PEI

Who's your Mother? Art show celebrates female P.E.I. artists

The Confederation Centre Art Gallery is turning a P.E.I. question on its head with its new exhibit Who's Your Mother? Women Artists of P.E.I., 1964 to the Present.

'It's a major exhibition and a really respectful gesture from the gallery'

'I hope that image of a woman can be as iconic in our national idea of hockey,' as that of a man, says photographer Anna Karpinski. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

The Confederation Centre Art Gallery is turning a P.E.I. question on its head with its new exhibit Who's Your Mother? Women Artists of P.E.I., 1964 to the Present. 

The gallery had been publicly criticized in the past for not collecting enough women artists. 

"I decided to look into our collection and it seems that since that time we have very much a 50-50 ratio, maybe even more women artists being collected than men," said Pan Wendt, curator at the gallery.  "But in the past, that wasn't necessarily the case."

'Large acquisition'

So Wendt and curator-in-residence Lisa Theriault spent the entire summer researching the history of art exhibitions and production on P.E.I. since 1964. 

Elaine Harrison's self portrait and work are featured on the gallery's introduction wall. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

"We did realize there were quite a few artists that weren't in our collection that possibly should be," Wendt said. 

Our icon Anne of Green Gables is a sort of pre-feminist feminist, so I think it's appropriate that this is happening here.— Pan Wendt

So he and Theriault shifted gears and began visiting studios across P.E.I., meeting with more than 20 artists of all ages and career stages. 

JoDee Samuelson's adorable hen and chicks painting incorporates a real copy of the local newspaper. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

They ended up purchasing from 13 new artists — a "large acquisition" for the gallery, one that will use all of its annual budget for new purchases. 

The result is that one third of the 39 artists in the show are new to the Centre's collection. 

'Mother figures'

Being part of the Centre's collection is a big deal because the gallery is the art collection "of record" for P.E.I., Wendt said. 

These paintings by Heather Millar are from her first major solo exhibition in 2015, Second Chances — based on mug shots of Australian women convicts from the early 20th century. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Now, the gallery has tipped the balance and has more women artists from P.E.I. than men. 

"It's a continuing, ongoing process of trying to right inequalities," Wendt said. "Our icon Anne of Green Gables is a sort of pre-feminist feminist, so I think it's appropriate that this is happening here.

"Both Hilda Woolnough and Erica Rutherford have a large section of the show as kind of mother figures," Wendt said. 

'Doors are opening up'

Anna Karpinski is a documentary photographer and shoots on film for her art photos. She's thrilled to have work included in the show. 

'There were quite a few artists that weren't in our collection that possibly should be,' says curator Pan Wendt. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

"It just feels good to be part of the larger picture, and I'm happy that my work can be included in that," she said. "It's inspiring to do more work, too." 

Her four photos are from a series she did in 2014 called Keep Your Stick on the Ice in which she documented girls playing hockey.

"Girls have more choices now. If they want to play hockey, they can," Karpinski said. "I hope that image of a woman can be as iconic in our national idea of hockey."

A series of pieces from the late Hilda Woolnough. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

She agrees with Wendt the time is right for an exhibition promoting women artists.

"It feels like doors are opening up," Karpinski said. "When people aren't talking about women needing to be equal, when that conversation stops, you know that we are. Because it's still happening, you know that it needs to be happening."

'Really respectful gesture'

Monica Lacey has been a professional artist for seven years. The show includes her photograph Adam and Marty from her series Couples on Couches

'A lot of the artists in the show were mentors to me,' says P.E.I. artist Monica Lacey. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

"It's an incredible group to be included in — a lot of the artists in the show were mentors to me when I was really small," said Lacey, who counts Harrison, Woolnough and Mary Basiletti among her influences. 

"It's a discussion that's of the moment and really a major thing that's happening right now is reclaiming space and reclaiming their voices," said Lacey. 

"Both as a woman and as an artist, I would say it's a major exhibition and a really respectful gesture from the gallery."

Brenda Whiteway's work is precise and detailed. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

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About the Author

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email sara.fraser@cbc.ca