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Thursday, 18 December 2014 06:35

Exhibition shows vibrant legacy of art gallery in Swift Current

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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The final exhibition at the Art Gallery of Swift Current (AGSC) during the city's centennial year provides a fitting reflection on the gallery's contribution to a vibrant art community over the past 40 years.


An informal wine and cheese reception for the exhibition, titled Legacy: A Swift Current history of visual art, took place at the gallery on Dec. 14.
“This is a unique year in that this is also the 40th anniversary of the Art Gallery itself,” AGSC Director and Curator Kim Houghtaling told the Prairie Post.
This exhibition is part of a series of centennial related events organized by the AGSC during 2014. The Expressions of a Community exhibition at the start of the year presented historical photographic images of Swift Current.
The Imagine Swift Current exhibition during May and June presented life in Swift Current, whether real or imagined, through the works of local artists.
The Wishing you were Here exhibition at the West Wing Gallery in Kinetic Park took place during the Centennial Homecoming weekend. It presented the works of artists who were originally from Swift Current but has moved to other locations during their careers.
The current Legacy exhibition is a more specific assessment of the gallery's own contribution to the community through a presentation of works by artists with connections to the institution since it opened in 1974.
“What we're doing with Legacy is specifically talking about the past 40 years and the contribution of the Art Gallery to the community and to our history of the area, but also giving examples of the art work that will be part of our permanent collection and part of the community's art history into the future,” he said.
The art works on display in this exhibition represent a few key themes from the gallery's development as a public space for visual art in the community.
When the gallery officially opened on Oct. 4, 1974, it was known as the Swift Current National Exhibition Centre.
“The Art Gallery was a significant venue for presenting professionally made art work from across Canada, certainly across our province and throughout the world and bringing that cultural content to the citizens of southwest Saskatchewan and Swift Current,” he explained. “This was at the heart of the mandate and when the facility was built as a national exhibition centre that was at its core.”
Some of the works on display in the current exhibition are from prominent Canadian artists such as abstract painter William Perehudoff, landscape painter Dorothy Knowles, painter and sculptor David Thauberger, painter Otto Rogers and sculptor Victor Cicansky.
“They were in those early shows and having that here was significant to them,” Houghtaling said. “Then they went on to become very major in the province and in the country and yet we can also kind of claim that we were part of them and they were part of us in the early years.”
Over the years the AGSC has served as a venue for regional professionals and some of their works are in the exhibition, for example Val Marie painters Catherine Macaulay and Laureen Marchand, Swift Current painter Eric Uglem and Rush Lake artists Marsha Schuld, Bob Siemens and Gladys Wozny Siemens.
According to Houghtaling the gallery's purpose from the start was to do more than just to provide access to the wider world of art.
“Certainly at the same time this was a public art gallery that belonged to the community and this area,” he said. “So it was very important to the professional artists who were living and working in this area. It became their gallery, their venue, it became the place where they would be able to share their achievements and their expressions with their community and their region.”
Works in the exhibition by artists such as Bruce Anderson and Russel Yuristy represent the AGSC's connection with important artists through exhibitions, artwork commissions or permanent collection artworks.
The gallery also became an important venue for the development of art and artists, both aspiring professionals and accomplished amateurs.
“Those folks are a very active part of our community,” he said. “Their art world is here and having a gallery of this calibre, having a curator to talk to and other artists and access to professional artists that come through with their shows is very good value for them.”
Some of the accomplished amateurs in this exhibition are Anthea Loran, John Weston and Earl Dewar.
“We have a couple of hundred quite wonderful amateur artists in this region, probably more than that, and this venue would give opportunities for those amateurs to fulfil their art activity and have shows and learn more about art work as well,” he said.
Painter Sally Knelsen is one of the aspiring professionals represented in the exhibition. Her artistic journey started with a few art classes at the AGSC.
“We've been able to witness all of Sally's growth from the time she began to paint until now where she's reached the point where she is participating in professional shows and has quite a good practice,” Houghtaling said.
Swift Current's centennial year resulted in an important legacy for the AGSC, namely a fund to purchase more art works for the gallery's permanent collection.
“The fund came through the City as support for further developing our permanent collection and it was hinged on the idea of a visual art legacy in recognition of our centennial year,” he said.
One of the first art works that were commissioned as a result of this fund is displayed in the exhibition. Swift Current painter Neil Potter produced two works representing glimpses from the city's past. The piece in the current exhibition depicts a hobo camp that used to exist next to the railway tracks.
“Neil researched and spoke with people who, when they were young, knew this location,” Houghtaling said. “They used to set up along the railway siding near where the round house used to be. He didn’t know what the round house looked like, so Neil actually built a scale model of the round house so that he could look at it to make sure when he painted it, it had the perspective of the round house.”
Houghtaling believes the legacy fund will create an additional interest among art supporters to contribute towards the gallery's permanent collection.
“What’s happening of course is by spawning a new development in the permanent collection, we have other people approaching us with donations,” he said. “So we have a fund but then we’re also receiving art works that are being donated to us, which are really significant gifts as well. So we’re going to grow our collection that helps us tell some of the stories that this show is telling.”
The current exhibition will be on display at the AGSC until Dec. 28. More information about upcoming events is available on the gallery website at www.artgalleryswiftcurrent.org

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