Art, Integrity and Linear Thought

Tim Heimdal, a Peace Country Icon
By Dymphny Dronyk

Tim HeimdalI have been involved in the arts community of the Peace Country for 10 years now, but had rarely run into local painter Tim Heimdal. I knew who he was – enough to recognize his pea coat and preoccupied gait as he strode through downtown Grande Prairie. As a gallery owner, I seldom saw him at any Openings. He preferred to soak up the art when the gallery was deserted. The staff knew to respect his quiet perusal.

To a newcomer like me, he was a kind of urban myth. He was the guy who had painted all those murals in Grande Prairie: the horses that fly down from the sky on the Beer Box, and the Homesteaders that resolutely stare down traffic at the main intersection.

The removal of his thirty-six hundred square foot “Kakwa Falls” mural on one of the city’s few tall buildings had caused controversy in 2002. The building’s owner had covered it up during the insulating and renovating of its property. To this day when I drive by I look up, expecting to get the emotional lift the azure majesty of the Falls used to deliver and flinch instead at the blank wall.

Consensus was that Heimdal had amazing talent, but was very shy, reclusive almost. People spoke of him with something close to reverence. If only he had a bigger ego and knew how to promote himself more, the myth went, he’d be famous.

I had worked with him a few years ago as a set decorator for the play “When the Reaper Calls.” Again, I hardly saw him – instead I saw the stage transformed from a black shell to a spooky cabin tucked back in the woods. His idiosyncratic design and absorption with each minute detail challenged and inspired me. In some unspoken way, it was clear that I was expected to make a forest to match. We proceeded to haul in a few truckloads of willows, annex most of the stairwells backstage and with a token nod to fire codes the “cabin in the forest” lived.Recently I worked with Heimdal on the set of “Barefoot in the Park”. I hoped it would be a serendipitous opportunity to try to understand the enigma of this Peace Country icon a little better. His reaction when I informed him that our magazine would like to do a feature story on him seemed to epitomize the myth. “Oh, thank you,” he said, followed by a long, awkward pause. “It just seems that there are far more newsworthy topics than me.”

Maybe not: giving boundless time and energy to your community and doing it so quietly that it is scarcely noticed is newsworthy. Bringing art to the public in the form of a mural that beautifies our everyday surroundings may in fact be the kind of act that should receive more attention.

These are no small gifts. Take the time required to build a set as an example – multiply it by the long list of plays Heimdal has worked on. A set designer starts by reading the play to get a sense of the structure and ambience that must be created.Mural - Beer BoxThen he comes up with a design that can be adapted for the various scenes. The design must reflect the shoestring budget reality of community theatre. The sets are built by a group of volunteers who scrounge materials from past productions and anywhere else they can scavenge the particular doors, or windows or banisters envisioned in the design. This motley collection of wounded parts is slowly puzzled together, with the original design continually evolving based on what materials are found.

Finally it is painted over by Heimdal and the paint weaves the magic, creates depth where there is none, tricks the eyes. The hollow black space of the stage is transformed. Wooden planks appear on floors. The bricks of a New York brownstone peek into the fifth floor skylight. The warm green of the front door seems to reflect the trees outside.

The collective effort that has gone into creating the set is one of many elements, along with stage production, props and costumes, etc, that theatre patrons hardly notice when it is good. Yet without the often-unsung efforts that happen before the play’s first night, the best efforts of cast and director would lack a dimension.

“Theatre-goers might not notice it consciously if the set was flat, or something was missing,” Heimdal muses. “But they may walk away from the play with a feeling that something isn’t quite right. And the same could happen when it is right. They walk away knowing it was good, but not aware that the set was part of that.”

For over twenty years Heimdal has devoted his talent to a wide range of plays in the Peace Country. He has been a mainstay of Second Street Theatre, the Downtown Clowns, the Royal Oak Players and Grande Prairie Regional College productions. He has also designed sets in Edmonton, Calgary and Nova Scotia.

“Partly the sets were about working on a larger canvas, about experimenting with three dimensional space,” he explains. “I’m not always very linear, and so it has been interesting to learn from the carpenters who actually build the set and who understand scale and proportion. What may look flat and dull in a drawing may be spectacular and larger than life in reality. One time we had to cut a foot off the bottom of a wall because the window was too high, especially next to one of the shorter actors whose head disappeared!”Stage Set

This is the kind of anecdote that Heimdal will share in his earnest way. When talking with him one never gets a sense of spin, that there is a public persona being cultivated to mask the real guy. He may take time to answer a question, with thoughtful pauses that punctuate the conversation, but the answers are guileless when they finally come.

This deliberation takes a quiet kind of confidence, and again underlines the enigma. For all the self-deprecating remarks he may make, an undercurrent of conviction also flows through. It suggests that Heimdal is an artist who paints what he feels, who lives life without artifice, mindful of the wounds that can be unwittingly inflicted upon our world.

