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MB Artists: RE:IMAGINING Resilience

Madeline Sweetland

Oct 28, 2021


MB Artists: RE:IMAGINING Resilience

It stands to reason that Manitobans are a resilient breed. Used to braving harsh prairie winters and tolerating dusty springs and bug-bitten summers, we’ll endure a lot to enjoy all that this province has to offer. Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you that one of the main attractions to Winnipeg and the surrounding area is the vibrant arts community, which robustly churns out festivals, concerts, and interactive exhibitions all year-round. That was the case, at least, until early last year, when the pandemic introduced social distancing, lockdowns, and restrictions that became unpredictable and seemingly endless. Despite the uncertainty and doubt that the past two years have cast on many, some members of the Manitoba arts community have used the opportunity to reimagine how they share their work, reprioritize their values, and rediscover their inspiration through inspiring others.

Lizzy Burt, Shop Owner, Bevvy Teyems Custom Framing

Perseverance has been a word I’ve held tightly to, since first opening my little custom picture framing shop. Being a business owner for me is waking up every day and rising to the challenge of taking risks and believing in myself.

For Lizzy Burt, owner of Bevvy Teyems Custom Framing, the past two years have been a challenging mix of setbacks and affirmations. A creative at heart, Burt found framing as a welcome change from the chaotic hospitality industry. She fell in love with the slow, meditative process of creating a framing project, and she continued to work at the craft, joking with her colleagues about opening her own shop one day. Little did she know that a few years later, she would do just that.

Just as her small business was seeing growth, the pandemic sent the entire venture into question. Without much business, rather than adandon ship, Burt poured herself into building a brand-new business model, and reimagining her shop to suit her current and growing vision. She set up bright teal sofas outside her shop, as an open invitation for clients and passersby to spend time connecting over art. She was touched by the patience of her clients, and the community support that she received. This became Lizzy’s primary motivation to get the shop back on its feet and into a new chapter.

“I absolutely love connecting with people,” Lizzy says of her new approach to the business. “Learning about them, and the pieces they bring in, and playing around with framing ensembles together and then presenting the finished piece is my greatest joy.

Now, with beginning to stock work from local artists on consignment and having in-shop vendors, it has been really filling my cup to connect with artists and learning about them and their work, there is such depth to discover and I look forward to sharing it and getting work into customer’s hands“

As the shop grows into its new location in the Exchange District, it takes on the foundational reminders and lessons of the past two years, which a new focus on community creation and involvement. The reintroduction will also allow the shop to further evolve, with plans for consignment opportunities for local artists, First Fridays events, and a Winter market this holiday season.

Darci Madlung, Multimedia Artist, “Resiliency in Joy”

Learning from nature this installation grew, making simple materials into something better than they were before, hoping to extend the life cycle of things like plastic and Styrofoam packaging. Happy moments in the daylight, and in the dark, there are new things to see.

Illuminate the Night artist Darci Madlung used her downtime these past two years to create light from the darkness. This was something she had learned to do at an early age, growing up among artists and makers in the Canadian Rockies, before moving to Winnipeg to study environmental design at the University of Manitoba, where she became fascinated by the resilience of natural systems. This project, titled “Resiliency in Joy,” began as a personal project, something Madlung described as “completely happy and impractical.”

Like a garden, Madlung’s project slowly grew joy from creativity and love. She used recycled and found materials, adding colour, texture, and other accoutrements. It was a happy turn of events that her personal reflections through art tied in perfectly with the 2021 Culture Days theme, and the project took the form of a window installation, a peek for others into the world she had imagined.

Kids know the importance of play and making moments of joy, and that inspired my approach. As I was making these pieces I learned that joy really is key to resilience, something that often seems overlooked, but vital to why I make art and especially relevant to others now too. These seemingly impractical pieces found their meaning in their playful happiness.

“Resilency in Joy” will remain on display at Tara Davis Studio Boutique until November 5, 2021.

Fredrick Spence, Soapstone Artist

There were times of doubt, but now I’m seeing there’s more people, more interested than before. People want to get out, get involved and to try something new. They’re reaching out now, and it makes me happy.“

Fredrick Spence (Thunder Bear) grew up in Peguis, Manitoba, carving animals from wood and wax as a hobby, but he didn’t discover soapstone until an injury in 2017 placed him into a sort of precursory quarantine. He lost himself in working with stone, feeling waves of excitement, frustration, pride, defeat, and finally ecstatic fulfillment when he finally completed his first piece – a bison. “I was going through all these emotions,” he said, “But at the end, I was filled with so much joy that I had completed this thing that I always wanted to do.

Fred continued his soapstone work, but found that the joy and excitement he felt in completing each piece didn’t compare to that first carving. Serendipitously, at that time Siloam Mission was recruiting volunteers for artist workshops and mentoring. Before long, Spence was hosting multiple workshops with non-profit organizations, and travelling for weeks at a time to deliver programmming in Northern Indigenous communities. When COVID-19 hit Manitoba in the spring of 2020, Fred found himself facing a familiar feeling of isolation, and though he still had soapstone as an outlet, it was the workshops that he missed the most. He noticed how much personal inspiration he found in sharing his practice, not only his art, with others who could benefit from it.

On the one hundredth piece you carve, you still feel happiness, but that first piece lights you up. Now, I get to see my students light up, and they’re so happy, so accomplished. Now, that’s where I get my joy.

Today, Spence is picking up momentum, balancing art, fatherhood, electrical work, and his soapstone workshops. His work will be featured in the upcoming CRAFTED 2021 Show + Sale at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, November 5-7.