I realised that I have bits and pieces of this exhibit all over my blog, so for those of you who are interested in seeing all of the prints in one place, here they are.
Prairie Wind & Silver Sage Museum and Friends of Grasslands National Park in Val Marie, Saskatchewan exhibited my limited edition beeswax transfer prints from May to September of 2014.
We interpret our memories and identities in part through the filter of stories told and through traces of past lives. A haunting photograph or a handwritten passage in the diary of a long dead stranger can create a profound personal connection. The voice of early prairie women is a powerful one, but one that is largely excluded from mainstream history. In my exhibit, Landing Hard, I honour the personal and collective memory of these women. My limited edition beeswax transfer prints created from my original ink and watercolour drawings offer a glimpse into the lives of early women settlers on the prairies; their loneliness and vulnerability, their toughness and resilience; their joys and sorrows.
Prairie landscape, the work and heritage of rural life, and my former work as an Archivist, all inform my creative expression. My most recent artworks are inspired by research into the archival photographs, diaries, letters and memoirs of prairie pioneer women in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Each print is individually handmade using an encaustic process in a limited edition of 20 numbered and signed prints. The encaustic medium consists of beeswax melted with a small amount of damar resin or microcrystalline wax for increased hardness. The molten wax is mixed with white pigment and applied to Arches 100% rag cold press 300 lb watercolour paper. The encaustic surface is smoothed with heated tools in preparation for the image transfer.
My original ink and watercolour drawing is scanned and the digital image is transferred by burnishing onto the warmed beeswax surface. A final fine coating of carnauba wax is sprayed onto the surface to protect the image transfer.
Because these prints are individually hand-made, each print will have unique qualities. This is due to slight variations in the wax surface and in the burnishing & finishing process.
The prints are approximately 8″ X 10 ” each in size, and I have mounted them in a 16″ X 20″ format alongside their accompanying quote. The quote is printed on vellum and stitched onto the watercolour paper with embroidery floss.
Here are images of each of the prints and their accompanying quotes.
Esther G. Vann Cooper’s New Home
After a while my husband….appeared at the station with a horse-drawn home-made ‘jumper’…After some further travel, I ventured to ask ‘Is it much further?’… ‘When you get up to the top of this hill, you’ll be able to see your new Canadian home,’ [he said]. When on the summit of the hill I stood up to gaze upon my new home, and no one can ever imagine how I felt when I looked upon a small building, which more or less resembled a chicken coop, and when I entered that little sad shack, which was to prove home to me for some years, I felt a sense of great loneliness…
Quote from Esther G. Vann Cooper’s memoirs. Esther came to the Pangman area of Saskatchewan from Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire, England in 1912. Saskatchewan Archives #R-E539
Where Snow Ended and Sky Began
I stared silently at the small house, sitting so alone, so unprotected in the middle of thousands of acres of snow…
Quote from Edna Banks’ memoir, 1911. Edna came to the Swift Current area of Saskatchewan from Ontario in 1911. Saskatchewan Archives S-F137.1, R-E2912
I think the two words, silence and whiteness, will ever be associated in my mind. In those dreary winter months, when almost all life had deserted the prairie, and often the horizon was indistinguishable and one could not see where snow ended and sky began, it seemed as if there could be nothing but silence and whiteness in all the world…
Quote from Hilda Kirkland’s memoir, 1895-1905. Hilda came to the Qu’Appelle district of Saskatchewan from London, England in the late 1800s. Saskatchewan Archives, S-F266.1, R-E3149
June 15, 1910 I had quite a time getting the cows milked and calves fed…the baby cried when I left her alone so I had to take her out on the go cart…I often wish Lorne had some trees to play under. He plays in the hot sun – he is so brown.
Quote from Margaret Coronachan’s (nee McCrie) letters. Margaret came to the Macklin area of Saskatchewan from Sarnia, Ontario in 1910. Saskatchewan Archives R-E318
On the rough 12 mile ride, with the horses getting the ship frequently, I learned that Maria had been in labour a long time…I was conducted into the small bedroom where the patient lay in agony. The clean bed was surrounded by several frustrated women who were counting their rosary beads while praying loudly and fervently.
