New exhibition explores old memories

Paper Dolls by Pat Grayston is on display at the Mann Art Gallery until Jan. 11, 2020. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

For her newest exhibition, local artist Pat Grayston is looking to the past.

The longtime printmaker is no stranger to using paper in her art, but not usually as the material.

Paper Dolls opens Friday at the Mann Art Gallery. The exhibition uses pieces of Grayston’s existing prints repurposed into paper dolls to tell stories of growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan in the 1940s and 50s.

Grayston has taken her leftover intaglio, lithography and woodcut prints and identified colours that can then be used to make the new paper dolls.

The paper dolls are raised, set on farmyards embossed on the paper as a way to reflect the softness of memories.

The dolls themselves are also not designed to be completely in proportion to the environment. This, Grayston explains, is because the work is designed to mirror the perception of memories.

“Having the farmyard, a decidedly determining aspect in my life, embossed on the paper, rather than drawn, reflects for me the memories which are there, but not entirely distinct. Having the dolls removed from the paper parallels life; we exist on the earth but are separate from it, we are part of our world but not in it, at least while we are alive,” she wrote in her artist statement.

“ Our memories enhance what is in our past. Have you ever returned to a favourite place from your childhood and wondered how this tiny place could be what you remembered? Thus the dolls are not completely in proportion to the environment. The dolls are ambiguous: many young girls from my era played with paper dolls and as adults, the figures presented in this collection could be them.”

Grayston said some of the scenes reflect the hard work of life on the farm, with the men doing hard labour in the fields and the women busy hauling wood and water for the wood-fired stove, butchering animals for food and preparing meals for the working men in the field.

“It was horrendous, the work that went on… just a tremendous amount of physical labour,” Grayston recalled.

She said she wanted to expand the pieces beyond just her memories into those anyone who grew up in similar circumstances would understand. That’s why things like animals, which features so prominently in farm life, make many appearances.

The works came out of a class Grayston took with renowned local artist George Glenn.

“I wouldn’t have had that inspiration to even start on this if it hadn’t been for the creative process that opened up in George’s class, Grayston said.

“I had played with different things. I had played with embossing. If you just draw, everything is at the dimension of the drawing, and drawing has very hard edges to it. Embossing is softer. It’s there, it’s raised. The scene I based everything on is raised up on a different plane. It’s softer, like a memory. It’s not faded away but it is like it’s fading.”

Using paper dolls to tell the stories depicted in the art comes from Grayston’s experience growing up.

“You were lucky to have many toys, especially if you were growing up on the farm or in a family where the incomes weren’t great. The one thing you could always rely on was the paper.”

One thing kids her age would do would be to cut out the old sears and Eaton’s catalogues and make dolls out of those images. They’d also sometimes get Christmas gifts of little booklets of paper dolls.

“That was something all girls of my era had access to, paper and scissors,” Grayston sad.

“That paper doll was the toy that we had to play with.”

Grayston’s exhibition includes 16 works, all 3-D collages made using paper dolls from cutouts of her prints on embossed paper backgrounds. All depict scenes common to Grayston’s upbringing.

The story that I tell would belong to a lot of farmers of that era, and the farm wives too,” she said. “It’s based on my life, but also the life of my parents … and the life of people of that era.”

Paper Dolls runs until Jan. 7. The opening reception will be held on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Mann Art Gallery. There is no cost to attend the reception.