium. It was the first public planetarium to be built in Canada, constructed to commemorate the July 21, 1959 visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. It is delightfully mid-century-modern-spaceship in design. It was recently restored and is once again a crown jewel in Coronation Park.

Our August sketch-meet was at the newly built Manchester Square, a retail mall designed to look like an old European streetscape. It has 52 different facades accented with various colours and types of brick. I was overwhelmed by all the detail so I decided to do a portion of it as a more or less continuous line sketch straight to pen – no pencil first. Kind of fun to let loose and do that sometimes!

On another art note, I was commissioned to create a watercolour portrait of Ring House 1. It is one of the four remaining 110 year old University of Alberta Ring Houses that are under threat of demolition. The Alberta government is attacking educational institutions as well as health care, creating precipitate decisions and desperate situations for institutions.

Ring House 1 was home of the U of A’s first president, Henry Marshall Tory and his wife Annie, and to five subsequent university presidents. Ring House 1 is also the oldest extant university president’s residence in Canada. Tory was an important early leader at the University of Alberta, and emphasized not just excellence in research, but also that the University should be an institution for the people. He stated that “knowledge shall not alone be the concern of scholars. The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal.” 

Let’s do our part to uplift the whole people. Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal: Fear

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Art first; fear later.

I’ve been working on a couple of projects that have kept me preoccupied lately:

  1. I gave a virtual talk along with historian Adriana Davies for Historic Edmonton Week Festival. The topic was how the threatened historic University of Alberta Ring Houses have had a significant connection with both local and international art.

Adriana presented a profile of artist and professor H.G. Glyde and his many accomplishments. Glyde and his family lived in Ring House 4 and his daughter, Helen Collinson, was Curator and Director of the Ring House Gallery and University Collections that were situated in Ring House 1.

I presented a slide show and talk about my local art group Urban Sketchers Edmonton, and our sketches that were inspired by the Ring Houses and other historic buildings, on and off campus, such as the century old horse barn on South Campus.

Our talk can be seen here on the Edmonton & District Historical Society YouTube channel and it will be uploaded onto the Friends of the U of a Ring Houses YouTube channel soon.

2. Along with Shirley Lowe, another former Historian Laureate for Edmonton, I am a participant on episode 7 of the podcast “Searching for Izena”, titled “What If”. The podcast is about Edmonton’s first female alderman, Izena Ross, and the other women who have served on City Council (there have only been 31 from 1921 to present day!). Among other accomplishments of these women, we talk about some of the visionary women on council who helped save our beautiful ravines and river valley from being paved over, and about Helen Paull, the alderman who brought in the 1% art policy. (Note: all councillors originally had the title of “alderman” regardless of gender). Our episode will be available on July 20.

My thoughts about the pandemic fear thing are at the bottom of my post. But first, here are my sketches for June:

The pandemic has changed many things about life including the concept of time. The sketching prompt for this sketch was “outdoor clocks”.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Urban Sketchers Edmonton met up at the Alberta Aviation Museum to sketch the bees and the airplanes. I realised after that my sketch looks a bit like a prison camp for bees but really the fence protects them and they seem very happy. (Hey, apparent “appearance” of a prison, and protection = happiness…hmm. Kinda fits into my theme even though I didn’t plan it that way) I really just wanted the challenge of sketching the chain link fence. Got my challenge!

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

One of my fears in general, not just during the pandemic, is that my home city and province are losing their identity through the demolition of heritage buildings, both purposeful and by neglect. Our city and province still act like fledglings in many ways and we are constantly reinventing ourselves out of some sense of low self-esteem. We don’t always understand what mature places in the world do: that art, architecture and history are important in place-making and story-telling, in creating identity, a sense of community, civic pride and a vibrant life for all of us who live here and those who visit. Hopefully life is about more than just work and survival.

I wish I could just sketch heritage buildings without having them under threat of demolition. This is one of the two houses in the U of A’s East Campus Village that could disappear soon. It and its neighbouring house were built in 1914 in the Art & Crafts style. Built in the same era as the Ring Houses.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Now, on the pandemic front, I have been thinking about how the word “fear” has been misunderstood and much maligned during the pandemic. As with many things, it’s a matter of degree.

