The focus of my artwork over time has been that of memory and remembrance. The series that I have begun recently is inspired in part by my former work as an archivist. After 28 years as the photo, film and sound archivist at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, I left my archival work in 2011 to dedicate my time to my art and creative life.
As a researcher rather than an archivist, I now have time to delve into the archival documents that briefly crossed my work desk. My research into the photographs, diaries and letters of pioneer prairie women has drawn me into their lives and brought me an appreciation of their toughness and resilience. I am also touched by the loneliness that they felt in the sparsely populated landscape, and the vulnerability caused by the social structures and inequitable legislation of the day.
Historically, most stories of prairie pioneers are those of men’s stories – important stories, but an unbalanced view. I wish to honour the lives and collective memory of pioneer prairie women by creating a remembrance of their powerful yet underappreciated voice. I feel a connection and sense of indebtedness for their considerable contributions that have helped to improve the lives of contemporary prairie women.
My artworks in this series are inspired directly by quotes from primary source archival documents. The quotes and women’s names are an integral part of the concept and are intended to be exhibited alongside my artworks.
In my Edmonton studio, I interpret these stories through the medium of encaustic paint.
The quote that inspired this painting is from Mary Edey’s oral history memoir, held in the collection of the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PR1981.0279). Mary came to the Cayley, Alberta area from Ottawa, Ontario in the early 1900s.
I was here for so many years, I had that longing…for trees. The bald baldness of everywhere you go, and the wind. And the trees are so beautiful back home. That was one of the hard things.
It is very rare to find photographs that accompany the documents. I inlude archival photographs of other prairie women that speak to my interpretation. I incorporate these photographs into my encaustic paintings by using a photo transfer process . The photograph in this painting is of Beatrice Wyndham, holding cat at Dinton Ranch, Carseland, Alberta, 1890. (Glenbow Archives photo #NA-2294-7).
I did not bring my encaustic set-up to my residency at the Wallace Stegner House. It is a bit unwieldy and messy and the Stegner House study is more of a civilized space than my studio. So I brought drawing, watercolour and ink supplies.
I spent the week before my residency at the Saskatchewan Archives in Regina, researching pioneer prairie women’s photographs, diaries and letters. Once I was in Eastend, Ethel Willis, a lovely woman with the Eastend Arts Council, took me to the Eastend Historical Museum (which is not open for the season yet) so that I could look through photos and documents there.
The following are two ink drawings that I based on some of my Saskatchewan research. The quotes are included in the drawings, and I have included the full quotes here as well.
I wasn’t entirely happy with the original Mrs. Scobie drawing. I overworked it and it muddied a bit. So I created another one later at home, and have included both here.
Mrs. Scobie’s Teeth – No 2
A night at Shaunavon in rooms. They let me have supper in the kitchen with a baby on one arm. The baby travelled from Shaunavon and I nursed it while its mother nursed her face for she had had 9 teeth out at 7:30 that morning, had a 4 hour journey to face in the train, 10 miles after that, then 4 men to feed (and the baby just 7 weeks old). Heroism. She asked me to come see her. Mrs. Scobie near Robsart.
Quote from the Evelyn C. Hardy diary #A-782 Eastend Historical Museum. Evelyn came to “The Ranche” at Eastend, Saskatchewan from Edinborough, Scotland in April 1928 to visit for six months. She met Mrs. Scobie on the train to Eastend.
Again, these are not drawings of the actual women in the diaries. The photograph that I used as inspiration for Mrs. Scobie is from the Esther G. Cooper fonds at the Saskatchewan Archives, #R-E539. Esther Came to Pangman, Saskatchewan (south of Regina) from Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire, England in 1912.
June 2, 1935: The crops are looking grand. Great big heads and high great hopes.
July 1935: Got disgusted and neglected my diary. We got hailed out on the homestead, the grandest looking crop. 80% & 90%. All the oats gone. Disgusted with farming….must be the devil‘s work, no crop no money, getting tired of waiting for the crop we never get …cannot stand many more.
Quote from the Cecily Jepson Hepworth diaries #R-E190 Saskatchewan Archives Cecily came to the Readlyn, Saskatchewan area (south of Moose Jaw) from Chorley, Lancashire, England.
Posted by Marlena Wyman