Location: Manitoba

Lucy Reimer is Manitoba’s Fashionista Farmer

Lucy Reimer is Manitoba’s Fashionista Farmer

Farmers and artists are some of the hardest working people I have met, but when you put a farmer and an artist together, what do you have? An Energizer bunny named Lucy Reimer of Lucy Reimer Designs. We have interviewed many artists living in rural settings and more often than not we have found them to be inspired by their surroundings; their art manifesting itself as a representation of the landscape and nature through colour and beauty. So, needless to say, I was intrigued to learn that there was a fashion and accessories designer and maker in the middle of Manitoba’s prairie.

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When we first arrived on their farm we were greeted by both Lucy and her husband Wally. During the farming season they both work 80 acres of land together, and when not driving the combine Wally is a power engineer at the hospital in Brandon and Lucy is down in her studio driving her sewing machine. When we sat at the kitchen table and got to know each other a bit, Gary and I were surprised at how much Wally knew about fashion and accessories. I should clarify; about Lucy’s fashion and accessories. Wally is Lucy’s biggest supporter in her business and we could see how proud he is of her. In fact, when Lucy is on the road heading off to the next craft fair or art show, Wally is always there. He helps her to set up, take down and even spends time showing the Lucy bags and Lucy Lu wraps to potential customers. There may not be a great man behind every great woman, but in this case there is.

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Lucy has been sewing since she was 12 years old. Her mother gave her a couple of words of advice early on; always sew a straight seam and iron as you go. From that point on sewing has been a passion in Lucy’s life. When she got older, got married to Wally and they had children, naturally she would sew her children’s clothes. And although she and Wally knew staying at home with the children was important to them, she wanted to contribute financially. A couple of friends suggested she make clothes and sell them. At first this seemed like a funny idea to Lucy because growing up on a farm often meant you learned to sew; everyone did. Who would buy clothes that she made?

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After meeting Lucy, I couldn’t help but think growing up on a farm gave her more than just the skills to sew, it gave her an entrepreneurial mindset. After all, farming can give many gifts; patience, stamina, tenacity, learning from failure, an appreciation for hard work, and a deep love for something that never goes away. These are the characteristics I see in Lucy and it shows in the craftsmanship of her work. She has been in business creating her Lucy bags for 10 years now and there is no sign of her or her business slowing down. I have met many artists who have a hard time with marketing themselves and their work and even Lucy noted that it wasn’t easy in the beginning. But now she is always thinking about the next thing, she’s not afraid to put herself or her work out there and she thrives on connecting with people. Great qualities to have as a creative entrepreneur.

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For people who know me, I am always going on about how important it is to purchase local food and goods whether you are in business or an end user. I was thrilled to find out from Lucy that she does this as often as possible. It was happenstance that she would meet a buffalo rancher just 45 minutes from where she lives who now supplies her with hides for her Aud buffalo bags (named after the buffalo rancher’s deceased wife Audrey). Also, she met a fellow artist, Laura Hamilton from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan at a craft/art market and loved Laura’s art. The idea to print some of her paintings on leather and then sew them into Lucy bags, aptly named Prairie bags, came about from this meeting between the two artists. And the printer Lucy uses is in Brandon, not some far off land. This is such a great three way collaboration.

Collaboration purses with Laura Hamilton

Collaboration purses with Laura Hamilton

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It is important to Lucy that each person who purchases a Lucy bag walks away with something unique and special to them, therefore no two bags are alike. If you like earthy colours but want a bit of pizzazz then you may find a brown buffalo bag with a purple and green polka dot liner, or maybe the bag itself is a peacock blue colour, or perhaps you are a die hard Saskatchewan Rough Riders fan, well she has a bag for you too. Lucy’s ideas are only limited by her imagination of which it knows no bounds.

We invite you to meet Lucy in person via her video interview and we encourage you to spread the word about Lucy and her work through social media and email. Also we would love it if you would leave a nice comment below. Thanks!

