Regarding Mary solo exhibit
Bleeding Heart Art Space, Edmonton, Alberta
10 March to 7 April 2017
My exhibit, Regarding Mary, is one that is inspired by the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. My interest in women’s history brings Mary to me: a strong female figure in a religion where gender, power and tradition have become increasingly controversial.
I interpret the image of Mary through representations of her as mother, through materials that speak of women’s work, and through my “found Mary” explorations.
Over the years I have photographed and collected representations of the Virgin Mary, and more recently I have begun to examine my interest in her through my art practice.
My exhibit consists of three parts:
My paintings in Prairie Madonna speak to the isolation that early prairie women felt in pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, and also to the joys that their children brought to them. The isolation and loneliness was a direct result of the homestead system imposed by the government. The checkerboard Dominion Land Survey, unlike the river lot system, created great distances between homesteads. Many women birthed their babies alone. If they were lucky, their husbands were there to help them, or a distant neighbour who had been fetched in time.
The symbol of Mary as new mother is one that is frequently represented by artists. Some of the poses of prairie women and their children in archival photographs brought to mind early masters’ paintings of the Madonna and Child, which I re-interpret in a prairie landscape.
Mary Star of the Sea
On trips to Newfoundland, I have discovered Mary in the cemeteries that are populated by small hand-painted Mary figures. These unfinished cement-cast figures are purchased and painted by the family of deceased loved ones.
The hand-painted, heartfelt Mary figures of Newfoundland evoke both humour and pathos, but above all, represent a loving tribute that is touchingly and imperfectly human. My Mary portraits are based on the photographs that I took in these cemeteries.
Our Lady of Thrift
Our Lady of Thrift forms a shrine or Lady Chapel of sorts. Mary also comes to me in thrift stores. Since many of these stores are faith-based charities, it is not surprising to find her there. She inhabits the knick-knack shelves of second-hand stores alongside chipped ceramic kittens and salt shakers divorced from their pepper partners. Perhaps as they sit beside her, these damaged and discarded denizens benefit from Mary’s sense of calm. I purchase some Marys for my collection and leave some for shelf-mate solace.
As collections do, my Mary collection has also grown through gifts from friends and family: an accumulation of thoughtfulness and generosity.
In my former work as an archivist, I found that one of the significant gaps in archival collections and in mainstream history is that of women’s stories, especially early prairie women. As an artist, I advocate for their rightful place in history, and encourage women to deposit their own and their foremothers’ records in archives.
Please see Truth and Reconciliation statement in “About” section