Quote from Margaret Charlotte Faulkson Thomson’s memoir, 1920. Margaret came to the Fort Assiniboine area of Alberta from Germany in 1919. Provincial Archives of Alberta, PR1984.156
I am 31, the mother of 7 children, eldest 11 years, and youngest 8 months, not at all strong, and owing to farm conditions, very heavily in debt.
I would like to have any information I can get re: birth control.
Quote from Mrs. E.J.M.’s letter to the Western Producer Magazine, September 29, 1927. Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science & Technology Library
We Clung Together
Wallace Stegner wrote of his closeness to his mother and of his family living from move to move, never knowing stability. Their house in Eastend, Saskatchewan offered the only fleeting stability for the short time that the family lived there, and was also the home of his happiest childhood years:
My father was a restless boomer, my mother a frustrated nester….Yet we were still a family, of a kind. My mother made us one by refusing to grant that we were not. Perpetual outsiders, we had no support beyond each other; and though my mother, my brother and I were often in mutinous league against my father, our relationship even with him was close and intense. We clung together. But three of us, at least, were envious of the luckier ones among whom we settled so briefly.
Quote from Wallace Stegner’s inspired by a photograph of Wallace Stegner and his mother Hilda Stegner (née Paulson), 1912. Hilda and her family lived in Eastend, Saskatchewan from 1914 to 1920. They also lived in twenty places in eight states of the U.S.
From quote and photograph on the wall of the Wallace Stegner House, Eastend, Saskatchewan
In early 2013, I adopted a heritage chicken through the University of Alberta Farm’s Rare Poultry Conservancy Program. I named her Gertie Chase in honour of a pioneer woman who wrote about her chickens in her letters.
Gertie Chase (the pioneer) came to the Wapiti River area of Alberta, from Tonasket, Washington State in the 1920s.
Gertie Chase’s letters are in the Provincial Archives of Alberta
Gertie inspired both my artwork and Edmonton poet Patricia Myers’ poem:
University Farm, Edmonton by Patricia Myers
In the middle of the city manure steams the morning awake
mists hot from cows’ daily gleanings into late August air.
The sun yawns at morning now, climbs slow over earth’s edge
late as a tousle-haired sleepyhead still agroan with night.
On the other side of the road Canada geese fleck a harvested field
to search for gold, kernelled nuggets they’ll trade
for days on autumn’s long journey,
their outstretched wings the beat of ancient threshers
rhythm of flail and winnow building a shield
against the thickening heart of winter.
Chickadees and sparrows flower
summer’s broken stalks,
a grasshopper clicks its heels and flies
its wings dark open almost like a muddy butterfly
and for a moment I am fooled.
Further in, crops still standing in neat squares
dust the air with knowledge, waiting
for the knife, the scale, the hand of a student
to measure this one for that, that one for this,
all a mystery to us
in the middle of the city.
Last spring when the Farm advertised for people to adopt a heritage chicken
my friend got Gertie.
A dozen eggs pale as weak tea every fourteen days. Until now.
She’ll next see Gertie or some of her friends,
Barred Plymouth Rocks, Brown or White Leghorns,
maybe a Light Sussex or a New Hampshire
hot and stewed between two pastry crusts
the genes of the youngest and healthiest saved from the fire
for the sake of next year’s flock.
My friend is a country girl, a farm girl schooled
in the lessons of barn and farmyard, her eyes wide open
to the butchering of chickens with the leaving of the light.
I’m just a city girl holding on to summer, not wanting
to see fall’s feathers plump the air
in the middle of the city.