“Renaissance Man” Artist Jeff Morris

“Renaissance Man” Artist Jeff Morris

"Kayak"

You know the type, a guy that seems to be able to do it all; fix anything, create anything, with the only limitations being that of his own imagination. Meet artist Jeff Morris of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, a man with a vast imagination and seemingly no limitations to his creativity. When we arrived at his studio and gallery a few miles north of town we thought we were interviewing Jeff Morris the artist, but what we found in addition to that was also an inventor and explorer; a Renaissance man of sorts.

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Jeff Morris has always liked to create things, starting off as a youngster with the basics of a hammer, some wood and some ideas. It seemed like a logical choice then that he go into carpentry after high school, giving him the satisfaction of building functional wood structures and earning a living. And although he enjoyed it, he wasn’t able to unleash the creativity that was brewing inside of him, so he decided to transfer his wood construction skills into his artistic side and put the fun back into functional. The result has been not only beautiful and innovative wood pieces, but also Jeff’s expansion of creativity into other mediums.

"Lava Table" - wood construction

“Lava Table” – wood construction

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When we spoke with Jeff about what drives his art he kept coming back to his thirst for learning and discovery. Always experimenting with different techniques and having no shortage of new ideas, his curiosity is endless and is reflected in the variety of media he has his hands in such as concrete, wood, photography, painting and pottery. While he was giving us a tour of his spacious studio and workshop he also pointed out other inventive projects, such as the drum set he made from used propane cylinders; see video HERE, as well as the new musical instrument he made from the inner workings of a piano. If whiskey and slide guitar are more your style then check out the whiskey tumbler and glass slide that Jeff made from a whiskey bottle; see video HERE.

"Raver" - Assiniboine clay

“Raver” – Assiniboine clay

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Jeff admits that his projects are not based on the path of least resistance principle, and he likes it that way. Rather his methods are based more on his quest to satisfy his curiosity and the inherent challenges that come with it. For instance, buying clay for pottery is not too costly, but his discovery of a clay source along the Assiniboine River while he was out kayaking led him to hand dig and haul out a lifetime supply of clay; an enormous physical task. After testing out the initial few hundred pounds of clay with a couple of local potters and then researching the correct combination of additives to make successful pots, he now uses only the Assiniboine clay for all of his pieces.

Collaboration piece with Fred Acoby

Collaboration piece with Fred Acoby

One of the great messages that we took away from our visit with Jeff was that creating art, or any other project, does not have to involve expensive supplies that can stop you before you begin. If a person has a creative urge just waiting to burst from within them, just a little extra work using re-purposed or scrap items or even paints from a building supply store (Jeff’s not-so-secret supply), can get anyone started. In many cases Jeff’s creativity and innovation has lent itself to just providing the materials themselves for the project before the work on the artistic piece has even begun. Although the proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” may apply to finding a solution through lack of financial means, for Jeff it means a necessity for trying new, unconventional, or historical methods that stoke his curiosity and that gives him a satisfaction of having taken the road less traveled to discovery. When asked if there were other mediums that he would to like to explore Jeff mentioned glass blowing but that it is quite a pricey endeavour. We don’t doubt that one day, somehow, Jeff will find a way.

Enjoy our interview with Jeff and this glimpse into his artistic life. Feel free to share his story on social media and email, with nice comments submitted below always welcome.

Coloured Pencil Artist Terry Mellway Delights in the Details

Coloured Pencil Artist Terry Mellway Delights in the Details

"Threesome"

“I would never believe that “Threesome” wasn’t a photograph! Ditto the others. I’m enriched by discovering your art.” This comment from an admirer is just one of many that one will find describing the art work of coloured pencil artist Terry Mellway, and it pretty much sums up the marvel of her detailed drawings. Having got a glimpse of Terry’s pieces online we were excited to meet with her and find out how she can create such realistic drawings using coloured pencils. We caught up with Terry in Winnipeg, Manitoba just as she and her husband Chris were in the middle of moving to Sandy Hook. There were boxes everywhere, but Terry left her studio intact to accommodate us for her interview.