The right amount of fear is a very useful thing – it is what has helped the human race to survive since the beginning of time. Rational fear that is. The legitimate fear of the potentially devastating effects of the Covid19 virus is a rational fear, although it has often been labeled as an irrational fear in a way that has encouraged bullying. Popular with some who deny or underestimate the virus (and who therefore don’t believe that masks, vaccines and all the rest of the arsenal are necessary) use rallying cries such as “Fear is the virus!” and call people who are taking precautions “Sheeple” who they claim are irrationally fearful, because well, people are easier targets than a weird, invisible virus.  But, really, what’s so bad about sheep? They are pretty darn cute.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

However, I think I might be starting to understand where the sceptics are coming from. I don’t agree – but I sort of understand. I think that a large part of it may actually stem from their own unacknowledged fear. Fear of a broken economy, the loss of their jobs, income, houses and the life that they have known for themselves and their families. That is a totally rational and legitimate fear, and I have that fear too. Unfortunately, the way in which that rational fear has played out is through the irrational actions of blaming and harassing regular folk who are just trying to do the right thing for everyone.

The masked and the vaccinated have been working hard to end the pandemic and get the economy and people’s jobs back on track, especially now that we could be so close to the end of the pandemic. If there are others who are walking around as human petri dishes, creating and spreading new variants, then that is what can close down businesses, jobs and the economy again.

These are two interesting articles about fear: Why You Aren’t Thinking Clearly: The Brain Science of Fear in Uncertain Times and 8 Ways to Calm Your Survival Brain by American professor and social scientist Hildy Gotlieb. They were written in March 2020 but the basic concepts still apply. And believe me, I have had my brain-freezes and clumsy-brain episodes during the pandemic. I have been fortunate to be able to bring calm back to my mind when I needed it through her and others’ useful advice. We can’t do it alone.

Hildy Gotleib:

Whether we are thinking about the illness itself, or thinking about the economic reality that so many of us are already facing as the whole world economy grinds to a stop, we do not have predictability to keep our brains calm. We do not have control. We cannot see the path to safety.

Connection requires at least some degree of understanding. When we do not understand the people around us, we tend to other-ize them. “They’re so (fill in the blank – Dumb? Crazy? Messed up?)” is a way of separating ourselves from others. And right now, our brains need us to feel connection, even as we are practicing social distance.

These are all gifts we can give to ourselves and those around us – the gifts of connection, compassion, gratitude, and understanding. These are the gifts our brains need right now. And hopefully those gifts will provide a bit more calm during these deviously uncertain times.

Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal: Hold On

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I am a bit late with my May post (not that anyone is holding their breath about that I’m sure 😄). Of course, we are still living with the pandemic but things are getting ever so gradually better. I get my second Covid19 vaccination shot this month – yay!

We just need to hold on and not get ahead of ourselves. It’s not over yet, and we can help ease restrictions sooner if we continue to be safe and take care of each other. It’s looking like Covid19 will now be with us for years, so vaccination is the only way out and is essential for everyone’s health, including the health of the economy. The fewer of us who get vaccinated, the more the variants will increase which the vaccine may not be effective against. I think we understand the life-saving capabilities of vaccines by now; this ain’t our first rodeo.

For some good news, it’s looking like the mRNA vaccines used against Covid19 could also be used in the fight against other diseases such as respiratory infections that threaten babies and young children, HIV and other autoimmune diseases, and the technology could also have applications in cancer treatment. Science is amazing.

On the art side of things, I also have continued my (more or less) weekly sketching online with my Urban Sketchers Edmonton group. A lot of my creative art endeavors have been frustrated during the pandemic. I thought I would have so much time to work on my art but I have had a hard time concentrating and being creative with the nagging buzzing going on in my head about the pandemic and the meagreness of spirit that has characterized it and so much else in the world. However, I know that there are many good, caring people who have approached this and other difficult times with kindness and patience, and that always helps me to regain faith in humanity.

Sketching has kept me going with my art practice because we are provided with weekly sketching prompts and themes, and we are just documenting what we see in front of us – none of the deep conceptual exploration needed that I usually undertake for my main creative work.

Here are my sketches for May:

Our May 1st sketching prompt was “Yellow”: a cheerful, hopeful colour.

The May 8th sketch coincided with the annual Jane’s Walks which celebrates the legacy and ideas of urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs by promoting walkable neighbourhoods, urban literacy and cities planned for and by people. This is a festival that takes place annually around the globe. Due to the pandemic, many of the walks are self-guided and virtual this year, and Edmonton’s walks included the U of A Ring Houses and neighbourhoods such as Spruce Ave, Oliver, Westmount, Griesbach and many other themed walks.

