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Artists offer distinct takes on Canadian landscape

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Willow Rector's The Singing Bone (embroidery on Arctic fox), from her series entitled Trapped.


Willow Rector's The Singing Bone (embroidery on Arctic fox), from her series entitled Trapped.

In art world vernacular, there is a peculiar word used to describe a certain kind of artist.

As though they are butterflies breaking through the skin of their cocoons, or a Swamp Thing arising out of the Louisiana Bayou, there is a category of artist described as "emerging." Though perhaps a tad dramatic, the term is a good one. Much more descriptive than "early career," it implies progression and change.

This month, Art Talk/Art Walk is pleased to introduce two emerging artists. On Friday at the Free Press News Café, patrons will meet Willow Rector and Tracy Peters and learn about their unique approaches to making art. The audience will hear about how they came to emerge as professional artists and what it means to leave the "amateur" status behind. The talk may be helpful for anyone looking for ways to take their creative life more seriously, and will hopefully inspire involvement with Mentoring Artists for Women's Art (MAWA), a Winnipeg organization that aims to provide emerging artists with support and encouragement.

Rector's journey as an artist began with embroidery. She studied law, obtained a masters degree in literature and taught at The University of Manitoba. But, Rector remembers a significant day when she saw a beautifully embroidered handbag in a mall and, as she puts it, something clicked.

She began her own series of appliquéd, beaded, and embroidered bags. "I had spent my entire life with words and concepts," says Rector, "and all of a sudden I was training my hands." Each handbag in the series, called Handing On History, was made to commemorate a different female writer or artist.

Tracy Peters was intrigued by photography, and in the years before she became a professional was able to hone her shot-taking and darkroom skills. She spent several years making photographs about vanishing prairie life and participated in a number of group shows.

A turning point for both artists was joining MAWA. Peters became involved in 2009, Rector in 2011. Both wanted to grow in their art, so applied to be part of a one-year program where they were mentored by more experienced artists.

"MAWA's mentorship program was a springboard, and really opened doors," says Peters. "I felt they always had my back. For the first time I felt I had approval to take risks."

And take risks she did. She began to make photographs about the relationship between lived-in structures and the human body, and about the resonance of abandoned places. Hearing her speak about architecture is like listening to a poet. The houses we live in are "alive," our buildings have an "anatomy," and their outer surfaces are "skins." In a series of photos called Existence, Peters overlapped images of her own body with those of aging, pock-marked walls, effectively joining flesh and plaster.

In 2012, Peters found inspiration in an 100-year-old, decaying shed on the outskirts of the city. She spent months documenting the structure's subtle changes. A particularly striking photograph shows large burr-like pollens that migrated inside, collecting in the shed's corners. Against the old wooden floorboards, they look like an otherworldly constellation. The following year Peters printed the burr photographs on vellum, cut them into thin strips, and wove them through the slats of the shed. As the shed is scheduled to be demolished to make way for suburban development, it is almost as though Peters made a visual eulogy.

Following the News Café event, patrons will be invited to take a look at Peters' work in person, a continuation of Shed Project, at her first solo show at Ace Art Inc.

Rector's first solo show also opens this month, at University of Winnipeg's Gallery 1C03. In the art on display, Rector was able to move beyond her own mastery of the embroidery medium and into some strangely exotic territory. She now embroiders scenes that are elucidations of Group of Seven paintings. But, she embroiders them onto animal pelts. The series is called Trapped, and includes skunk, Arctic fox and otter pelts, to name a few. The pelts both repel and attract. While the threads are delicate and the technique is ultra-refined, the once wild animal is, well, dead. Over scars or places where the animal was wounded, Rector has placed embellishments such as beads or tiny jewels. In two words, the pelts are viscerally extraordinary.

"It is not an understatement to say that I would not be where I am as an artist today without MAWA," says Rector. "But whether they are emerging or not, taking risks is what artists do; I am not unique in that respect. My involvement with MAWA has exposed me to many things -- generosity of spirit, kindness, strength, respect, dedication, and professionalism."


Sarah Swan is a Winnipeg artist and writer. She will host Art Talk/Art Walk at the Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe on Friday at 6 p.m. Call 204-697-7069 for tickets to the event.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 2, 2014 C6

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