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Terry’s life has always been exposed to creativity of one kind or another; her mother’s own artistic endeavours setting the example for her at a young age. And despite her art work being sidelined for many years while raising a large family, that early encouragement spawned a lifetime passion for creating art. It was then, about fifteen years ago, at her husband’s urging to resume that passion that she reignited the flame of creativity and hasn’t looked back. Terry admits that back then at the start of her career it was hard to imagine herself as a full-time artist, let alone considering that people would buy her work. For us, as we look through the portfolio of work she has done and learn of the many hours she has put in to developing her skills (as little as 4 hours per day!), it would be difficult to imagine otherwise.

"Arrival"

“Arrival”

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Perusing Terry’s website gallery we found that the realism of her pieces evokes more than just appreciation for her skill, they can also ignite the senses and bring out reactions, emotions or curiosity. Many of her pieces will make you smile, such as the beaming face of her granddaughter Grace, the comical parrots of “Birds of a Feather” in their splendorous colours, or her work “Found My Marbles” which brought me back to when I was a child playing marbles with the other kids; our holes in the ground permanent fixtures of the neighbourhood landscape. Staring into the eyes of her tiger piece “Sheba” may give you goose bumps, and a glance at one of her flowers may recall the memory of its fragrance.

"Sheba"

“Sheba”

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A wonderful story that Terry related to us was when she went to Jamaica for a visit and photographed a man who became the subject for her W. Cliff Packer Memorial Award winning piece, “Jamaican.” This local man that carved and painted coconuts for sale at a roadside stand in Ocho Rios, Jamaica exuded such character that Terry asked if she could photograph him. He agreed, and so back home she then chronicled the 150 hours of process from photograph to the coloured pencil drawing you see below. The submission of her piece to Colored Pencil magazine also led to a four page article in the May 2014 issue. Terry sent the man in Jamaica a copy of the magazine who was very thrilled and who happily exclaimed in the very unmistakable Jamaican accent, “Now I’m faymoos”.

"Jamaican"

“Jamaican”

Enjoy our interview with Terry and we encourage you to share her work on social media and email. If you have a nice comment for Terry and her art work you can submit it below.

Potter Valerie Metcalfe Turns the Ordinary into the Extraordinary

Potter Valerie Metcalfe Turns the Ordinary into the Extraordinary

If you haven’t figured it out by now then I will just come right out and say it. I love art! I love everything about it. It constantly amazes me how human beings can take something we may perceive as having little importance and turn it into a wonder of my world. It makes me laugh, smile, ponder, sigh… and be in a constant state of awe. It is because of these feelings and emotions that studies have shown that art (not unlike nature), when we have it in our lives can actually boost our immune systems and make us healthier. But don’t take my word for it, check with Google. Luckily for us there is an endless supply of very talented, emerging and veteran artists right here in Canada for Gary and I to interview and get an immune booster at the same time. It is no wonder then that neither of us have been sick since ArtsQuest began. One such veteran artist we had the pleasure of visiting was potter Valerie Metcalfe of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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Once a week or so you can find Valerie down on Corydon Avenue at The Stoneware Gallery and The Stoneware Studio where she may be firing some of her work, teaching some students or helping out in the gallery. This isn’t just any gallery. It has been in existence for 38 years in its current form and is one of the longest operating co-operative’s in Canada. And Valerie, only 4 years out of university with a fine arts degree, became one of the studio members who purchased the business from the original owner and turned it into a pottery paradise for both makers and appreciators of pots. She has been there ever since. This opportunity gave Valerie something that most people only dream of; to do something she loves for her entire working career.