Speaking of the Ring Houses, for our May 29 theme of “An urban sketch of your choice”, I returned to the Ring Houses for three reasons: I hadn’t sketched Ring House 4 yet, the landscaping around the houses is particularly beautiful now with the lilacs and other trees in bloom, and I am still concerned about these important heritage buildings – their future is uncertain and it is possible that they could still be demolished.

I was looking for a particular song titled “Hold On” and I found a whole lot more songs with the same title, many of which have a similar message of patience and hope in the lyrics.

Here’s the one I was looking for: Alabama Shakes “Hold On” released in 2012:

You got to hold on, You got to hold on, Yeah you got to wait! I don’t wanna wait, Well you got to hold on.

Holding on to hope and good cheer… and patience. Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal: Variations on a Theme

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I am a bit late in writing my end of April Pandemic Sketching Journal post. I am having a hard time with what has now become an even harsher pandemic reality. Among many other pandemic burdens, a shocking situation has hit home in Alberta where we have the highest Covid19 case count per capita in Canada* (and more than in a lot other places in the world too.) In many ways this has been a self-generated crisis here. *I stand corrected – now more cases per capita in Alberta than anywhere in North America.

In contrast, a recent bright light appeared via a chat with someone who I know who lives in New Zealand. She told me about what can happen with good governance and a citizenry who are willing to pull together to fight the common enemy of the pandemic. She said that although things are not perfect with everything in New Zealand in general – as is the case with every country in the world – what has been highly successful there has been the handling of the pandemic, and she has profound gratitude for the true freedom that has allowed.

After their initial 6-week strict lockdown and staged emergence, New Zealand currently has no community transmission and, although with some small blips, they have gone through many long periods of the same. Masks are not required, and New Zealanders are free to gather in groups and hug and celebrate without fear of spreading COVID to a loved one or a fellow citizen. One of their biggest street festivals just happened in Wellington in April with no distancing and no masks – like any normal festival that we used to know and love in Alberta.

New Zealand’s economy has had some setbacks because their tourism industry doesn’t exist right now, but their local economy is doing just fine and better than many globally. Stores, restaurants, pubs, sports, the arts and festivals, schools, businesses, industries, and everything else is open and active. They are free to travel anywhere within the country and see anyone they want. Turns out that shutting everything down early to eliminate the presence of the virus and prevent collapsing the health system is actually good for freedom and the economy in the long run.

Meanwhile back in Alberta, I am sad to see what has happened to my home province and its citizens. I can only do my part and hope with all my heart that everyone else does too.

Now on to my actual sketching. My Urban Sketchers Edmonton group is still sending out weekly sketching themes and prompts, and although we can’t get together as a group, we share our sketches online and help keep each other’s spirits up in that way.

One of our sketching prompts was to feature a small business. Re:Plenish is one of my favourite sustainable small local businesses.

We have been doing a pandemic version of sketching “together” with “Sketch from your Vehicle” events. This month we sketched the grain handling terminal at 13020 – 127 Avenue which was originally built as one of the concrete Canada Government Elevators, then became Alberta Terminals Ltd, and is now operated by Cargill.  Edmonton architect Darrel Babuk told me that these massive grain terminals provided inspiration for Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, one of the true pioneers of the modernist movement in architecture. In Le Corbusier’s collection of essays “Towards a New Architecture” published in 1927, one essay is dedicated to these terminals, illustrated with photographs of the structures from Canada and the USA. One of the photos depicts the terminal in Calgary, built in 1915 and demolished in 2011. Edmonton’s was built in 1924 and the residential neighbourhood of Athlone grew up around it in the 1950s.

Another sketching prompt was to include people in our sketches. I haven’t sketched people in a long time and wasn’t having much luck so I looked online for a tutorial and found one on YouTube that simplifies the human figure as a silhouette. The worked better for me when I was practicing than in my actual sketch, but it would be a great technique for sketching crowds of people when there is such a thing again!     

My practice people sketch

I have also been working on a private painting commission which I am happy to say that I have completed! Here is a detail of the painting, and one of my favourite parts of the painting. I feel like painting more flowers now, and spring will bring me more of those fair subjects soon.

Art has been my saviour through all of this – both because I have been able to find solace in creating art, and I have been able gain comfort through art in many forms through online music, movies, performance, and virtual art exhibits. There is also always the contentment of actual books that I can hold in my hands.

Take care of yourselves and each other. Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman