Exciting news! I have been invited to be one of the gallery artists at Bugera Matheson Gallery in Edmonton. It is one of the established and vibrant contemporary commercial galleries in Edmonton’s Gallery District. Some of my pieces will be in the group exhibit “Hidden Gems” from August 6 to 27. The exhibition includes my artworks along with those by three wonderful Edmonton-based artists: Wiz Wensel, Sharon Moore Foster and Judy Koch. There are two receptions (open to the public) and I will be in attendance at both on August 6 and 13 from 1 to 4pm.
My works in the exhibit are inspired as always by the poignant stories of the first immigrant women’s experiences on the vast western prairie. The works can be viewed here and you can click on the photos to read the stories.
Metro Cinema is a wonderful art house cinema in Edmonton where you can watch films that often can’t be seen elsewhere in the city. Edmonton artist Tim Rechner is the curator of Metro Gallery, a small but super exhibit space for local artists located in Metro’s lobby in the historic Garneau Theatre building.
My exhibit titled “Home” is on display in the Metro Gallery from June 1 to 30, 2022.
The originals for these works are ink and watercolour, and are in my sketchbooks. I went to an excellent small local business, Vivid Print, to get enlargements made for the exhibit. They did a fantastic job considering that the approximately 8″x10″ originals were enlarged to 18″x24″.
Some of my sketchbooks are in their fab movie-poster display window in the lobby. The sketches don’t show up in this photo but the window is superb! The lobby at Metro is typical of the beautiful old movie theatres of the era. The Garneau Theatre was built in 1940 in the Art Deco Moderne style by architect William G. Blakey. It was the second cinema built outside the downtown core in Edmonton. The local non-profit Metro Cinema Society took over operation in 2011. In 2009, it was designated a Municipal Historic Resource and underwent an extensive restoration to return the theatre to its 1940s appearance.
My intention for the exhibit is two-fold: for casual viewers I hope that my works engender cozy and peaceful feelings of home. For those who read my artist’s statement, it may take them to a further level of thought regarding the sometimes precarious nature and concept of home.
Artist’s Statement: I began this series when we were all holed up at home early in the pandemic. In viewing my drawings more recently, I began to contemplate the concept of home in our increasingly unstable and unequal world. The word “home” most often brings to mind images of comfort, safety and ease, as it should. It is a basic need of life, but has it become a privilege?
More than ever in today’s world, “home” can be precarious – domestic violence, financial insecurity, war, persecution, natural and man-made disasters – all threaten and destroy homes. How do we define and re-create home when it has been taken from us?
10% of print sales will be donated to WIN House Edmonton (shelter for women and their children who have suffered abuse)
18”x24” unmounted open edition prints $95 ea. 18″x18″ unmounted open edition prints $85. (other sizes available – price on request)
All photographs and artworks copyright Marlena Wyman unless otherwise indicated.
My two-month artist-in-residence position with the City of Edmonton at Yorath House has now come to an end. The time went by quickly, and my residency partner Adriana Davies and I found great inspiration in this beautiful house situated in Edmonton’s beloved river valley parkland.
Our final two blog posts focus on two aspects of history for Yorath House. One of the posts explores the history of the parks area in which Yorath House is located, titled Beautiful Views: Edmonton’s Westerly Parks.
Adriana’s thorough research and writing reveals that the earliest planners for our city were visionary, hiring landscape architects as early as 1907 to plan Edmonton as a city that preserved and celebrated the natural beauty of its river valley. However, not all City administrators have been as visionary, and citizens have had to defend the parks, river valley and ravines up to and including the present.
“The April 1958 Map of the City of Edmonton, according to the legend, shows transit routes, public and separate schools, hospitals and neighbourhoods as well as the City boundaries. It provides an aerial view of Laurier Park and the Buena Vista subdivision spanning 34 lots from 76th Avenue, which is closest to the River, to 8th Avenue, and from 138th Street, which borders on Laurier Park, to 130th Street. It also shows the layout for the Valleyview and Laurier Heights subdivisions. The creation of Buena Vista Park is evident. The area dedicated to Buena Vista Park and Laurier Park comprises 110 hectares, while the residential neighbourhood comprises 132 hectares.” (See post for image of map)
“The City of Edmonton’s River Valley protection plan is at a crossroads in 2022. Just as the Mill Creek and MacKinnon Ravine freeway projects were halted as a result of citizen activism, there is currently an initiative to block the solar farm, mounted by several groups including the Edmonton and Area Land Trust and the Edmonton River Valley Conservation Coalition Society. They noted that the project would have a negative impact on the human use and environmental health of the area.”
