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The Provincial Archives of Alberta hosted a lovely opening for my exhibit on the evening of Wednesday February 10th.  Many thanks to the Archives for all the work they have done to assist me with my exhibit. It was wonderful to see both the art and heritage folks at the opening, as well as family and friends. Thanks to all for attending.

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That’s me “illuminating” the attendees – ha!

This exhibit is truly a blending of archives and art. In my former work as an archivist, I found that one of the significant gaps in archival collections is that of women’s stories. In particular, the voice of early prairie women is largely excluded from mainstream history.

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.

Framed scans of pages from Alda Dale Randall’s diary, in the collection of the Provincial Archives of Alberta, are exhibited alongside my artworks.

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 The sewing chair and the garden in back by Marlena Wyman, in the exhibit at the Provincial Archives of Alberta. Photo by Provincial Archives of Alberta.

The chair is the only artwork that was not created specifically for this exhibit. It was also exhibited at my Sisterhood of Longing exhibit at the Jackson Power Gallery in Edmonton in 2014.

In reading early prairie women’s diaries and letters, I found that the work of sewing and gardening on the homestead was one that was shared by settler women across time and place. They often wrote of toiling on the homestead alongside their husbands from the wee hours of the morning until late at night, with little time to sit. When they did sit, it was usually after everyone had been fed and put to bed, and then they would sew, spin, knit, weave, and mend. The occasional decorative embroidery or crochet, a symbol of their former lives, found its way onto tablecloths or curtains made from flour sacks.

The garden was an important source of food and family income, but the longing for a more genteel life was expressed in part by planting a few flowers among the vegetables in the garden.

My machine works fine and I have been sewing all day but will soon be without thread. Such a great mass of sewing I have planned. My old gray cloth skirt & scraps made Willis a pr. of pants, Jim a pair of overalls knee length with trim of wine poplin, another pair of pants for Jim and I think I’ll put a wool waist to them yet. An old sailor suit of blue serge is making a dress for Dolly with trim of lighter blue & some red braid. I finished Jim’s suit today (Willis’s navy serge suit coat with new buttons and tie and a new pr. of pants from Warren’s old coat.)   

Alda Dale Randall diary, Page 96. Friday Aug 6, 1920

The beets are beginning to get a decent bottom on ‘em, the carrots almost large enough to eat, white turnips are ready to eat, corn in tassel but peas are no good from hail. Black winter radish & parsnip just starting to grow at bottom. I take home mess of nice lettuce. Cabbage is beginning to head & potatoes, what few came up, are in bloom.

Alda Dale Randall diary, Page 105. Thursday August 19, 1920

Posted by Marlena Wyman

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