Merry Christmas from Northern BC!

Two Christmas cards this year! I couldn’t resist this doggie nativity scene (I can’t take credit for it – the original was posted by a vet in  Ireland); I’ve just added in two special friends.

Ken’s the happiest I’ve seen a wood-carver look! Mind you, I haven’t been in direct contact with many wood-carvers … He was pretty happy being the artist-in-residence in the gallery and answering all the many questions about his process. Below Diana pats the head of his alabaster eagle, perched on top of a willow wood stand that Ken also made. Ken used to be a biology teacher and principal at one of the local schools and took up carving after he retired; he’s one of the only people in this area doing relief sculpture.

Before she jetted off for Arizona Sandra had us out to her place for a hearty winter supper of fresh slaughtered chicken (sorry vegetarians!) stew with dumplings – it was delicious. I tried to get a photo of all of us in which everyone was smiling but it was not to be.

Below Ty eyes the cheesecake with homemade berry topping that Sharla’s about to consume; he fell off the no-dessert wagon that night!

Sandra’s house is all by itself in a wide open field area and driving up to it a visitor is struck by the Kudu (antelope) head that appears in her top window, the remains of a long ago trip to Africa with her husband.

Once again with the cold snap the hoar frost has appeared on the trees; this photo is from down along the river’s edge. I did not realise that rivers could be foggy; sometimes there’s very thick fog along the Peace in the mornings until the sun burns it off.

The photo below of the Peace River at sunset is by Darcy Shawchek.

I did another trip out to Freedom Thinkers Education to talk Modern Art with the grades 4-6 and play surrealist and cubist games. We are going to hang all 60 of the Surrealist Corpses up on one wall of the gallery for 3 weeks in January – my last hurrah as curator here!

December is always the Artisan Christmas Market at the gallery and we expand into the Multi-Purpose room next door for it. I was lucky enough to have 7 volunteers show up to help me put the display together and we finished this room in one day, complete with three lit Christmas Trees.

This year, for the opening kick-off for the Market, we collaborated with the Indigenous Artist’s Market and the Artisan Farmhouse, both down the road on 100th Avenue, on an art-walk style event called Candy Cane Lane, with gingerbread houses, live music, roving carollers, and door prizes.

As you can see Ty was pretty excited about it, set-up in his usual station at the bar table to welcome patrons with a glass of cheer.

 

Along with two local radio personalities, I was asked to judge the gingerbread house competition, with entries from families, adults, teenagers, and children. Here are some of them.

While we have had a lot of snow the last few weeks, it has not been cold, hardly going below zero at all (unlike last years many days of -20 to -30, and week of -40). The photos below of grain bins and fields at sunrise are by Norman Siemens.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, ocean, outdoor, water and nature

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and nature

On sunny days the landscape around our neighbourhood is much more attractive. All the buildings are now complete and the “landscaping” is finished (I would have been interested to see how many of the half-dead plants they put in will survive until Spring).

As you can see the snow-drifts are very high! This is a new neighbourhood; most of the houses were built in the last two or three years and almost all of them are gigantic and have gigantic RVs and sometimes boats parked in the front. With the economic downturn lots of For Sale signs have popped up on the streets, although, now, with Site C being given the go-ahead, maybe these houses will sell.

Below is the snowcovered pond near our place.

As our friend Marsha reminds me, this area is Big Sky country and lately the sunsets and sunrises have been beautiful. Below is the road coming back from Charlie Lake, looking out over the fields to the Beatton River valley in the distance.

Barb, an artist friend who lives out near the airport, very kindly had a going-away party for Ty & I, even though we are not actually going until later on in January.

Lots of folks from the Flying Colours art group came to toast us on our way.

I will really miss all these lovely people when we leave.

A few more weeks are left to hike with the Sunday group; last week we headed out to the Beatton Hills for a 10 km hike along the river.

