An Edmonton exhibit explores the past, present and future of the city’s history through sketches.
Edmonton’s historian laureate Marlena Wyman curated Sketching History: Rediscovering Heritage Architecture through Urban Sketching to showcase the city’s heritage architecture and highlight its importance.
“If we don’t preserve our older buildings, we will never have heritage buildings that tell our story. It is part of the identity of Edmonton. If we continually reinvent ourselves, who are we? What is this city?” Wyman explained.
The exhibit is created by Urban Sketchers Edmonton. The original Urban Sketchers began in San Francisco and spread throughout the world. Wyman herself is a member of the Edmonton group, which began in 2011, meeting once a month to draw aspects of our city.
When Wyman became historian laureate, she decided to focus the group of sketchers on heritage architecture. Now, 12 different artists make up the exhibit.
“Because I’m a visual artist, I’ve been interpreting the position through my art practice. Art is the door that brings people in. It’s the attraction. If it’s interesting enough, they want to come closer and see what it is,” Wyman said.
Joanne Wojtysiak is a professional artist and part of Urban Sketchers Edmonton. She discovered the group online.
“I started working from home and I was looking for a group of artists to get me outside the house,” Wojtysiak explained. “I really admire the architecture of Edmonton.”
Wojtysiak said she was thrilled to be selected as a part of Sketching History.
“Every project is interesting in its own way. This is new for me. I haven’t been part of something like this before. I thought it was so exciting,” Wojtysiak said.
“Edmonton has this amazing, rich history. If people become interested in that, maybe they will become interested in where the city is developing. It’s our home. We want to make it a home that people want to stay in and feel comfortable in. I think history is part of that journey.”
“When we go out and sketch, we start to see things we never saw before, it’s a way of observing things differently. When we have these beautiful buildings we walk past every day, we kind of take it for granted,” Wyman said.
So, how has Edmonton changed over the years?
“We didn’t always have a pristine river valley. When the city first started, they were dumping grounds. They were used for dumping grounds, industry, for livestock and gravel pits. It was an early bunch of concerned citizens who wanted the river valley cleaned up and have trees planted. That’s made it so beautiful today,” Wyman explained.
The darker side of Edmonton’s history is also depicted in the exhibit.
“There’s one panel here that is about the Papaschase Reserve and the Rossdale Burial Grounds. Edmonton is not just its building history. What was here before those buildings?” Wyman said.
Wyman wrote stories about each of the locations sketched, displayed alongside the drawings.
“History is everything. It is overwhelming at times. This helps us look at things in bites,” Wyman said.
“This is an interestingly random exhibit. I wanted it to be sort of led by what the sketchers were interested in. Some of us would suggest buildings at risk, because we don’t know if that’s the last time we could capture them. Other times, it’s just someone’s favourite spot. There are lots of buildings people love that are not in this exhibit, but we will keep on sketching outside of the exhibit.”
The main exhibit will be displayed at the Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre and the City of Edmonton Archives until December 2020. A smaller exhibit is travelling to Edmonton Public Library branches, and an upcoming complementary online exhibit will also be available.
“The art draws them in. They wonder what’s behind the story. One of the most gratifying things is when people come up to me and tell me, ‘I never knew that, that’s really interesting. That’s really important.’ That’s exactly what I’m hoping this exhibit will do,” Wyman said.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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The opening of local photographer Jennifer Irving’s Uptown art gallery, Paris Crew, is another step in a lifelong entrepreneurial journey.
“I feel like it was something I’ve had since I was young, starting little businesses,” said Irving. “I’ve had a buckwheat pillow business, I’ve had a falafel business with my brother in the City Market, I had a nail polish business when I was 12. I just always loved business for some reason.”
She pursued the idea of operating a bricks-and-mortar gallery after she held a pop-up once at the Moonlight Bazaar two years ago.
“I was just so energized about talking to people about my work. Instead of doing an online interaction, I was able to talk to people and tell them about the photos,” she explained. “That launched me into a whole idea of working with galleries or starting my own so I could showcase my work.”
After a tip from her framer, she purchased 62 Water Street, the former souvenir shop Distant Waters and a historic property built in 1885 in the wake of the Saint John fire.
Paris Crew, named after the Saint John area rowers who won the World Rowing Championship in Paris in 1867, showcases the work of artists like Cliff Turner, Timothy “Bjorn” Jones, Melanie Koteff, Shannon Gates, Leigh Donovan, as well as Irving’s own photography.
COVID-19 threw a wrench into Paris Crew’s plans to benefit from the summer cruise ship and tourist season, as well as causing renovation delays, but Irving believes the gallery will help further develop the increasingly busy Water Street.
“It’s always boggled my mind that our waterfront isn’t more developed,” she said. “I’ve fallen in love with this little block, this little area which felt a little bit empty just a few years ago. It’s coming alive and I’m happy to be a part of that.”
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Irving wants the Paris Crew to be another gallery and creative space for Saint John artists. It’s going to be a multi-functional venue where visual and musical artists could hold concerts and pop-ups, even though the pandemic has changed the shape of those original plans.
Livestreamed events and bubble concerts are some examples of potential events.
“We’re so excited to explore new ideas and different ways of doing things,” she said.
“We want to bring the arts community together, whether it’s people interested in photography, painting, or music. I’d like to see the community come together [here] and be able to celebrate the art scene here in Saint John.”
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Thanks to a very generous donation from an art gallery in Montreal, Grace Village is giving out thousands of dollars-worth of art this week as a way of saying thank you to its staff members for their hard work over the last six months.
“They are dedicated, committed, and have really sacrificed a lot,” said Andrea Eastman, the home’s interim executive director, explaining that the donation was arranged through a board member following a discussion about how the community could recognize the work of the staff during the pandemic. “The board had been trying to come up with a way to thank the employees and do something that is a little bit different.”
The artworks have been put on display for the residents to enjoy, and workers are being invited to come and select a work of their choice over the course of the week, based on their seniority.
Looking back on the last few months, Eastman said that the word “challenging” only scratches the surface of the realities that people working in retirement communities and long-term care homes have been facing.
“Our focus has been on keeping our residents safe and healthy,” she said. “That has guided every decision about what we needed to do.”
Eastman underlined the importance of clear communication and trust as key pillars to the success of the Grace Village community since the start of the pandemic
“It’s a shared responsibility with employees, residents, their families and other people in the community; You have to have trust in each other,” she said. “The more you communicate about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, the clearer it is that we’re all in this together.”
Asked whether the home has faced the same sorts of difficulties with people failing to respect rules and guidelines that have been reported at other care homes in the region, the interim director said that there have certainly been cases where people needed to be reminded of the reasons why things are the way they are.
“We’ve remained quite strict, but we’re trying to be as sensitive as possible,” she said.
In matters ranging from employee scheduling during a time when multiple days off in a row might be needed for a test, to figuring out how to offer residents enrichment when gathering together is largely off limits, Eastman said that her key word has been optimism.
“I try to focus on what we are able to do, rather than what we are not able to do,” she said, adding that the support and commitment of the whole team plays an important role in making a challenging situation more feasible. “What they are doing goes above and beyond what their employer is asking of them.”
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