Artists reflect on Winter Festival-winning pieces

This needle-felted piece by Reanne Settee titled Curious Camaraderie won Best in Show. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Three of the winners of this year’s Mann Art Gallery Winter Festival Show and Sale have more in common than just inclusion in the same exhibition.

Reanne Settee, Sharron Schoenfeld and Donna Stockdale submitted different pieces with different subject matter in different mediums. But each of the three winners first got their start in other art forms.

Stockdale has been an artist as long as she remembers.

“In my family, art was always part of our life,” she said.

She quilted for years before taking up felting in 2010.

“You take wool and add water and soap and friction and you can create such interesting textures and colours and combine the colours like you would paint – it’s kind of like painting with wool,” she said.

It has such good sculptural qualities too – just depending on what type of wool, and how you work it.”

Stockdale said you can add other fibres and fabric to create texture, colour and shape.

“It’s just such a limitless medium. You can do so much with it,” she said.

“You can create things to wear, or things to put on your wall or sculptures or vessels or functional decorative things, it just has so many possibilities.”

Stockdale’s piece in this year’s winter festival show, Boreal Diversity, won for best landscape, even though it’s a sculptural piece made out of fibre. It depicts a forest floor and combines multiple techniques. While she finished it this part January, it took years to put together.

Parts are wet felted, while others are stitched, using a technique called machine needle lace.

“It’s quite a time consuming thing to do,” she said.

“I had the idea for something like that ten years ago and tried out different samples. Over the years I learned how to make the different component pieces.”

The inspiration came from her walks in her neighbourhood.

“I live in La Ronge and we live right in the boreal forest,” she said.

“Taking walks in the forest, if you take time and look carefully, there are so many interesting life forms, – the mosses, the lichens, the fungi and just the colours and the textures. I wanted to express the beauty of that space, but also to help us slow down and think about other life that’s on this planet that we often hurry by and don’t notice and what a vital role they play even though they’re small and often hidden to most of us.”

Like Stockdale, Schoenfeld shifted from working with one medium to focusing on another.

She started out as a quilter, than moved into painting her fabric, and finally putting her textiles away and focusing on painting alone.

Schoenfeld has painted for the past eight years, and submitted work to the winter festival show for at least the last four. Her third place finish this year is her first win of any kind at a gallery show like this.

“All my art friends, we all enter it because the Mann always puts on such a good show,” she said.

“They have such good curators and it’s hung so nicely it’s a popular show with a lot of artists in Saskatoon.”

Also like Stockdale, Schoenfeld found her inspiration from the world around her.

“Mondays I paint at Grace Westminster Church in Saskatoon and at lunchtime we walk over to the Broadway Roastery for a coffee,” she said.

“We walk through the back alleys and those sunflowers were right at the end of the season. They were heavy and hanging over and it was noon and the sun was shining on them.”

Schoenfeld keeps her camera with her. She took some nice shots of the sunflowers, but one stuck out.

“One really struck me because of the heaviness of the head, the enormity of the leaves and the shadows they cast onto each other. I named it a gentle bow just because it seemed like a final bow from summer.”

To Schoenfeld, the flower was saying “that’s it, I’m going to be gone,” and bowing down its head.

The next week, she walked by the alley again and the flowers were gone. Their homeowner had cleaned them up for the winter.

She painted the flower and entered it into the show, winning the third place prize.

“It’s nice to be recognized,” she said. “It validates what I’ve been working towards.”

Settee also works with felt. This year marks the second consecutive show that she’s entered a felted piece. While she uses different techniques than Stockdale, Settee was relatively new to felting when she submitted a felted piece to last year’s show. That piece, though, finished in third place.

This year’s submission, Curious Camaraderie, finished in first, winning best in show.

Settee said the piece took about a year to complete and was inspired by a dream she had and a concept she wanted to put forward.

“What I do usually now for my artwork is I’ll think of a problem or an observation I have and go from there,” she said.

“I had this idea of we’re always trying to ask questions and there’s the unknown.”

She also talked about a dream she had where she was trying to get a perfect picture of an owl, but each time she approached, it flew away.

Her piece has two figures – one leaning in as if to ask a question, and another, an owl figure, looking away.

“(The owl) is the unknown, or the universe itself,” she said.

The two figures are joined in the middle by flames, representing life and love.

“I was really focusing on having love in your life because that’s what makes it meaningful,” she said.

“There are so many questions in life and so many things that happen… but love is what is in the middle of it.”

As Settee has explored felting more, she’s discovered she really enjoys sculptural forms, something she didn’t initially think she’d get into.

“I’m really starting to dig it,” she said.

Winning best in show, Settee said, left her “shocked, honoured and very happy.”

She thanked everyone who helped her get this far, from the La Ronge Arts Council who first pushed her to share her work to CARFAC, to friends and family who have lent their support along the way.

It’s a sentiment shared by the other artists. Other than a journey through other mediums to get to their pieces that found success this year, the artists also had another thing in common – admiration for others’ work.

Schoenfeld enters the show every year because of the volume of high-quality works presented on the gallery walls. Settee was lost in the images of the other artists’ work when her name was called. And Stockdale said the show helps encourage her to keep creating.

“Whatever medium you take, “It’s just such a life enhancing activity to be doing,” said Stockdale.

“I just encourage people to take whatever opportunities there are to create and to share their work.”

The winter festival show runs at the Mann Art Gallery until March 27.