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It is because of people like Valerie and what their art does for me that I can easily sing the praises for why you should ditch the Corelle and start collecting pieces of art to drink, eat and cook from. When you choose to drink from a vessel that was made of clay, a gift from the earth, by an artist such as Valerie you will have a different experience. It is not hard to go and spend a few bucks on something that will hold your coffee, but when you spend your hard earned dollars on handmade pottery your decision to purchase becomes more mindful. As it happens, there is an honest to goodness connection with something that is so beautiful you can’t take your eyes or your hands off of it. I can tell you, it is the difference between just getting the job done and bliss. Sound kooky? Give it a try.

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When I first spotted Valerie’s work it was really a matter of happenstance. I was on Instagram and was admiring the work of another artist who, unfortunately for ArtsQuest, lives in the UK. I had noticed that Valerie had commented on some of Woodbug1’s work and so I went to see what she was up to. What I found were some pieces that took my breath away and I had to know more. Luckily for ArtsQuest, Valerie Metcalfe is an artist living in Winnipeg which happened to be one of our artist interview tour destinations.

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Valerie has years of experience in the art of making fine pottery. She is highly skilled in technique and form, which her work and her students can attest to. Her clay of choice is porcelain because it is more pure than any of the other clay bodies which gives it its signature white colour. It has a delicate and graceful appearance once fired and finished, but at the same time it is one of the strongest materials used for making pots. Valerie loves the pure and rich colours that come from glazing and painting porcelain and she finds the result to be very similar to what one would find in nature. While we were there she demonstrated for us how she throws a large plate or platter. This is some tricky business, let me tell you. There are so many stages involved with getting it right and this is all before it makes it into the kiln. Valerie makes the process look like a well choreographed ballet. My immune system was fully boosted by this time. The forms, the colours, the decorations, the embellishments and every other little detail that goes into each beautiful piece Valerie makes comes from within her, and is her contribution to a beautiful world.

We invite you to watch Valerie’s video interview and encourage you to help spread the word about her and her work through social media and email. Thank you! PS: We love comments.

The Musings and Amusings of Ceramic Artist Jordan Van Sewell

The Musings and Amusings of Ceramic Artist Jordan Van Sewell

"Devil's Wrecking Ball"

As we strolled around ceramic artiste Jordan Van Sewell’s yard in Winnipeg, Manitoba we couldn’t help but exclaim, “What the…?”, or “What is that?”, or “Hey, take a look at this!”. Amongst the gardens of flowers, grapes, vegetables and crack corn (yes, actual corn stalks growing through the asphalt crack), one will get a glimpse of the many interesting collectibles, found items and projects that decorate his yard. Stepping into his studio and workshop the intrigued visitor will then be met with many of Jordan’s signature ceramic pieces; icons such as Charlie Brown and David Bowie, the devil bathing with his trusty three headed dog beside him, various humanoids and anthropomorphic animals, his robot and skeleton statue minions peering into the “hell hole” dug in the back yard, as well as a good selection of creepy and sinister looking characters. Welcome to the eclectic world of Jordan Van Sewell and his art work.

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Jordan started his professional art career after finishing art school in 1979, and it was these rudimentary skills learned in clay that had given him, as he puts it, “a whole new vocabulary”. Things that meant something to him but that were not expressed, or that could not be acquired elsewhere, could now be created from his own interpretation of the world into his clay pieces, with an enhanced twist to make for a “better read”. The plight and the fortunes of the human construct that Jordan characterizes in his work are meant to evoke empathy and humour, and he observes that the more people become familiar with his work the more the subtle nature of their concepts will be revealed. On the flip side, some of his pieces are just for fun.

"Grosz' Revisited"

“Grosz’ Revisited”

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One look at Jordan’s big, burly, growly, flames-painted Harley Davidson, complete with…doilies? painted on the back luggage carriers, and you will know that here’s a guy that walks to the beat of his own drum. Being unconventional has always been a part of Jordan’s life, sometimes out of necessity, and it shows in the body of work he has created depicting variations of pop-culture symbols and the human condition. As we looked at his collection of ceramic characters they can’t help but make you smile, chuckle or ponder the symbolism, and if these creations don’t clue you in to Jordan’s sense of humour then speaking with him certainly will. His deadpan humour flowed seamlessly in and out of “serious” discussion, occasionally requiring a double-take from us to see if he was pulling our leg, like when he introduced his cat Pearl who keeps the mice and small children in check.

