Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Angels in the architecture

Artist blends Byzantine detail with Prairie simplicity in his designs, which range from credit unions to churches

  • Print

People sometimes ask Ben Wasylyshen why his immigrant great-grandparents didn't anglicize their Ukrainian surname, which is the Slavic equivalent of "Williamson."

It was a matter of cultural pride, says the architectural design consultant, who is also a painter, sculptor and passionate gardener.

That pride was still strong when Wasylyshen, 50, was growing up in Garden City.

His artistic mother made pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs) and taught him their ancient symbolism. (His older brother, Dave, is now well known for innovative pysanka mosaics.)

The family attended Ukrainian Orthodox mass, which exposed Wasylyshen to Byzantine iconography from earliest childhood.

In his teens, he was a dancer in the Rozmai Ukrainian Dance Company.

As an adult, he became a bass-baritone in the O. Koshetz Ukrainian Choir.

"We were immersed in the language, art, music, food," he remembers. "We were growing up Canadian and playing hockey on the street... but we were raised under an umbrella of this other culture."

The attention to detail in the culture's visual art was a lasting influence on Wasylyshen. He was also able to view Ukrainian architecture and art -- and learn how it was suppressed during the Communist era -- on two memorable tours of Ukraine with the choir in the 1990s.

On one of those trips, he visited the ancestral village of his mother's family.

"That was very meaningful in terms of understanding roots," says the tall, deep-voiced artist, who now lives in East St. Paul.

The University of Manitoba interior-design grad started his self-named design studio nearly 30 years ago. The common thread in his career, he says, has been designing beautiful spaces and landscapes that always integrate fine art with the goal of lifting people's spirits.

He has designed corporate offices for clients such as Manitoba Blue Cross and Steinbach Credit Union.

Two of his style icons are early 20th-century architects who brought grace, simplicity and lightness to interiors: Frank Lloyd Wright, of the Prairie School, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

So Wasylyshen's projects for Ukrainian clients, such as the national office of the Shevchenko Foundation, may have more of a Prairie-inspired look than a Kyiv one. But his highest-profile Ukrainian commissions are thoughtful blends of medieval Byzantine tradition and contemporary Prairie style.

About 16 years ago, his studio beat out proposals from across North America to create two towering stained-glass windows, as well as other design elements, for Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral.

Wasylyshen is a member of the congregation at the five-domed Main Street landmark. He describes the windows depicting Christ the True Vine and the Mother of God as "light and fresh and new," particularly in terms of the amount of light they let in.

He also designed the elegant interior of the Bishop Velychkovsky Martyr's Shrine at Winnipeg's St. Joseph's Ukrainian Catholic Church, from the lighting and symbolic floor tiles to the stained glass and the sarcophagus that holds the remains of the beatified Ukrainian bishop.

Typically, Catholic shrines are laden with dense decoration, he says. He felt this modern one should be inviting and leave space for people's prayers to rise.

Another of his projects is a stained-glass window of two angels at Holy Family Home, a seniors' facility where most residents are of Slavic heritage. Some have been moved to tears by it, he says.

In his personal art practice, Wasylyshen is currently producing large abstract paintings. Some are available at the Winnipeg Art Gallery's rental and sales shop.

Looking back on his efforts to exhibit his early works, he says he encountered prejudice from some Winnipeg art gatekeepers. They treated him like a nice Ukrainian boy who should stay in the North End.

"When it came to grants or support, I recall being told, in very diplomatic ways, 'Go back to your own community... and get your support there.'"

These days, Wasylyshen is something of a gatekeeper himself as curator of Manitoba Hydro's art collection for its new office tower. He has been in charge of choosing, buying and installing about 400 pieces from about 90 Manitoba artists.

Another recent gig was a volunteer one: conceiving the overall, art-inspired design -- from linens to lighting to extravagant florals -- for last fall's Gallery Ball at the WAG. Wasylyshen is doing it again this fall for the Centennial Ball.

"There is no boredom," he says about his varied career. "I don't even know what that means."

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2012 J16

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Can Steeves or Bowman catch Wasylycia-Leis?

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005
  • Down the Hatch- A pelican swallows a fresh fish that it caught on the Red River near Lockport, Manitoba. Wednesday morning- May 01, 2013   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

  • Africa edition

    Africa is one complex and gloriously unmanageable 'theme' to choose to kick off our 2012 series, Our City Our World, which is why it took up the whole newspaper on Jan. 18.

  • China edition

    Hard-working Chinese immigrants, once banned, have risen to the highest echelons of Manitoba.

  • Germany edition

    German immigrants have played a surprisingly large role in the development of the province.

  • Iceland edition

    Arriving in Manitoba in the 1870s unprepared for a brutal winter, Icelandic settlers and their descendants have left their mark on our province.

  • Italy edition

    Industrious Italians rose from peasant roots and adapted to Canadian society by mastering L’art d’arrangiarsi (the art of getting by).

  • Latin America edition

    It used to be the only time Prairie folks met Spanish-speaking people was when they vacationed down south. More often now, they're the people next door.

  • Middle East edition

    When the first Middle East families immigrated to Manitoba, mosques were unheard of and even yogurt was exotic. But now all that has changed.

  • Philippines edition

    A booming Filipino community nearly 60,000 strong has transformed Manitoba.

  • South Asian edition

    As the city's Indo-Canadian population experiences dramatic growth, its pioneers recall their warm Winnipeg welcome.

  • Ukraine edition

    Scarred by Holodomor, the Ukrainian community helped shape Winnipeg's cultural mosaic.

  • United Kingdom edition

    Manitoba's history is built on a foundation provided by settlers from the U.K., who came here seeking better lives.

Poll

What do you think of the new school-zone speed limit?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google