Our final blog post focused on the history of the Wilkin-Yorath families, titled Family and Home.
Adriana was able to locate some family members who we interviewed. Through their generous sharing of memories we came to understand a more intimate history of their family and home. The family lived there from 1949 when the house was built by Dennis and Bette Yorath until 1992 when the City purchased the house and later renovated it as a unique facility for corporate retreats, weddings, community programs and family-friendly events in the river valley. Through the pandemic, the City has been supporting artists with studio residencies at Yorath House, for which I am grateful.
“Dennis Kestell Yorath was born in London, England in 1905 and was educated in London, Saskatoon and perhaps Edmonton. His father’s wealth allowed him, as a young man, to enjoy the benefits of being part of Calgary’s elite and he learned to fly a plane and play polo.”
As is often the case with mainstream history, the men’s stories are more easily revealed through regular research channels. Fortunately by way of these interviews, we were able to also highlight some of the stories of the Wilkin-Yorath women: Hilda Wilkin (née Richardson Carter), Emily “Marnie” Yorath (née Kestell), Bette Yorath (née Wilkin), Gillian Brubaker (née Yorath), and Elizabeth Yorath-Welsh.
Bette Yorath (nee Wilkin) was born in 1912. “She attended a private girl’s school in Vancouver according to her daughters, and was a superb equestrienne. She tended extensive gardens and bred peonies, rode daily and also raced thoroughbreds in “Powder Puff” Derbies in Calgary.”
From an interview with Gillian Yorath Brubaker (daughter of Dennis and Bette) : “In the photograph of myself and Jocelyn with our cousin Rick Wilkin, we are wearing our school uniforms and Rick was wearing a robe. The photo was taken at the Wilkin summer place at Kapasiwin Beach on Lake Wabamun.”
A great tragedy occurred for the Yorath family in 1950 when Jocelyn died of leukemia at the age of 12.
As historical researchers, on occasion we find people who possess a vivid visual memory, and that was the case with one of the family’s live-in maids, Ilse Ella Messmer (née Hanewald), who described in detail the original layout of the house interior, and recalled many fond memories of the Yorath family.
The Wilkin and Yorath families played essential parts in Edmonton’s development, and I felt privileged to have the time and space for creativity in this historic house.
The walls of Yorath House are graced with inspiring artworks by major Alberta artists, on loan from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. The works were carefully curated by AFA’s Art Collections Consultant Gail Lint to complement the modernist style of the house, built in 1949. Mid-century prints, drawings and paintings are on exhibit in the house by eight significant Alberta artists: Marion Nicoll, Thelma Manarey, John Snow, Stanford Perrot, George Wood, J.K. Esler, E.J. Ferguson, and Kenneth Samuelson.
Background about these artworks can be viewed on the AFA’s website.
I was especially pleased to see four artworks by Marion Mackay Nicoll (1909 – 1985). She was on the cutting edge of Alberta’s early abstract art movement, and her work paved the way for the acceptance of female artists in a male-dominated art scene. In 1933 she became the first woman instructor at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art.
Two of her works are just down the hall from our studio at the second floor staircase landing. They are fittingly titled January and February, which are the months of our artists’ residency. Nicoll has provided her muse to me, and these two prints were a beginning point. In my walks through the winter landscape near Yorath House, I became aware of forms that echoed those in Nicoll’s January and February prints, and my intent is for my interpretations to honour her two works.
One of the thin central lines in Nicoll’s February is a red-brown, which I interpreted as the wooden exterior of Yorath House. When looking at the house from the river side, there is a large expanse of open land leading up to the house which had been the Yorath family’s lawn and flower gardens. Trees surround the house on all sides.
Much of Nicoll’s entire body of work expresses her love of Alberta’s seasons and weather, and her elegant perception of prairie space is evident.
