Author: Bergen, Rachel
Date published: May 17, 2010
A "sense of place" is what the Buffalo Creek Artists are all about. Ray Dirks, curator at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery in Winnipeg, describes the 11 artists in the collective as "a dedicated group . . . who are part of an artistic awakening in Manitoba's southern Mennonite belt."
To showcase their talent, the gallery on the grounds of Canadian Mennonite University is featuring the show "Buffalo Creek Artists: Sense of Place" until June 19. Among the featured artists are six who attend Mennonite Church Manitoba congregations: Ken Loewen, Margruite Krahn and Barb Wiebe from Altona Mennonite; Gail Sawatzky from Rosenfeld Bergthaler Mennonite; Bev Friesen from Blumenort Mennonite, Gretna; and Lloyd Letkeman of Gretna Bergthaler Mennonite. The group also includes an Evangelical Mennonite Mission member and an Anglican.
"It's a good opportunity for us [in Winnipeg] to see what's going on in southern Manitoba," says Dirks of one of the reasons for the show. "They are talented artists .... They are very influenced by the history and the natural surroundings of their part of the province."
"[The Rhineland area] is an important Mennonite area, an area where there are a lot of artistic things going on," Dirks adds. "More and more artists are working collectively to put that area on the map historically and artistically."
Margruite Krahn, a painter, echoes that sentiment.
"Having this group has driven local artists to realize their potential, to be able to call themselves artists," she says. "It has awakened the community. Businesses and individuals have been purchasing local art. Schools have developed art programs where there were none before. Young people are being inspired."
Krahn credits the Town of Altona for nurturing artistic expression. "I look at how this town was built- the gallery, park paths, all with a desire to be esthetically pleasing- as well as how the town and churches have a tolerance for both liberal and conservative views."
Friesens Corporation, a locally based book printer, established the Gallery in the Park and Sculpture Garden in 2008 for Altona's centennial. Buffalo Creek Artists have benefited from this gallery, says Krahn, noting that "the Gallery in the Park has given us exposure on a national, even international, level."
Sculptor Ken Loewen transforms scrap metal and other found objects into social, political, thought-provoking and religious expressions. He doesn't have to search far for usable materials. "The stuff that I gather and the pieces I do are right from the prairie landscape," he says.
He enjoys the responses of farmers who view his work and try to identify all the pieces and the machines they came from, sometimes, however, missing the transformation. "A lot of my pieces have religious themes, especially the peace theme, coming from my Mennonite faith," he explains.
Barb Wiebe, a potter, recently took an interest in graveyards and old tombstones. Visiting cemeteries in the Altena and Plum Coulee area, she "became fascinated with them. I love old tombstones," she admits. Wiebe took impressions of the gravestones and incorporated them into her clay pots. She has done similar things with wheat and sunflowers grown around her acreage.
Wiebe draws much of her inspiration from her surroundings. "Recently, I did a pond series, thinking of my own pond and the dragonflies and frogs that are a part of that habitat," she says.
For Krahn, many of her oil and acrylic paintings on canvas tell the story of her sense of place. Her painting entitled "Rosenfeld Farmers" reflects the routine and story of southern Manitoba on different levels. While viewers can actually identify local people, they can also recognize the more universal story of people gathering routinely for coffee. "The story is not the stories being told around coffee, but the people themselves," she says.
"We don't do overtly religious art like artists did in the past," says Krahn of the Buffalo Creek Artists. "But what we produce is often a reflection of where we are spiritually. Not everyone in our group is Mennonite and we all have different spiritual walks, but personally I hope my work reflects in some way my walk with God."
BY RACHEL BERGEN / EVELYN REMPEL PETKAU
National Correspondent / Manitoba Correspondent