"Tattoo"

“Tattoo”

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Jordan reveals that he started out with the same struggles that any aspiring artist goes through (more ramen noodles?), but despite that he knows that being an artist was always something that he was born to do, rendering himself as he says, “virtually unemployable”. A big part of the “high” is not only the therapeutic process of creating his art, and the magic in the mixture between the intellect, skills and excitement, but also seeing his work in other peoples’ homes and how it has affected them. The significance for them strengthens his own feelings about his body of work. All said, Jordan Van Sewell’s thirty seven years as a professional artist, and loving it to this day, is a great testament to the qualities that got him to where he is today; perseverance and being true to yourself.

We invite you to meet Jordan Van Sewell in our video interview and to help spread the word about him and his art work through social media and email, and a nice comment is always welcome too.

Sculptor Warren Wenzel Chisels New Life Into Stone and Wood

Sculptor Warren Wenzel Chisels New Life Into Stone and Wood

"Goalie"

We left the immaculate Molgat Park campground at Sainte Rose du Lac, Manitoba heading (what we thought was) east to meet up with and interview sculptor Warren Wenzel in Gimli. We heard that it was a pretty drive heading through The Narrows, gliding over the only bridge to traverse the shimmering waters of Lake Manitoba. It’s really too bad then that I messed up on directions and took a more circuitous route; south to Portage la Prairie, then east to Winnipeg, and then finally north to Gimli. Sigh…maybe next time. After knocking on Warren’s door and phoning him with no answer we were getting a little worried that our longer than expected excursion here would all be for naught. But then he emerged from where we should have guessed he would be, his garage studio out back where the magic of his wood and stone sculptures come to life.

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Warren has always been active in the arts in one way or another; his college courses leading him to dabble in cement and wood sculptures as well as abstract pieces in plexiglass. Working with wood though has always interested him, and so in 2000 when a home developer had left behind a landscape tie at a house he and his wife Denise were building, he decided to create his first chainsaw sculpture. His subject was a human sized dragon made up of 150 lbs of wood with fibreglass for the wings. It was certainly an ambitious endeavour for his first one and Warren notes that it was so big and heavy that he wound up gifting it to some friends rather than move it to Manitoba. The dragon is now resting comfortably in St. Albert, Alberta.

Wooden Bear

Wooden Bear

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Warren’s wife has made it a yearly tradition of giving him a different gift at Christmas that has something to do with art. So it wasn’t until Denise and her sister collaborated on some stone, hammers and chisels as his gift one year that his love for sculpting stone took off, and Warren has been carving it ever since for the past sixteen years. What he loves about working with the wood and stone is that once he has transformed the piece it is no longer just wood or stone, it has another identity that not only has a part of him in it, but also whatever the subject matter and the characteristics of who the piece is being designed for. Warren loves the creation process the most, taking away the chunks and then the fine bits to finally reveal what the piece of stone or wood was meant to be.

"Coyote Trickster"

“Coyote Trickster”

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Most of the time when Corinne asks an artist what their most difficult piece was, the response is usually associated with a technical aspect of the creation process. When she asked Warren though the question choked him up a bit. His wooden piece titled “Monk” was requested by his son. Warren initially thought of a portly shaped Buddha, but what his son had in mind was the likeness of a slender monk. As it got closer to completion his son said that the monk needed some prayer beads. Unfortunately his son passed away shortly before the piece was completed, and it wasn’t until Warren found the prayer beads amongst his son’s things that he then draped them in the monk’s hands, completing the piece. The “Monk”, sitting in tranquil meditation, exudes a serenity and spirituality to those that see him in Warren’s art tours. They also see the monk’s wooden “scars” where the wood did not lend itself to a perfect human form, and to Warren these are symbolic of the flaws and vulnerabilities of humanity.

