On Friday my friend Esther invited me to visit the Mayberry Fine Art Gallery just one block over from my home to see an exhibit of paintings by Joanne Gullachsen. Esther thought we would enjoy the exhibit because Joanne, who is having her first public show as an artist at age 68, is a retired teacher just like we are, and she has been compared to Canadian artist Maud Lewis. Esther and I used to be teaching partners and we crafted a multi-subject learning unit on Maud’s life story and work for our students.
Joanne’s paintings at the Mayberry Gallery are certainly ‘happy’ as Bill Redekop reports in his Free Press article about the exhibit. They are also reminiscent of Maud Lewis’ work and perhaps that of Grandma Moses, an American folk artist who like Joanne, only became well-known later in her life. Grandma Moses was ‘discovered’ when she was 78.
Joanne grew up on a dairy farm in Manitoba’s Interlake region and her paintings which were all drawn from memory, and not from photographs, provide an intimate portrayal of her childhood. She painted the pieces over a period of 27 years while pursuing a busy teaching career and caring for her growing family.
Each painting in the Gullachsen exhibit is accompanied by a short story the artist has written about what is going on in the scene portrayed. In one painting a neighborhood thief had taken off with the family’s milk pail and Joanne’s grandma was trying to flag him down as he whipped his horse to speed away.
What I loved about the Gullachsen collection were the personal connections and memories the paintings evoked for both Esther and me. As we ambled through the Mayberry Gallery with its bleached hardwood floors and high sunny windows, we shared stories from our childhood and family life, each story prompted by one of Joanne’s paintings.
A painting called Dad Reading While Watching Baby reminded me of a photograph my mother took of my father looking after me as a baby, and managing to still read and study while he was doing so. Dad had to multi-task because he was supporting and caring for a young family at the same time as he was in medical school at the University of Manitoba.
A painting of a mother and her daughters looking at the Eaton’s catalogue brought back memories of the dress my mother bought me from the Eaton’s catalogue to wear on my first day of school. Mom always sewed all our dresses but because she wanted me to have something special for the first day of grade one, I got to order a dress from the catalogue. I still remember the excitement of the package arriving from Eatons. The dress was grey and red plaid.
A painting called Milking Time reminded me of going out and helping my Grandpa Peters with the chores in the barn when I was staying at his farm in Gnadenthal Manitoba. It is winter in the painting above and it is winter in the photo below. I am all bundled up to go out to the barn to milk the cows, pick eggs from the chickens and feed the pigs.
Just before we left the gallery the affable owners, father and son Bill and Shaun Mayberry, stopped to chat with us. Esther mentioned that the reference to Maud Lewis in Bill Redekop’s newspaper article about Joanne Gullachsen, was what had brought us to the gallery since we were avid Maud Lewis fans. Bill told us they were in the process of putting together a collection of Lewis’ work to be part of an exhibition this fall. “I think four Maud Lewis paintings just came in today. Would you like to see them?” Bill offered.
The Mayberrys unwrapped the Lewis paintings and laid them out on a table at the back of the gallery. Bill told us one of the pieces came from a woman whose mother had bought the painting for five dollars from Maud Lewis because she felt sorry for her. Bill pointed out some unique features in the paintings that aren’t found in Maud’s other works with similar themes.
What a treat for us to see Maud’s paintings up close and to have our own little private viewing of some of her work, courtesy of the congenial Mayberrys. The last time I had seen any of Maud’s paintings in person was when I visited the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia nearly ten years ago.
What next? I will definitely visit the Mayberry Gallery to see the Maud Lewis exhibit when it opens. I am inspired by Joanne Gullachsen who is earning money and becoming recognized as an artist at 68. I read in her biography that she took art classes and was mentored by other Manitoba artists. Taking writing classes and finding a mentor or writing group to work with, is something I need to do as well, if I want to find a wider audience for my writing and turn it into a source of income. But I am only 58 so I still have a whole decade left to attempt to emulate what Joanne has done.