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This article was published 30/9/2011 (3890 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
GIMLI -- It's not over till it's over.
JoAnne Gullachsen will tell you that. Gullachsen is a retired school teacher who always painted on the side. Last month, she was "discovered" at age 68. Her first art exhibit at Mayberry Fine Art in downtown Winnipeg runs until Oct. 13.
"No matter the age, it's not too late," said Gullachsen, of her late-in-life recognition. "It's so marvellous. I never imagined this happening to me."
More marvellous are her oil and acrylic paintings. Even a novice can see a uniqueness about her work: It's happy.
Her works are happy domestic scenes from growing up on an Interlake dairy farm. She was one of five sisters raised in an Icelandic family here. There's definitely a Little Women quality to her paintings, after the novel by Louisa May Alcott.
"Father wanted a son so badly and continued the effort" but to no avail, Gullachsen explained. So she and her sisters would sometimes put in 10-hour days lifting bales. Dairy farms are labour-intensive, with cows needing milking twice a day. "You were tied, as our parents would say, to the cows' tails."
Just the sentence-length names of her paintings evoke happy memories: Playing on the Table While Mom Irons; Watching the New Baby Get a Bath; Waving Goodbye on the Way to School; Watching My Dad Shave; Looking at the Eaton's Catalogue.
She lives on the original farmstead, although not in the original home, that has been in the family since 1875. Gullachsen's maiden name is Johannson. Her great-grandparents settled from Iceland. Her grandfather, Jon Johannson, was the first white child born in this area, originally called New Iceland. The family hadn't even built shelter yet. The child was born in October under a buffalo hide stretched into a lean-to. The road leading to the homestead is called Johannson Lane.
Just how uncommon is it for someone Gullachsen's age to have her first show at a quality art house like Mayberry?
"This is unusual for us. Ninety-nine per cent of the time our artists have long track records, often 30 to 40 years in painting," said gallery owner Bill Mayberry.
"There was just something refreshing about her work. When I met her, she's the real McCoy. The work is so honest." Mayberry compared it to the folk art of the legendary Maude Lewis of Nova Scotia. Mayberry Fine Art is putting together an exhibit of Maude Lewis art for the near future.
There's also great warmth in the paintings. Gullachsen calls the exhibit Memories. "I haven't taken them from photos. It's all from memory. I guess that makes them a bit different," she said.
A friend encouraged Gullachsen to make a CD of her paintings and send them to art galleries. She didn't get far with that, sending out just five CDs, but did send one to Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft, who had taught Gullachsen in several painting courses.
Thorneycroft introduced her work to the Mayberry family. "Diana went to great lengths to help me out. She saw something in my paintings."
Mayberry said "most people think Diana Thorneycroft and JoAnne are from two different planets" but they are fans of each others' work nonetheless.
In life, two of the Gullachsen sisters in the paintings became teachers (including JoAnne), one became a librarian, one a supervisor of a Shopper's Drug Mart and one an office clerk. The paintings range from $700 to $2,300, although not all prices are listed.
"I almost feel compelled to paint. I have 20 more to do. I want people to know this is what my childhood was like," said Gullachsen.