I attended June Valgardson’s art show this morning while it was still being set up. It was nice to see her three daughters helping get the show ready. They and their sister, Debbie, who died some years ago when quite young, are the subjects of a number of the paintings and collages in the show.
The show is a mix from years of production: oils, a piece of fabric art and a number of collages. The subjects divide into local nature, family, flowers and scenes from June’s travels. The Icelandic background of the family (June’s husband, Zeke, was half Icelandic and June is one hundred percent Icelandic) is obvious. Even the cake that is for the attendees has a Viking on it. Various Viking images appear in the art. As well, there are landscapes from Iceland.
To me, the most interesting of the paintings are those in which the vision of the artist is not limited by convention. The most successful of the paintings is “Summer at Willow Creek.” The family has an acreage on historic Willow Creek and it is obvious that the creek fills their lives for Zeke was an ardent bird watcher, knowing the names of all the types of birds he attracted onto the property. As well, he was a wood carver. I have a loon he carved and it has a proud place in my house. Otters and beaver, a mob of Canada geese live in and around the creek. The view toward Lake Winnipeg is awe inspiring and has inspired many of June’s paintings.
On a card fitted into one corner of “Summer on Willow Creek”, June has written, “This painting was done at an especially busy time. It was the first winter we moved out to the farm. We had a workshop and I was going to the Gimli Art Club every afternoon and evening. One morning I got up and painted this from my window before going to class. On an old tree, year around, hangs a dipper for the farmer to drink from an old artesian well.”
In “Sunrise” (the painting at the top of the page)the colours are bold, the strokes determined and both the medium and the method join together to make a strong statement about the power of the sunrise at Willow Creek. There is no attempt to prettify it, to subdue nature like the European painters did in the early years in Canada. There’s nothing bucolic about these paintings, no nature that has been tamed and made unthreatening.