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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.