Even though it was not particularly cold, in spots the road was still icy so I had to be very careful where I put my feet, since my hiking boots are super slick on the bottom. Gus the schnauzer and Bear the big dog joined us for the walk; I think Gus must be pretty well almost blind but at 15 years old he is really miraculously energetic and well-able to walk 10 km.

At the end of the road two oil pumpjacks continue their operations day and night. It is still a surprise to me to come across one of these machines in the landscape.

Along the way back Bear discovered the remains of a deer skeleton, from the looks of which the animal was very recently killed.

The sunrise picture below, taken out on the way to the airport, is by Heather Theede.

On Sunday 6 of us got together for a pre-Christmas walk and brunch in Clairmont, a “suburb” of Fort St John, located in between the city and Charlie Lake. Val and Greg have lived here for 30 years and have about 7 acres along Fish Creek. It was a beautiful almost cloudless day with a brisk, cold wind that made Gus the dog walk with a very high-stepping gait.

Since the sun does not rise very high up over the horizon even at 10 in the morning the shadows are very long and blue over the snow-covered fields.

We haven’t had a snowfall for a while so it was icy and crunchy walking over this area. My hiking boots, while warm, have very slick soles so I had to be quite careful not to slip and fall. (As you can probably tell, I am sort of obsessed about not falling!)

Our walk took us across fields over to the West Bypass road and then back again along the railway tracks, with a stop at the viewpoint over the Fish Creek gully.

Across the gully a moose stood still and watched us, never once moving. You can see it below next to one of the large spruce trees.

Unlike me, Gus had no difficulty skipping along the top of the snow. He led us down the creek bank and across a frozen beaver dam on the way back to Val’s place.

Folks around here still go out into “the country” and cut down their own Christmas trees, know as being “holiday criminals”. Sandra went out with her grandkids and dragged back this beauty now installed in her living room – it must be at least 18 ft high.

We helped Sandra and her family decorate it for Christmas.

The Cultural Centre’s Christmas party was held at the local bowling lanes, pizza followed by ten frames of bowling. As usual, I was hopeless but Ty managed to get two strikes and one of the guys we were playing with had at least 4 as he blasted the ball down the runway.

Katy and her husband tried to teach their two year old to bowl – he seemed to be enjoying the action.

There were a few people in the crowd who seemed to know what they were doing. It seems so simple; just roll the ball down the middle of the lane … not sure why I can’t ever seem to do it.

The Flying Colours artist group got together yesterday for its annual Christmas art-making and food-eating party, with laughter, merriment, and a gift exchange.

On the garage door wall to the left you can see two of my recent linocuts, a skull and heart. I am working on a series of body parts still …

Finally, for 2017, I leave you with some images of the Fort St John and Peace Region taken by members of the local photographers group; these folks get out early and stay out late to get fantastic photos of the local scene. The FSJ grain elevator out by the airport is by Heather Theede.

Merry Christmas pumpjack by Darcy Shawchek.

The photos below of the ‘hood are by Heather Theede.

Hope you are making merry with loved ones this holiday season – best wishes to all!

See more pics here.

From Canola to Art

Yellow canola fields here are a revelation! I remember watching the first episode of the British version of detective show Wallander, featuring vast fields of electric yellow against a brilliant blue sky, not knowing what the crop was.

Well – canola! Apparently the fields are only yellow like this for a few weeks before harvest. I took these pictures of the fields along the Montney Road north of here, on the way to an art day at Lorna’s farm overlooking the Montney valley.

During the summer the Flying Colours Art Group does a lot of plein air painting and Lorna invited us to her hacienda and farm in Montney to see her little piggies and paint. Their property is on the crest of a hill and below is the view from her gorgeous front veranda, a panorama out over the Montney Valley. The three photos below are a panorama of the valley from Lorna’s veranda, a large porch that surrounds the hilltop house on three sides.

Lorna and her partner are getting out of farming, so they rent out their fields; right now the fields are in peas; this is the brighter green you can see behind the line of spruce trees. They still have some pigs, though, and we all were treated to an inspection of the pigpen and piggies as she fed them. Below some of our group traipsing across the field to the pen.

