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Art brings healing for Derksen family

Family expresses itself visually after daughter, sister’s murder

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Apr. 1/14 - Odia Reimer, Wilma Derksen, and Cliff Derksen are shown with their respective works of art in the Derksen's Fort Richmond home. (DAN FALLOON/CANSTAR COMMUNITY NEWS/HERALD)

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Apr. 1/14 - Odia Reimer, Wilma Derksen, and Cliff Derksen are shown with their respective works of art in the Derksen's Fort Richmond home. (DAN FALLOON/CANSTAR COMMUNITY NEWS/HERALD) Photo Store

Healing isn’t coming easy for the Derksen family, but it is coming.

Thirteen-year-old Candace Derksen disappeared walking home from school in Elmwood on Nov. 30, 1984, and was discovered in a frozen toolshed approximately six weeks later.

Her family — including father Cliff, mother Wilma, and sister Odia Reimer — have turned to art to try to cope with not only her murder, but the arduous process of finding the killer and receiving answers.

There was no suspect in the case until Mark Edward Grant was arrested in 2007 and convicted in 2011. However, Grant’s conviction was overturned last year and he was granted a new trial, though in March, Manitoba Prosecutions Services appealed the Manitoba Appeals Court’s decision to overturn Grant’s conviction.

As they continue to cope, the three family members will debut several new works at a show titled Inexplicable: It Is About Healing at the Frame Arts Warehouse (318 Ross Ave.), that will run from Sat., April 12 to Sun., April 27.

The show will feature works in a variety of media — Cliff is a sculptor, Wilma a painter, and Odia works with both paint and crochet, among others. Cliff and Odia have exhibited before, but this is the first time all three family members will be showing off works together.

Cliff, 68, started creating as an outlet for his emotions, and acknowledges he became "emotionally weary" toward the end of the process of delving into evil.

"I don’t know if any of us went into it with the idea that it was going to heal us," said Cliff, who now lives in Fort Richmond. "We just needed to express our emotions or feelings.

"The emotions were rampant during the time of the trial (in January and February 2011). In my case, that kickstarted my creative process. I kind of went overboard and I was just producing like crazy."

He will be debuting two sculptures exploring the concept evil — one a throne with swords sticking out of it, and one werewolf.

"Evil has touched our family, and I wanted to somehow work that through and process that," he said. "What did it look like, and it’s also the idea of how evil things are, or were, or can be."

Since starting as an art teacher at St. Aidan’s Christian School in the North End in September, Cliff put all the pieces together and realize the effect art can have.

"Over a series of classes, over the course of two or three months, (I noticed) the change that overcame them in the process of being in my art class," Cliff said. "I began thinking about art therapy and what that was about, and suddenly, I realized that was happening to me."

Reimer, 39, was the first to use visual art to express her emotions, enrolling in the University of Manitoba’s fine arts program shortly after graduating from Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute in 1993. However, she wasn’t quite ready to deal with the emotional fallout at that point, saying her artistic work "tweaked" her emotions, and she took nearly a decade away from the faculty before returning and graduating in 2006. Reimer has addressed her sister’s murder directly in some of her previous pieces, including The Last Walk, where she took 66 photographs of the route Candace would have taken from school to where she was discovered. Excerpts from Wilma’s book, Have You Seen Candace? were posted alongside each photograph.

"I wanted (any piece I did) to be truly what I wanted to do, not just an assignment," Reimer said of going back to school. "I really started delving into my story, and the parts of my angle of the story and what we went through.

"It has helped in a lot of different ways, even parts of my life that aren’t specifically about Candace."

The Last Walk was Reimer’s first piece addressing the case, and Seventy Times Seven, featuring 490 crocheted teardrops, refers to the number of times Christ said one should forgive per day.

"It took three years to get to one day," Reimer said, noting her latest related project is The Offering Project (see sidebar).

"It’s how we work through things," said Reimer. "We were at a place where we were starting to work on some new things."

Wilma, 65, is the family member to take to visual art most recently — she started out as a writer, but turned to art when she could no longer find the words to express herself.

She works primarily in white, as the shade fascinates her — "white is the first colour we see when we’re born, and it’s probably the last colour that we see", she noted.

"I’m just starting, and I haven’t even arrived at the white I want to capture yet," she said. "I think it’s going to take me a lifetime to get to the white that I want.

"How to make the white glow, like the first light and the last colour that we see, I don’t know."

For more information on Cliff’s work, visit www.cliffderksen.com and for more information on Reimer’s work, visit www.odiareimer.com

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