"Monk" - wood

“Monk”

Most of Warren’s work is done by commission from his corporate sponsor, where they will give him a list of retiring members and then he will endeavour to create a unique retirement gift for them. He will find out details about the member, pick an appropriate stone to use, and design a sculpture that would best reflect the personality and characteristics of that person.

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A project that he hopes to include in his portfolio one day is a monumental piece. An idea he has is for the town of Stonewall, Manitoba which is known for its limestone quarries. He wants to use a large chunk of limestone from Stonewall to create a 6 1/2 foot hockey goalie and place it in front of their town arena. Anyone who is familiar with hockey knows that a “stonewall” is another term for a goalie (Warren is one himself). What could be a more fitting monument to the town of Stonewall and its limestone legacy than to have an enduring piece, a goalie in limestone, sculpted by a goalie?

Enjoy our interview with Warren and don’t be shy about sharing his story and work on social media and email. We also appreciate comments.

Free-Spirited Art Works of Jan Jenkins

Free-Spirited Art Works of Jan Jenkins

Zendoodle titled Unity in Diversity

When Gary and I first contemplated interviewing artists all across Canada in 2011, we had decided one thing for sure, our travel home was not going to be a tent. Was it to be a truck and trailer, a truck and camper or some kind of van? Marli, our cat, made the decision in the end. A van was the best choice for her needs and really ours as well. But we decided it couldn’t be just any old van. It needed to be unique and attention grabbing. So it came to pass that we all agreed on Arty, our VW Westfalia Vanagon.

A couple of great businesses got their start in a Vanagon; Mountain Equipment Co-op and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. Perhaps ArtsQuest will join them one day. In the mean time owning Arty is like having a membership to an exclusive club with benefits, including offers of places to stay by a couple of the artists we intended on interviewing. One of those artists is Jan Jenkins of Dauphin, Manitoba.

Jan Jenkins at the Dauphin Art Group

Jan Jenkins at the Dauphin Art Group

Now, a Westfalia is not the only thing Jan and her husband Brian Erickson and Gary and I have in common. In fact we have a very similar later-in-life story as well. It turns out that Jan and Brian also used to live in Calgary up until eight years ago when suddenly they found themselves buying a house in Dauphin and taking early retirement there. As serendipity would have it, on a visit to see Brian’s family one year, Brian decided he wanted to show Jan the house he grew up in and as they drove past they saw that it was for sale.

Although they were seriously contemplating a move and change of lifestyle, Jan wanted to be sure there was a thriving art community so that she could resume her life long passion of creativity on a full time basis. It turns out Dauphin has the Watson Art Centre which is housed in a beautiful building that was once the old town hall built in 1905. Now it is bursting with artistic life in the visual, literary and performing arts. Dauphin is a town of approximately 8500 people and the Centre is supported and appreciated by the community and visitors alike. Inside the building are restored remnants of the town hall itself; the council chamber’s long wood table and the gorgeous wood banisters and fixtures. There is a stage with heavy, red velvet drapes and a spiral staircase leading to a balcony, and even an old jail cell in the basement (currently being used only for storage). Also in the basement is a large space which is home to the Dauphin Art Group and was the other factor that clinched the decision for Jan and Brian to move. Jan has a home studio but she also loves spending time in her space at the Dauphin Art Group. She gets to be with other artists to share ideas and have that creative connection.

Sgraffito titled Windfall

Sgraffito titled Windfall


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Upon arriving at the little home on River Avenue West we were welcomed by Jan and her pooch Tramp and his pal from next door, Barley. Tramp and Barley, however, were in a dog run which Jan refers to as Guantrampamo. This segregation was a temporary measure just in case the four legged greeters were a little too happy to see us. Brian was away in Brandon for the day so the three of us had decided we would do Jan’s interview first and then later the four of us could relax and socialize.