And the pictures below show the hungry critters at the trough.

Here Lorna and Miep are checking them out more closely.

Here is a photo of the garden area around the house, with the potable water tank (the water is trucked in) surrounded by pink flowers.

Along with art, we consumed a lovely lunch provided by the group, most of whom made their contributions – wonderful food!

These pictures of me in action on the veranda were taken by Miep.

As were the photos below of Lorna and Sasha on the trampoline and the piggies in their pen enjoying a mud bath.

When I saw these guys, I was momentarily amazed at the size of their ears, but then I remembered the pigs ear treats that Brubin used to consume …

After enjoying our time with the pigs, we set up shop on the veranda overlooking the valley to draw, paint, and carve on what was a lovely sunny summery day. Ken, a retired school administrator and teacher, has taken up relief carving and works on wildlife images.

Most of the others favour landscape; below Diana is giving her plein air kit a workout.

Sandy specialises in landscape and was sketching the valley in preparation for an acrylic on black canvas painting that she later completed in the Gallery when she was Artist-in-Residence.

Round hay bales are everywhere on the hills here, and more pictures of the brilliant yellow canola fields on the drive back to town. I could not resist stopping every once and a while to document this vision.

Back at the Gallery, our second artist-in-residence Sandy spent two afternoons painting and interacting with visitors. Here she enjoys a visit with Audrey Bodnar, one of the pioneering painters in the area who has been involved in the arts her entire life. Now 92, Audrey is back in FSJ after many years down in Kelowna and interested in getting back into painting.

Painting in acrylic on black canvas is one of Sandy’s trademarks and she very generously showed Audrey and others how it was done.

Below is the painting she is executing from the sketches done from Lorna’s veranda.

She managed to almost complete two paintings while in the gallery, the landscape from the deck of Lorna’s house, and a 12 x 12 inch sunset-scape, pictured below. Sandy is going to give a workshop on this painting style at the Cultural Centre this Fall.

Ty and I joined Sandra, Sharla, and others for a birthday BBQ in Sharla’s backyard, where we sampled steak and ribs, and the joys of patting Sharla’s old tomcat. (Ty & I are both missing our animal family)

 

On a variable-weather Sunday a group of us headed out to Beaverlodge, Alberta (about 2.5 hours east from here) for the Euphemia McNaught Homestead Festival, a day of art, food, music and more at Euphemia’s country estate. Before coming up here I had never heard of either Beaverlodge or Euphemia McNaught but Euphemia painted with the Group of Seven and left her farm and all its buildings to the Province to be restored and kept as a place for arts and culture events. Below is her painting studio which Miep, Charlie, and Mary set up to display prints.

Lorna, Mary, and I had a table in the sun to display prints and printmaking paraphernalia.

Below is my end of the table with a couple of lino and wood blocks and some mixed media works.

Other artists were there, too, including Dan Arberry, a painter from Grande Prairie, who chats below with Irene, Lorna, and Mary.

Along with art was an owl; a wildlife officer brought his barred owl to the Festival; she only has one wing so can’t be returned to the wild but what a beautiful bird. Lots of people were very interested in her.

Another fun part of the day was riding in the old homestead wagon out to the lake on the property, where a group of folks had fundraised to build a boardwalk and bird-viewing blind.

We rolled slowly through the hay fields, drawn by two large horses.

The boardwalk travels out over the wetlands and culminates in a viewing platform, from which one can see, if lucky, many varieties of waterfowl, dragonflies, butterflies, and … mosquitoes.

Two telescopes have been donated and people took turns gazing with them out over the lake beyond.

I saw a Bohemian Waxwing, the yellow and black bird below, and was able to get a couple of pictures of it.

Later on in the afternoon the clouds rolled in, the wind came up and, seeing rain approaching in the distance, we rolled back to town. Below is a view of Dawson Creek and fields from the truck bypass road.

