Shell Lake artist receives province’s highest honour

Rigmor Clarke speaks at the Mann Art Gallery on June 14, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

A Shell Lake artist primarily known for her painting has been named one of the ten 2020 recipients of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.

Rigmor Clarke, of Shell Lake, had her life’s work celebrated in a retrospective at the Mann Art Gallery in Prince Albert last year.

Clarke moved to BC with her family from their native Sweden when she was 14. In her 20s, she took a train as far as she could, arriving in Shell Lake, meeting her husband John and moving to his farm to start a family.

While she pursued art, it wasn’t until she turned 40 that she began a career as an artist full time.

While she still pursued art, it wasn’t until Rigmor turned 40 that she decided to pursue art full time.  She took art classes with Bob Christie, Myles McDonald and George Glenn, and took art workshops at Emma Lake.

Like when she was young, Clarke was inspired by a sight seen over water. According to a profile written by the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance, she had an epiphany while on a canoe trip on the Churchill River.

“I felt like I was home,” she said prior to the opening of her retrospective last year.

“It was very much like Northern Sweden where I was raised. Sweden is very much like Saskatchewan.”

Northern Saskatchewan, she said, looks much like northern Sweden, while the plains of the southern prairies reminiscent of the Swedish lowlands.

The similarities Clarke sees don’t end there. The Mann Art Gallery show featured a sample of her paintings of ravens. Ravens play an important role in Rigmor’s work — she even named her Shell Lake Quonset studio the Forest Raven Art Studio.

She first became fascinated with the raven when she was growing up and reading Nordic mythology. When she came to Canada, she learned the raven also featured prominently in the oral traditions of Indigenous people. As she explored further, she discovered more and more stories about the raven from the northern portions of the world’s continents.

She is also inspired by the province’s grand landscapes

“Saskatchewan is very beautiful,” she said.

“It’s got tremendous beauty. The variation from the south — I’ve seen the prairies. If I lived on the prairies, I would build on the emptiest, loneliest hill and not let anything grow more than two feet tall. Because the sky comes at you. It’s all around you. It’s very powerful.”

She smiled.

“But I’m a bush painter, not a sky painter.”

Clarke’s Thickwood Hills Studio Trail was the first of its kind in Saskatchewan and continues to flourish.

Several other studio tours have sprung up, taking the lead from the Thickwood Hills Studio Trail.

Even now, at age 85, Clarke remains active in acquiring new skills and carrying out a range of projects.

Clarke’s studio is open — she welcomes artists, tourists and locals, always taking the time to talk about her work, recite the poetry that inspires her and share her love of the landscape.

Clarke, the province said, is an inspiration to the Saskatchewan arts community and one of the most significant and influential artists in Prince Albert and north-central Saskatchewan.

The Order of Merit was established in 1985 to recognize excellence and achievement from outstanding Saskatchewan citizens who have made significant contributions in areas such as the arts, agriculture, business and industry, community leadership, public service, research and volunteer service.

Clarke wasn’t available for comment. The Herald will follow up with Clarke and others in a future edition to further discuss her artistic legacy.