Chickens on the Clothesline
Part of what was considered to be women’s work was often barnyard labour: raising livestock such as chickens, turkeys, ducks, cows, pigs, sheep, and goats. These were valuable sources of food, clothing and household goods for the family in the form of meat, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, gelatin, soap, candles, fertilizer, leather, feathers, down, and wool, all which was utilized and/or made by the women. The raising of livestock and their products also provided an important source of regular income for the family homestead.
I haven’t a single chicken out yet. My hens seem to be awfully giddy this spring. They simply won’t settle down to set. I tried two of them out last week but I got so disgusted with them that I finally hung them in sacks on the clothesline and told them if they couldn’t sit properly they could start laying again.
Quote from Anne Pringle Hemstock’s letter to her Aunt Ella Mitchell McClelland May 7, 1925. Annie came to the Hannah area of Alberta from Ontario in 1918.
Athabasca University’s Alberta Women’s Memory Project website
Also inspired by a photograph of Mrs. R.V. Milikan hanging clothes on a line: North Carolina State University
Mrs. Scobie’s Teeth
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 Evelyn C. Hardy’s diary. Evelyn came to “The Ranche” near Eastend, Saskatchewan from Edinburgh, Scotland in April 1928 to visit for six months. She met Mrs. Scobie on the train to Eastend. Eastend Historical Museum #A-782
Mrs. Scobie inspired both my artwork and Edmonton poet Patricia Myers’ poem:
Melt Water by Patricia Myers When you were seven weeks old we took the train to Shaunavon you and I.
New and shy with each other I held you softly,
lifted you to the window,
showed you April hills wet with snow
and started to tell you what I knew of the world.
On the way back I gave you to a stranger.
She held you to her cheek dimpling yours with her murmurings,
wiped your lips while I wiped mine wet and stringy with blood
my cratered mouth howling I closed my eyes
and did not show you anything.
We kept the teeth you and I,
rolled them like dice on the table top,
or spun them in teacups and told each other stories from their lines.
We’d count them out, one for each week you’d been alive then,
one for the week before when I knew you were coming
my whole body pressing down everything inside me urgent as melt water
and one, one for what would become of us.
You unwrapped them when you didn’t think I’d know,
pulled them from the chest, took them from the handkerchief but I knew.
You’d find me with the chickens or steaming at the sink
and ask me to tell you the story
of when we took the train to Shaunavon you and I,
when coming back, I gave you to a stranger.
Flour Sack Family
Flour and sugar came in 50 and 100 lb cotton sacks. With frugality as a way of life, pioneer women re-used these sacks and feed bags to make household articles such as tablecloths, sheets, pillowcases, curtains, handkerchiefs and clothing. Embroidery or crocheted edges were sometimes added to make the end products prettier and less revealing of their humble origins. Flour bag companies later began to print floral and plaid patterns on the bags to cater to this re-use.
Sometimes you didn’t get into town for a month at a time especially in winter. When you went to buy the patterned flour bags, you looked them over to see which you would like to make into clothes. Nothing was wasted at our house.
Quote from interview by the artist with Ada Forsyth at the Wolf Willow Health Centre in Eastend, Saskatchewan, April 9, 2013. Ada was born in 1916 on her parents’ homestead near Eastend and homesteaded in the same area after marrying her husband in 1937.
I make everything I can out of flour sacks…I made the girls middies out of dyed flour sacks. I dyed some pink, they look alright with a little white piping on them…I have to make skirts and drawers out of flour sacks too, and a good many other things.
Quote from Gertie Chase’s letters to her mother, October 28, 1922 and December 3, 1923. Gertie came to the Wapiti River area of Alberta, from Tonasket, Washington State in . Provincial Archives of Alberta PR1973.0569 Also inspired by a photograph of the LaFramboise family, [1930s], private collection, unknown location
Poertry: Patricia Myers is an Edmonton writer who has published widely in Alberta history and culture. She is particularly interested in preserving women’s history through ensuring more archival material revealing of women’s lives is deposited in public archives. She is currently working on a book of poetry based on a piece of land near Cochrane, and the man she met there.
Posted by Marlena Wyman