And a view of the Peace River Valley coming down the highway into Taylor, about 20 km from FSJ.

The landscaping around our neck of the woods is slowly, very slowly, coming together, as is the elementary school being built around the corner from us.

Another day, another trip into the countryside: Sandra invited us to come along on a fishing trip and visit to her property at Upper Halfway, a remote valley about 2.5 hours north along the Alaska Highway – here’s a view from somewhere along the way.

Below is the Halfway River that comes into the Peace down by Hudson’s Hope at Bear Flats.

While we waited to rendezvous with other members of our party, we took a walk through one of the recreation areas up here; Ty points out a board nailed onto two trees for campers to put their food out of the way of bears.

Sandra’s old dog Kaiser enjoyed snapping at the river’s waves.

After cruising along through valleys, fields, and woodland we arrived at the property which Sandra had described as having a “cabin”. I imagined a tiny very rustic wooden shack … well, this cabin was an enormous fully-furnished log house with two smaller outbuildings. The furnishings included quite a few animal heads on the walls.

Atfer unpacking our gear, we drove through the fields down to the river where Ty and Heinz set up shop to fish while the rest of us hiked through the fields.

Sandra has given this property to her four children and their kids: it is 161 acres of fields and pasture along the Halfway river. Below Gus the dog, Sharla, Jane and Sandra walk through one of the pastures, heading south-east. Long grasses and tiny flowers cover the ground here; poor old Gus was just about able to see over them.

Lots of goldenrod plants here, very attractive to these black and white butterflies.

The old RV in the pasture below was used as a game blind, where hunters could set up shop hidden from the various animals that come through here.

Below Sharla carries her container of bear spray, very prudent considering the bear skat evident in the fields.

Along with flowers, the fields have wild strawberries, tiny and delicious red berries almost hidden under the plants’ leaves.

Amazingly, to me, the guys did catch some kind of river trout which they BBQ’d for lunch.

After a lovely lunch we cruised back towards the highway, making one additional turnoff to a riverfront property somewhere south west along a gravel oil road to visit one of Jane’s friends and see her food garden. This property, in the back of beyond as far as I can see, used to be used as an oil and gas camp, its flat field a former air strip for small planes and helicopters.

Marcia works this garden everyday, giving its produce away to charities such as the SPCA.

Below is a picture of the area that was formerly an airstrip.

While there, we took a walk around the perimeter of the place, stopping to check out the wildlife viewing platform that Marcia and her partner have built.

It looks like a tree-fort but is actually quite a large space from which to see out over the fields and trees.

In the trees below we saw a grouse and two babies.

Tiny pink and purple flowers carpet the area. Being an urban character as I am, the feeling I get from being out here in what I consider to be an extremely remote area is a bit of anxiety. Not sure whether it’s a kind of agoraphobia or claustrophia – maybe both!

Back in town, Irene Gut, an encaustic artist originally from Switzerland but here in northern BC for about 28 years, was our Artist-in-Residence, letting people in on the magic of painting with wax.

She demonstrated how she creates works with a hot iron, cubes of beeswax, and specially prepared paper, melting the wax on the iron’s surface, then running it over the surface of the paper, then scribing into it or using paper to make textures in it. She is making a Swiss mountainscape triptych at the moment.

Our weather has been very variable this month, from very hot, dry and sunny, to monsoon-like downpours and lightning storms, to dust storms in which we have to run to close all the windows so the soft sand particles do not settle themselves on every surface, adding to the already dusty ambience in our home.

But the other evening we enjoyed a lovely mellow evening in the garden at Linda and Rick’s Charlie Lake abode, dining Tuscan-style in the garden.

Photos below are by Famous Amos: Two moose in a canola field and sunset over a canola field in northern Alberta.

Image may contain: nature and outdoor

Image may contain: sky, cloud, grass, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: cloud, sky, twilight, outdoor and nature

See more of my photos here.