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Confederation Centre Art Gallery adds 19 new works by female artists to the permanent collection

Walking through the Upper East Gallery of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, it’s easy to get excited by a new exhibition featuring the work of P.E.I. women artists.

At the show entrance, there’s Elaine Harrison’s self-portrait and “Fernwood in Winter”.

Around the corner, there’s Daphne Irving’s colourful “North River Hay Motif” and Georgie Read Barton’s, “Sand Dunes”, as well as Hilda Woolnough’s “Butterfly No. 3”, which hangs nearby.

Moves closer to the centre (or along the sides) of the exhibition, and things get even more exciting.

That’s because it shines a light on the 19 new works by female artists, recently purchased and added to the gallery’s permanent collection. They range from Patricia Bourque’s black and photograph and “See’er”, Heather Millar’s portrait of “May Foster”, from her Australian women convict series and Norma Jean MacLean’s painting, “Rebound Court” to Sandy Kowalik’s sculpture, “Pair of Pears”, and others too numerous to mention.

“The selection reveals the extraordinary growth of artmaking by women on the Island, over the past five decades and the diversity and strength of the work produced,” state Lisa Theriault and Pan Wendt, co-curators of “Who’s Your Mother? Women Artists of P.E.I., 1964 to the present”, in the opening panel of the exhibition that runs until June 2.

Mari Basiletti is happy to be one of the artists whose work has been added to the permanent collection.

“It means that the gallery is investing in the artists who live here now and carrying their work forward, permanently,” says the artist, standing next to “The Mojave, Needles to Barstow”, the panoramic oil and Masonite painting of a woman driving a car across the California desert by car, on her way to Los Angeles.

In the past, Basiletti’s artistic drive has been rewarded by having her work selected for Prince Edward Island Art Bank and the Art in the Schools program.

But, this is a different kind of thing, she says.

“To be part of the permanent collection means that the work will come out from time to time and be in exhibits. So, to be part of the women’s show, which was mounted this fall, is just a thrill.”

Textile artist Catherine Miller is also pleased.

“I’m proud they have chosen a piece of mine,” says Miller, pointing to “Making Lists”. Fashioned from silk and thread, the installation resembles a mobile with pieces fluttering through the air, from a canopy overhead.

Each silk panel contains a written list.

“Lists provide a picture of our everyday life, whether I have to go pick up my son, pick up an onion on the way home or phone my mother.”

Miller says having “Making Lists” picked for the show (and the collection) came as a pleasant surprise to her.
“Textile artists aren’t often thought of as (creating) fine art. But, I think those rules might be breaking down over the last few years. In the past, textile art and people who work with textiles, which in North America are mostly women, weren’t perceived the same way as those who did oil on canvas.”

Yes, the times are changing at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, says Wendt.

“It’s important for us to make an intervention because a public collection reflects artmaking here and we want to reflect that accurately. We felt there was an imbalance in collecting in the past, so we wanted to right the ship, as it were, with women’s works,” says the co-curator.

Artist JoDee Samuelson also enjoys having her work at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery.

“It feels great, and I hope they want some more,” says visual artist who has mixed real elements – straw, wood and a P.E.I. newspaper– into her oil and Masonite painting, “The Guardian, 1980, which shows a hen in nesting box, caring for her chicks.

“It was inspired by living on a farm and he had hens and chicks. I paint anything that is around me, just like I do today.”

Today as Wendt reflects on the show, he’s feeling very positive.

“It’s a particularly rewarding project. There was a lot of work that went into it. For me, having local involvement and local engagement was wonderful. I knew a lot of these women personally. And from a young age, they supported my work.

“People like Hilda Woolnough, Jody (Samuelson), Mari (Basiletti) and Maxine Stanfield were inspirational to me as a kid and so I feel proud to give them the recognition they deserve.”

If you go

What: “Who’s Your Mother? Women Artists of P.E.I., 1964 to the present”.

When and where: Continues until June 2 at the Upper East Gallery of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery.


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