Prairie Church

“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” George Bernard Shaw

I drew this church years ago, sitting on the edge of the North Saskatchewan River overlooking the water and the valley. It’s dwarfed now by the city that has grown up around it. Many of the buildings tower over the small structure. But I imagine when people first saw it, they looked to it as one of the largest buildings in the area. I’m sure they were as enchanted as I was the first time I saw it. It’s a marvel really. Every line and angle perfect. Eight sided domes. How does a person even make eight sided domes?

I imagine what it was like when it was built alone on the grass a hundred years ago. I imagine the pride they had fitting the fragments together, each like a puzzle piece nestled next to the other perfectly, colored windows arriving from the east by train. Shy women gathering, bellies big with children, small hands clutching their skirts, colored cotton washed and ironed for the day. They gathered together to be with other women like them and feel less alone.

The prairie was a lovely place. And it still is. But it was dreary in the early days of our country, especially for the women who stayed at home with no distraction. Imagine the darkness of the dugout home made with patches of prairie sod, no windows, staying inside for months at a time under two feet of snow with only the wind to whisper its insanity to your ears.

Then the church was built and brought with it a weekly reprieve. They woke up early on Sunday, pulling on their clothes and running a brush through their hair. They climbed out of the small hollow of their home and set out on the cold, bright prairie towards the congregation. Hearing the church bells must have been like hearing the voices of angels.

Every building whispers the hints of its past, people who have touched its walls, men and women who have felt both pain and pleasure, their short lives peppered with dead babies, hunger, diphtheria, measles, cooking for 20, pregnancies after 40. All of these women came together to be with others, looking for the strength to work hard for something better.

A hundred years before that, women might have met on the same land. Brown women wearing leather, cooking deer meat, tanning hides. They stood on the same spot breathing the fresh air, listening to the rustling leaves and singing birds and moving water. People who never recovered from their swift and brutal disenfranchisement.

I like to think that the people who built this church could hear the whispers of others who are long gone, their voices saying “this is a good place,” “this is where people belong.” And they breathed the air warm from the ground smelling of leaves and mud and sage and love and bitterness all mixed up into the fragrance that fills our lungs. They gathered every Sunday at this church to feel a part of something larger than themselves. All the people, in all times past, most recently, brightly colored immigrants with broken English, and earlier, darker women, quiet as whispers, standing still as death. Each of them held their children as women have done from every time until now. They found strength in one another, sustenance in community. This church is on the bluff above the water calling people to it, sitting on earth as stable as any stone.

This drawing can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

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Athabasca Wedding

“To be an artist is to believe in life.” Henry Moore

I never had a proper wedding. But years ago, I attended a ceremony that I wish was my own. I didn’t know many of the people there. My husband was a high school friend of the groom but I didn’t really know anyone. I was shy and three months pregnant so I spent most of the wedding watching from the side lines while other people drank alcohol. I sipped on water wishing I could look as classy as the bride in her simple dress. We stuffed ourselves with homemade Ukrainian food but not the cabbage rolls. I still can’t eat cabbage rolls

My husband and I couldn’t afford a wedding gift. He was still a student and I had just graduated from art college which qualified me to do absolutely nothing. But I always said I’d make a painting for them. That was the plan at least. Between raising 2 kids and moving to another country and starting a career in nursing, I forgot about it. Years later, I was reviewing all my old sketches and I found the series I made that special night. Looking at those old sketches, I began making compositions in my head. They were all based on the church and drawings of people at the reception. Even though the image is based on the wedding, I took a great deal of license with the painting. I wanted the surface of the painting to be divided up with shapes of flower petals and it oddly made the church look as if it were made of stone. But really, it was a wooden structure, like most prairie churches. I had fun adding embellishments that weren’t really there, lines and shapes that offered nothing but the joy of playing with different colors next to one another. I allowed myself the pleasure of applying color, not just recording the images, but painting the emotions. There are many different incarnations of this drawing. One sketch has the bride and groom holding hands and flying through the sky like a Marc Chagall painting. But this was my favorite composition.

I brought the the painting to the couple 25 years after it was due. They’re still together and very much in love. The groom teared up when he saw it, obviously still smitten with his bride. I spent an evening with them drinking wine. They told me the story of how they met. Who can resist a romantic story when a man sees the love of his life and does whatever he can to be with her? It’s the plot of almost every romantic comedy. But it’s rarely seen in life.

On the bottom of the canvas I painted the words, “The sky was aflame with roses on the day she said I do.” They have the kind of love everyone wants but not many people get. This painting was for them and for everyone who can find a warm hand to hold at the end of the day and a soft voice to whisper “I love you,” into the shadows of our own loneliness.

This drawing can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

Sunset

“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” Edgar Degas

Alberta is such a beautiful place. I’ve said this to many people and I’ve often been corrected. “You haven’t seen Paris,” they say. And they shake their heads, maybe roll their eyes, firmly believing in my lack of sophistication. But I feel sorry for them. They’ll probably never visit the cities they recommend to me. And they’ll spend their lives hoping to find happiness somewhere else when I can find it right in front of me.

I see beauty everywhere. I see color, and light, and composition. No matter where I am, I can see it. What a sad situation most people are in because they don’t realize they can see it too. Seeing the world in this way is the reason I started painting. My goal is to remind people of the beauty that surrounds us every day. If they see what I see, maybe they’ll remember it too.

The prairie sky is infinitely charming.¬†From my childhood until today, I’ve developed a habit of watching the sky which is the most magnificent canvas. Morning and evening the horizon is draped with color, like a gift, colorfully wrapped around the edge of the world. Look away and when you look back it’s already changed. Escape is only as far away as casting your eyes upward.

This farm, near Elk Island Park, was a string of ancient buildings, weather worn and broken in places like people. I’m pretty sure they weren’t being used any longer. And chances are, with Edmonton close in proximity, this farm may no longer exist, building gone, holes filled in waiting to become a golf course or hotel. But the painting still hangs on my wall, bringing me back to that moment when I sat quietly watching the sky change on a warm June day in the country.

Find this sketch and the subsequent painting available for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com.