Art, lift me up

A potter, a painter, and a collage-maker.
In the fellowship of artisans at the Fine Line Gallery in Fort Frances, these are but a smidgen in the pot of creative folk whose works speak volumes about emotion, conviction, conceptual thinking, geometry, and as many other avenues of thought as there are art lovers.
And though the local art gallery may be dwarfed by its city cousin, but still smacks of an “at par” quality in talent. So if a plan to stop by and browse the diverse art exhibited at the Mowat Avenue location hasn’t been pencilled into your busy schedule . . . consider this.
Art is a right-sided brain activity and just taking time out to look at art can help lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. In the rat race of today’s working world, what could it hurt?
While the left side of the brain is responsible for the logic in our day, it makes perfect sense to spend time on the right side too, where creativity makes gains. The right side of the brain is responsible for releasing those good-feeling endorphins, the natural healers that keep us content.
And who couldn’t use more of that?
The potter, the painter, and the collage-maker know how good it feels when they pay homage to their artful appetites. When they muck with clay, watercolours, and collage—it’s therapy as much as it is passion.
In fact more of us should throw ourselves into that sort of thing, even if it’s just with a box of crayons and a blank piece of paper. As well-known choreographer Twyla Tharp once said, “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”
Vi Plumridge of Fort Frances, who’s been a contributing art member of the Fine Line Gallery since its inception in 1996, is a believer.
“It is well-known statistically—because of the [stress] release—that if you want to have a long and happy life, get into the arts,” Plumridge, who works in watercolors and pen and ink sketches, said during a brief interview at the gallery in late July.
“[I think of] nothing else when I’m painting—nothing else. [I’m] working so intently it just sort of blocks out everything. It’s a fantastic way of finding some relief if you have tension—you get so absorbed in it,” she counselled.
When fellow artist and Fine Line associate Barb Stevens was growing up and in love with art, she lived in an area where instruction to expand her art skills past pencils and poster paint wasn’t easy to find.
So when she moved to go to university to become a teacher, she took what courses she could in drawing and painting. But then the real world kicked in and her artwork sat in the sidelines while her teaching career and motherhood bloomed.
“When I went to work, I never went back to painting. [Teaching] was all-consuming, plus being a mom,” Stevens recalled during a chat at the gallery in July.
She found her art wings again when she was nearing retirement in 1996.
“Just before I retired, I saw the work of a fellow artist in Atikokan and I loved her work. I phoned her up and asked her if she was interested in teaching [me] and she said ‘Yes’, so I went to Atikokan every Saturday for a year,” she noted.
Stevens’ passion for painting has thrived in the last 10 years and she can not imagine her life ahead without art in it.
Yet she also believes her career as a primary grade teacher was essential to her evolution as an artist.
“Painting for me is a reflection of my growth, and has changed and grown over the years. Everything enriches your life and everything happens for a reason—our journey of life is our teacher,” she reasoned.
“I learned a lot from children—all that loveliness I had in those years has enriched the painting. Now, if I had been painting vigorously since I was a child, I would be way better than I am today, but it didn’t work out that way and I don’t regret it.
“I feel things worked out just the way they were supposed to,” Stevens stressed.
Marke Henteleff, another member of the Fine Line Art Gallery, put down roots in Rainy River District two years ago from western Canada after her husband, Dave West, was hired as woodlands manager at the Ainsworth OSB mill in Barwick.
She herself is a professional forestry engineer and a few years ago while living in northern Alberta, sidelined her profitable career to pursue her dream of throwing clay on a pottery wheel. Subsequently, “Blackduck Pottery” was born.
When she moved here, she opened a studio at her property on Hwy. 602 near Emo, where she makes and fires pots, and teaches hand-building pottery workshops.
“When I moved here I visited the [Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung] Manitou Mounds and learned of the Blackduck culture,” said Henteleff, who up until then had had no idea her business name was similar to the Blackduck people of 1,000 years ago.
She was immediately inspired by the ancient style of their pottery and now replicates it in her work.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Henteleff is in her element and reaping the therapeutic benefits of working her art on a daily basis. But that doesn’t mean life’s always laid-back.
“A lot of people say making pottery is relaxing. I really don’t find it relaxing,” Henteleff said with a smile, during a visit to the gallery in mid-July. “It is intense and I am totally engaged in it. Sometimes I wake at night thinking about the shape I’m going to make next.
“I don’t think I make enough pots. I’d like to make more, but I am really busy,” she noted.
“It’s a very organic feeling [working with clay], almost magic, it really is,” enthused Henteleff, who is self-taught save a six-week apprenticeship with a potter about 34 years ago when she was 15 years old.
“It’s almost like the clay shapes itself, and sometimes I think because of my muscle structure or shape of my hands or my strength, my body decides what the pot shall be—it’s a very weird feeling. If you are a really good potter you should be able to think [the design] in your mind, and make it on the wheel.
“It took me a while to learn that,” Henteleff admitted.
Meanwhile, Pat Farrell of Fort Frances, has learned that without an active artful life, she would not be who she is today. She is keenly aware of the role her artwork plays in learning more about herself, and the part she plays in helping others who want to use their art in a similar fashion.
Farrell is well-known through the Fine Line Art Gallery for her whimsical collages, paintings, and her art workshops that explore and encourage abstract thought and spirit.
“I intentionally meant to steer my art into spirit mode— not necessarily healing and helping, that’s been a by-product—but certainly into inner spirit,” explained Farrell, during a brief interview last month.
Those who take Farrell’s “Inside Out” abstract collage two-day workshop, held periodically at the gallery, start out with a deep meditation to help them get focused.
“I [encourage] them to clean out everything that was going on inside so that everyone can approach their painting with a joyful sense of their own spirit. Then they start with a watercolour base, and collage over that with tissues, feathers, sparkly things—anything that you can imagine. Then I stop them so that their brains don’t get hooked on [one idea],” explained Farrell.
“I take the paper away from them and turn it around into a different position, and the group decides what next position that person is going to work on,” she continued, noting she, too, gets her own collage going.
“I might be working in a horizontal and the group decides I’m going to go vertical—and the group decides when it’s a finished piece. It’s a very collective experience,” she said.
Farrell believed just about anybody can benefit from dabbling in art, no matter the medium or circumstance, and use it to de-stress.
“When you take a person with no skills in art and you put them in front of a piece of paper and start allowing and encouraging them to play with colour, make it very safe, and help them to develop a thing of beauty, they’ll realize, ‘Oh, wow, this can happen even when I am feeling frustrated,’” Farrell reasoned.
She also advocated “personal space” at home where the focus on art or whatever creativity is looking for an outlet, can be generated without interruption.
For Farrell, that’s her studio.
“When I go into my studio, a complete calm descends over me, unlike any calm I’ve ever had,” she said.
“I know that’s connected to the fact that in a few moments I’ll be sitting down with a canvas or a piece of paper and something beautiful is going to happen—something powerful that is going to be good for the inside of me [and] I’ve learned that that is my healing place,” enthused Farrell.
“If you think about it—creativity, painting, and sculpture have been with us forever. [Art] feeds our soul—that’s what it does,” Barb Stevens concurred.

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