My watercolour pans in the blue and grey tones have been getting a real workout with all of the outdoor artworks that I have been creating. Prairie Farm, another of Nicoll’s winter paintings (not hanging at Yorath) is a subject that is more connected to the setting of the Yorath House than might be initially thought. There were farms in the river valley where Yorath House is situated and what is now parkland had been the site of chicken, turkey and mink farms along with other agricultural activities.
Nicoll also worked in automatic drawing – something that I have not attempted. It is not easy to enter into that level of the subconscious mind, and I admire her for that and her other departures from what were the strong British watercolour landscape traditions taught by A. C. Leighton in her early art school training (1928-1930) at Calgary’s Provincial Institute of Technology & Art (later the Alberta College of Art). Although she had a lifelong gratitude for what Leighton taught her, she felt that her true identity as an artist came about after she learned automatism from Jock Macdonald (1946), and then made abstract her genre.
I have to admit that at times my paint test sheets actually turn out better than my drawings/paintings. That was the case here with the test sheet that I used when I was painting a watercolour of the exterior of Yorath House. I scrapped the “painting” but I liked the test sheet. It is nothing more than random blobs and brush strokes to see whether the colours were what I wanted. My test sheets are not conscious acts of art, but I have been keeping some when I look at them at the end of the day and say, “Hey I like that.” I may do something with them one day. In this case I think that my test sheet was guided by the muse of Marion Nicoll. They are as close to being automatic drawings as I have come.
Nicoll worked in sketchbooks as well, often using the continuous line drawing technique. I sketch regularly with my Urban Sketchers Edmonton group, and I have a tendency for the line in my sketches to become tight, so making a continuous line drawing from time to time helps me to loosen up.
Marion Nicoll, Annora Brown, Ella May Walker and others produced the 1935 exhibit Women Sketch Hunters of Alberta as a reaction to the almost completely male membership of the Alberta Society of Artists at the time, and the preferential attention given to male artists. Women artists played an integral role in Alberta’s art scene, although both it and the Canadian art scenes were mainly a boys club at that time and for the next several decades.
Nicoll’s abstract art practice began in 1957 at Emma Lake, SK and then at the Arts Students League in New York (1958-59) where she studied with Will Barnet at both locations. It may seem unusual for me to have an abstract artist as muse since I do not work in that genre – I also love the work of American artist Joan Mitchell – but the light of inspiration enters through many windows and it is not always direct.
Nicoll is the most recognized female artist in the development of abstract art in Alberta, and her legacy of Canadian postwar modernism remains at the modernist-designed Yorath House.
Townshend, Nancy. A History of Art in Alberta. Calgary: Bayeux Arts Inc., 2005.
Laviolette, Mary-Beth. Alberta Mistresses of the Modern 1935-1975. Edmonton: Art Gallery of Alberta, 2012.
Zimon, Kathy. Alberta Society of Artists – The First Seventy Years. Calgary: The University of Calgary Press, 2000.
My artist-in-residence position at Yorath House continues to be inspirational. My residency partner, writer/poet Adriana Davies, has been researching up a storm that has provided further inspiration for us. We both have backgrounds in the arts and heritage fields so we get pretty excited with the archival gems that she has located about the history of the family and the land here.
The weather has become warmer so I have been taking walks in the beautiful river valley outside of Yorath House. In fact, it has been oddly warm at times requiring me to wear my ice cleats even on the snow that has formed a Royal Icing consistency on its surface. I mostly avoid walking here on weekends because the dog-walking crowd (and I do mean crowd) takes over. Some are not exactly public spirited and don’t seem to concern themselves with the idea that other walkers would like to enjoy less crappy pathways. Gah. However, most are respectful and I thank them.
Edmonton is incredibly lucky to have a magnificent park system along the North Saskatchewan River valley. It is the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America, with 160 km of trails. Since I live across the river, my wanderings here have provided me with fresh territory to discover, along with new views across to “my” side of the river.
Here are some of our recent posts on the Edmonton Arts Council’s blog, where you can see more of my residency artworks and Adriana’s poems and research writings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What are you doing to help end the pandemic?
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:
Do you think there ever could be a dangerous new disease that could cause a pandemic?
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.