Zendoodle titled Sea Urchin

Zendoodle titled Sea Urchin


Lino Cut Print titled Gardener of the Forest

Lino Cut Print titled Gardener of the Forest



As I asked Jan my questions I discovered that she and I had a couple of similar character traits. Jan considers herself a jack-of-all-trades and has many interests (so do I). Focusing on specializing on just one doesn’t seem to be Jan’s thing (me too). This could be one of the reasons why Jan likes to work in several different media. She works with pen and ink to create intricate and fascinating patterns in the Zendoodle style. And often she will incorporate poetry within her pieces or a story to accompany a particular piece which adds a thoughtful dimension to them. She also enjoys print making and working in oil pastels with a technique known as Sgraffito in Italy. Sgraffito is such an interesting art form. In its simplest explanation, Jan pencils out her drawing on paper, fills in the colours she wants for her subjects with stiff pastels and then eventually covers the whole piece in a buttery black pastel. Upon doing that she takes tracing paper with her original image on it, lays it over top and then traces over it with a pencil which then lifts just enough of the black off the paper so she can see where her drawing is located underneath. At this point she starts scraping away with a tool at the black pastel to reveal the colour and her original drawing. Some of Jan’s other creative activities include making jewellery, rock painting, tie dying, writing poetry and volunteering several hours a month at the Watson Art Centre. Whew! And if that’s not enough she made a fabulous beef stew for dinner for some weary travelers.

We invite you to watch and listen to Jan’s interview with us and we thank you in advance for helping to spread the word about Jan and her art on social media and email. And we love comments so please feel free to leave one below. Thanks.

Road Life Ruminations

Road Life Ruminations

Notre Dame de Lourdes! Our first glimpse of a language foreign to our own. What isn’t foreign is the universal language of hospitality. This friendly little French town of 900 people was a welcome stop and refuge from the stifling heat. Their local municipal campground was well shaded, had power for Arty, brand new washroom and shower facilities, and some of the best water around, all for a modest fee of $15.00! Not only that but free wireless internet was available at the air conditioned gas station/convenience store where we could sit at a table and get some work done before we left town. As the locals would come in they would invariably say hi, and one of them even knows the family of a guy we know in Calgary who is from St. Claude. Funny how that happens. We have to say that it was one of our favourite stops!

We’re goin’ to Miami ami! That’s right, if it wasn’t for the lack of ocean, beach and bikinis replaced by vast fields of canola and wheat, the heat could make you believe otherwise in Miami, MB. The charm of this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stopover was a general store that seemed to carry everything we wanted. Yummy Mennonite sausage, soft serve ice cream and singles of beer and coolers are just a few of our indulgences.

So get this! Seven years ago at a company meeting a complete stranger looked at my name badge and remarked, “Funk…good Mennonite name!” Up until that point I had no idea that I came from a Mennonite background, my father not continuing the traditions with us and also a very private person about his life growing up. So 35 years after my aunt from Canada’s Mennonite capital Steinbach, MB had visited us (I was of course just a mere babe then!), here we are rolling into town looking for long lost relatives and missing pieces of my father’s past. We were not disappointed as we got to spend some time with my Aunt Alvera and my two cousins Marilyn and Deb. My aunt also showed us the farm where my dad grew up, the original home no longer there, as well as dropping in on a first cousin of his and chatting for awhile, Neil regaling us with historical facts about the Mennonite culture as well as a few stories about my father. A great reunion of family!

Janice McBrien: Vibrancy Grows in the Garden and on the Canvas

Janice McBrien: Vibrancy Grows in the Garden and on the Canvas

Our second interview in Hartney, Manitoba was actually just outside Hartney at a beautiful little acreage with some wonderful family history. After our overnight stay at the local campground we set out the next morning to go find Janice McBrien and her husband Bill. They live on a farm that was once homesteaded by Janice’s father. He built the original cinder block house they now call home. Although Janice and Bill are both retired, the land they love keeps them working hard but is also a simultaneous source of inspiration.

