Of all of the 104 works entered into the 2019 Mann Art Gallery Winter Festival Show and Sale, the piece that impressed guest curator Michael Peterson the most is rather unassuming at first glance.
Amongst the dozens of large, landscape paintings, photographs and sculptures, there’s a small trio of felted tree stumps mounted on a carved wood base.
The felted stumps themselves, though, are full of texture and detail, a perfect miniature for the base of a moss-covered tree.
The work, created by Meacham-based artist June Jacobs, is called Arboreal Stand.
Jacobs was unable to attend the show’s opening gala Friday night due to car trouble but was thrilled Monday when she learned the news.
“It feels wonderful. It comes as a huge surprise, but I’m majorly pleased,” she said.
“It’s a great honour. I feel very proud.” The piece didn’t just win best of show, it was also purchased by the gallery for its permanent collection.
During his curatorial talk, Peterson said he could tell the subject matter — the tree bottoms Jacobs felted — were very important to her, and probably from her own yard. He could tell from all the little textural details and imperfections in the moss perfectly recreated, and from the rings on the top of the piece designed to replicate those found on a stump, that Jacobs was very familiar with the scene she was recreating.
Peterson’s presumption proved prescient.
“I’m kind of a tree nut,” Jacobs said.
“I plant lots of trees in my yard. I own multiple adjoining lots in the Village of Meacham where I own the hand wave gallery, and a garden. I have been expanding my gardens to include plants I use in my felting techniques. Trees have been important. I think I have 35 different varieties of trees on my property because I think they’re quite magical.”
Jacobs said she spent several months on the sculpture. Adding more than one material, in this case, the wooden base, was an evolution of her artistic practice.
This isn’t the first time Jacobs has entered the Winter Festival show. She’s an event regular, and she believes wholeheartedly in the annual exhibition.
“Every year I enter … pieces. I’ve always participated,” she said.
“I think it’s an important exhibition because it exposes lots of new people to the art world, and it is really well viewed by the public and supported by Prince Albert and area.”
Some of those new people also found success Friday night.
That list includes Trudie Ahenakew, who received a prize for accomplishments in the medium of oil. While Ahenakew has been painting for 20 years, this was the first time she entered her work into the Winter Festival show.
“It’s pretty awesome, I wasn’t expecting it,” she said.
When the gallery called Ahenakew to tell her she had won a prize and was invited to the opening night gala, her first thought was that the gallery was calling to tell her there was an issue with her art.
“I was completely surprised.”
The piece she entered is deeply personal. It’s titled Kookum, and depicts her grandmother sitting in a chair, with Cree words and phrases painted in the background.
“I do a lot of commissioned pieces. I very seldom do paintings jut for myself,” she said.
“It was something totally different for me. For anybody to gain some acknowledgement from the community is huge.”
The importance of that acknowledgement was something many of the prize-winning artists spoke about.
Jim Mason has only been a sculpture for two years. His mixed-media sculpture, Blue Marlin, won the sculpture award Friday night.
“it feels very, very good. It’s a wonderful little boost. I want to rush home right now and do some more,” he said.
Mason experimented with many art forms, including stone and jewelry work, before finally settling on something he enjoyed.
“Nothing seemed to keep my interest over the longer term,” he explained. I did carve duck decoys and things, then I took about 12 years off and didn’t do anything. When I came back, I wanted to do something more creative with less measuring, not a pattern, just grab something and do it.”
He started adding things like copper wire and clock parts to his work and began to have more fun.
“That was the key,” he said. “I enjoyed it, and I still enjoy it immensely.”
He decided to enter the marlin into the show because it was his newest piece. Outside of some people in the City of Melfort, no one had seen the work. It’s carved out of wood, with stainless steel, nickel wire and acrylic paint. He’s also used some wood burning to draw deeper lines.
The finishing aspect, Mason said, is something that just comes to him as he works.
“I never really pre-plan,” he said. “I sit down with a blank and a burning pen and do whatever comes to my mind. Painting is the same way.”
For his award-winning piece, Mason scraped all the paint off and started again because he didn’t like how it turned out — twice.
“I’m very happy,” he said.
“I have not shown any work in this area, so it’s a brand new kind of adventure.”
Hanging on the wall almost right beside Mason’s marlin is a watercolour painting by another emerging artist.
Jerome Mrazek won the watercolour award for his piece Spring Thaw 10th Street West, depicting the view looking west almost right from just beyond Central Avenue. It The work sparked interest in several local residents, who were competing to be the first to buy the work.
Mrazek was excited to see the positive response.
“It’s quite gratifying,
he said. “You put a fair bit of time into doing these paintings. We don’t do this to compete with each other, but it’s nice to know that there’s a certain proficiency a person has obtained at this point.”
Mrazek chose the work as his entry because he thought the quality was there and that the subject matter would appeal to local residents.
“it depicts a scene on 10th Street West that is fairly recognizable to people, with some of the older buildings off of First Avenue and onto 10th Street,” he said.
“I thought that would be relatable to people. As far as an artist, it was a fairly successful piece, and I thought it could hold its weight in the competition and be worthy to be on the wall with a lot of really good paintings. There is a lot of really good stuff here.”
The Winter Festival Show and Sale runs at the Mann Art Gallery until March 23.