By the looks of things, plenty of people will listen to Sylvia Regehr Graham’s stories.
The late North Kildonan-raised artist, who died of cancer in 2011 at the age of 48, will have her works featured in her hometown for the first time in an exhibit called Who Will Listen to Our Stories?, which is described as an exhibition of storytelling through art.
The exhibit opened May 3 and will run until June 22 at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery at 600 Shaftesbury Blvd. in Tuxedo.
The exhibit was put together by Regehr Graham’s sister, Dorothy Schwab, who still lives in North Kildonan, after reading in one of her journals that Regehr Graham "dreamed of having a wildly successful art show in Winnipeg".
Schwab contacted galleries and private collectors to share some of her sister’s work.
"She was just kidding about it, but I say now that one of her dreams has come true," said Schwab. "It’s the kind of exhibit that will touch the hearts of many people."
Regehr Graham left Winnipeg in her early 20s to become a professional forester in British Columbia, and later became a staple of the Quesnel, B.C. art scene.
"A lot of her work is combining the forestry with her personal style," said Schwab. "Her biggest style was assemblage … it’s an old art form, a collage of putting together things you normally wouldn’t."
Regehr Graham often used wood in her assemblages, often in its raw form, but also including processed wood like hockey sticks and rulers. As for her paintings, acting curator Lori Matties described the characters shown as "whimsical," while noting that viewers will be able to get a sense of Regehr Graham’s life.
"You can tell there was a delight in life," said Matties.
Regehr Graham was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2006, and bounced back after a year of treatment. She was diagnosed with metastatic terminal cancer in March 2009.
"Some of her best work was done between the initial diagnosis and when the cancer metastasized," said Schwab. "She said ‘this disease, this cancer I have is driving me to create as much as possible.’ It was just a race against time to create as much as she could."
Schwab said she broke down into tears seeing the sign advertising the show at the entrance to the parking lot, but feels the exhibit’s opening is a milestone on a long road for her.
"It was very emotional and sad, but at the same time, a celebration that we could celebrate Sylvia’s life back here," said Schwab. "For me, it was a very healing, cathartic journey... We’re finally here."
In addition to celebrating Regehr Graham, a River East College grad, the exhibit also features several touching works from CancerCare Manitoba’s art therapy program. Two program members were slated to speak at the May 3 opening.
"Those (pieces) are really moving," said Matties. "What’s mostly moving about them is the stories that the women tell, and how through their art, they’re able to process what’s going on through them with their illness.
"That’s important work that a person has to do."