Janice McBrien

Upon the usual greetings, Janice invited us in to their home, kindly offered us coffee and a chance to get to know a little bit about her and Bill and their life together. They shared with us stories of their ten years of life together in the Northwest Territories. They once owned a gallery and framing store there which occupied much of their time, but all the while falling in love with the landscape, flora and fauna. Bill gave us a word of advice; if we ever find ourselves living there make sure we are equipped with a parka and a bug suit. Sounds like worthy advice to me!

These days Janice and Bill enjoy what they call “picking”. They go to garage sales and pick up all kinds of treasures which Bill sells on E-Bay. His favourite find is vintage cameras. Janice loves her garden and spends a significant amount of her summer there. She plants seeds that she saved from the summer before to grow both annual flowers and vegetables. Fall brings with it the harvest of sixty tomato plants and a whole lot of canning.

Landscape from the Northwest Territories


When I asked Janice how she got started painting she explained to me that many years ago her son was taking a painting class and she was so thrilled with what he had done that she really wanted to give it a try. This ignited a passion for painting that has carried on to this day. Many artists identify their interests through whatever medium they choose to use. Janice loves colour and the flowers in her garden are the inspiration for her paintings. Growing up as a little girl, her family always had beautiful blooms filling the gardens and the vases. Janice takes her delicate and vibrant subjects and creates wonderful watercolour paintings in their honour. She has done oil and acrylic but she loves the challenge watercolour presents to her. As she says, there is no messing around that can be done. It is what it is and you either commit or you start over.

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Watch the video interview below of Janice McBrien as she talks about her creative passion and we invite you to leave a comment for Janice as well.

Pat Jackson Reveals Small is Beautiful

Pat Jackson Reveals Small is Beautiful

Hartney, Manitoba was the first place we decided to try out our new artist finding strategy. This entailed asking the local folks if there are any fine artists or crafts people in town. In Hartney I went into the town office and inquired with a lady behind the front desk and also with Dawn the librarian. At first they had trouble coming up with anyone but soon names were rolling off their tongues and Dawn even volunteered to help by calling a few on my behalf. I should have clarified that we couldn’t interview all of them but we managed to arrange two interviews and one of them being Pat Jackson.

Pat is an artist who creates miniature porcelain dolls. She began working with standard sized dolls, but due to an unfortunate accident left her unable to manage the larger size and so she began working in miniature and as she says, became hooked. She pours her own porcelain into premade molds and she also does her own original castings which usually are one of a kind. The faces are hand painted and each layer of porcelain paint requires eight hours of time in the kiln. Upon completion, Pat then looks for the ideal fabric to make the dolls clothing, even the underwear is authentic to that period of time. As Pat was explaining to us what she does, I continued to be amazed at the patience this woman must have. She says this is one of the benefits of living in a small town where there are less distractions and in her case her dolls are a great way to occupy her time.

Pat designs and makes her own settings and accessories as well. Her Victorian and Edwardian dolls have the furniture appropriate for the period and accompanied by adornments of flowers. I was astounded to learn that a vase (which was a miniature brass candle holder) of paper iris’s were all painted and assembled by hand. Each bloom was the size of a lady bug. She even needed some camouflage material for a male doll she made to represent the soldiers coming home for Christmas. There is no fabic with the tiny camouflage pattern she required so it was hand painted on. It seems there is no limitation to Pat’s imagination when it comes to finding materials to suit her particular needs and she is constantly utilizing found things. One day while grooming her dog, she saw the need to create a miniature dog that resembled her pet and she used scraps of her pooches hair to get the job done. She also asked her daughter Niquie if she would donate a snippet of her hair to authenticate the original miniature Niquie baby doll. I must say that the resemblance of the dolls to their living counterparts is uncanny.

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The research, care and detail that Pat puts into these very tiny dolls is nothing less than astounding and from what I can see there isn’t anything she has left out. Some of the details are so small you would need a magnifying glass in order not to miss anything.

Watch Pat’s interview and see for yourself what I mean. We welcome you to leave a comment for Pat as well.