Margreet van Walsem had large role shaping arts community

Artist to be inducted into Arts Hall of Fame on September 29, 2018

A prolific Prince Albert-area artist who helped establish the city’s visual arts community will be welcomed into the Prince Albert Arts Hall of Fame posthumously on Sept. 29.

Margreet van Walsem was born in The Netherlands in 1923 and moved to Prince Albert in 1973. While she only lived in the city for six years prior to her 1979 death, van Walsem had a large impact on the visual arts scene in the city, with her effects still felt to this day.

“She deserves to be recognized because her activity in the visual arts here, and her contributions to making this a strong community for artists cannot be underestimated,” said Mann Art Gallery curator Jesse Campbell.

“That’s why I nominated her, to make sure we don’t forget people who had a really big role in shaping our arts community.”

Last year, the gallery was gifted a large tapestry woven by van Walsem later in her career. While she did work in textile art and weaving, she was also known for her batiks and her painting. Examples of her work across all those media are included in the Man Art Gallery’s permanent collection.

According to a paragraph about van Walsem provided by the Prince Albert Arts Board in a press release, while van Walsem began an art practice involving painting, drawing, batik and weaving, “Margreet excelled at the latter and found that the medium of weaving was best-suited to express her full range of creativity.

“She delved into the entire process, beginning with the washing, carding and dying of raw wool; then gathering local roots, barks, flowers, berries, leaves and lichens to create natural wool dyes.”

She then handspun the wool using either a Navaho spindle or a Cowichan spinner, ending by weaving her tapestries by hand, rather than by using a machine.

“She quickly became one of the most prominent fibre artists in Saskatchewan, and pioneered modern tapestry as an art form in Saskatchewan,” the press release said.

But while van Walsem is being acknowledged for her work, inducted for her visual arts contributions, she could easily have been included in the builder category.

“Many artists work here and practice here, but she deserves recognition especially for the initiatives she began in Prince Albert,” Jesse said.

As president of the Arts Council, van Walsem spearheaded the creation of the Winter Festival Art Show and Sale, an annual exhibition that will be entering its 43rd year in February. That show brings in a guest curator to come work with the community, curate the show and choose works for recognition from community-sponsored awards.

“She’s responsible for starting a major exhibition and opportunity for artists, not only in Prince Albert but in Saskatchewan too, to get their start or show what they have been working on,” Campbell said.

“Many artists have used that as a platform to get their work into the world, and to really start their careers.”

One of those artists is Catherine Blackburn, who only a few years ago, submitted a few of her works as a budding artist. Now, she has a solo show at the Mann Art Gallery, a show that will tour the province.

“That’s all because of Margreet, and because of a vision she had to create a visual arts community that was vibrant and supportive,” Campbell said.

Van Walsem’s contributions went beyond the annual winter festival show and sale. She helped budding artists push their boundaries and challenge themselves.

“She had a lot of intellect to share,” Campbell said. “She was very generous in sharing those perspectives. She had a high standard and encouraged a lot of people to further their practices.”

She also attracted other accomplished artists to work in the city.

“Artists like George Glen came here because of Margreet,” Campbell said.

“She was one of the first people who welcomed him to Prince Albert. He was supposed to be here on a temporary basis as an artist in residence, and now it’s been 40 years, and he’s one of the most influential artists in this region It’s difficult to find someone in the visual arts who have not taken a workshop from Gorge Glen, or been influenced in some way by his work. That stems from Margreet and her generosity, sharing her kindness and her enthusiasm for art.”

Those things — attracting artists, encouraging up-and-comers and launching an annual exhibition — don’t just happen, Campbell said.

“It takes someone who put in a lot of effort, who has this great vision. Who will sit down and tackle the administrative work and who will make connections in the community to push projects like this. That’s what Margreet did.”

The Prince Albert Arts Hall of Fame induction ceremony is set for Sept. 29, in the evening, at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre. Tickets are available at the box office.

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