“The original purpose of painting the Kakwa Falls mural was to “do it”, to take the challenge of a canvas that size and use it to make a big statement about what I could do, and about what was happening to our environment, the wilderness that we could lose,” Heimdal reflects. “But it developed into something much bigger. It became part of the community. It belonged to them, it wasn’t mine anymore in a way. People came from elsewhere just to see the mural.”

The Kakwa Falls mural was painted in 1986, sponsored jointly by AGT (now Telus) and the City of Grande Prairie.While it wasn’t Heimdal’s first mural, it was certainly the largest project he had undertaken. In the end it was a labour of love.

“I knew the Herculean task was doable,” he says. “I wasn’t out to get rich, though it did lead to more jobs. The budget was $6500, for my time and all materials. The scaffolding was donated, and so was the time it took the crew to set it up. I ended up working for about $2 an hour that summer!”

“The 8 x 8 concrete panels on the building created a natural grid, so I made a small painting, and then made a “map” of it. It took many trips up and down the scaffolding to get the right perspective or the right shadow. Up that close you just can’t see it the same way.”

In the fall of 2001, Heimdal was informed that the mural would be covered up by the next spring. It was inevitable, for practical purposes. No mention was made of either saving or resurrecting the painting after the renovation project was complete. Efforts were made in the community to have it preserved instead of covered up, but this was not possible. Telus made the building ready for a potential new mural with $20,000 worth of specially-designed “paint-able panels”.

Homesteaders MuralThe blank panels now wait for the community’s next move. Making the building beautiful again will take a concerted effort by a focused group of people. “It raised a lot of questions for me,” Heimdal admits. “About Intellectual Property, about where does respect for an artist or art begin and end. There were other questions of integrity. What if Michelangelo was still alive and it involved covering up the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Every effort would be made to preserve the integrity of the art and the artist.

“Last year, there was a similar controversy in Stony Plain when they tore down the Town Hall that had one of my murals on it. In that case, after the building came down, a commitment was made by the town of Stony Plain to the community to redo the mural at a different location. But Stony Plain recognizes that their mural project is an asset to the town, part of their economic development, perhaps modeled on the success of Chemainus in B.C.”

And then in his typically shy way he adds, “Not that I am comparing myself to Michelangelo. I just know that the improvements in my skill and technique would allow for an even better image than it was. The depth and colour that had been lost over time could also be restored.”

The “Kakwa Falls” mural did lead to more murals, just as he had hoped. Heimdal makes a living painting murals. His art enhances communities all over Alberta, from Hythe to High River, Redwater to Calgary. His paintings and murals adorn hospitals, schools, nursing homes and airports.

Perhaps there is some truth to his minimalist marketing. His reluctance to be photographed for this magazine or the fact that we had to cajole him to get images of his work to accompany the article, run counter to the artists who provide a weighty sales package of their work. But then again, if the projects come to you, why would you need to swim too much in the shark infested waters of marketing?

“Working on a larger scale like murals makes art more accessible to a broader audience. You don’t have to see a mural between 9 and 5, or have to be a gallery-goer. It is public art that still has a personal and introspective nature,” Heimdal states. “And the work in the private context of the studio may make a different statement.

Dinosaurs“Book jackets, illustrations, film and video work and graphic design summarize all the diverse ways Heimdal’s art flows into the community. A conversation that begins with a simple question about set design meanders along like a quiet creek and ends up posing philosophical questions about the purity of visual representation. Should an artist paint what he sees, or should what he feels also influence the image?

One is left feeling that Heimdal’s questions will never really leave him alone, that there is an haunted undercurrent that will continue to carry him to new and deeper quests.

“What are you working on next?” I ask him. “Well, I’m not sure,” he replies in that measured, soulful way, as if maybe there are so many answers to that question that he has to really consider which is the safest one. “I have to do a mural in Hythe, on the Town Hall. It was written into the estate directive of Olive Stickney, who was sort of the Queen Pin of town.”

And this is another one of those bizarre stories of serendipity that sound almost too colourful to be true. A woman tiny in stature and enormous in will, who spent most of her 90 odd years championing a dying rural town, commissions a painting by an artist who in his way, echoes her volunteerism. Arta Juneau organized an auction last year to raise money for the mural. Among such things as yards of gravel, motor oil and cases of pickled beets, they auctioned off Olive’s legendary collection of flamboyant hats. If that doesn’t prove you’ve arrived as an artist, I’m not sure what does.

Many shared cups of coffee and long and interrupted phone calls with Heimdal have gone into the research of this article. In the end, the enigma endures: the reticent artist whose bold murals are in demand – the shy guy, who is also a clown. I realize that perhaps the most powerful thing of all about Heimdal is that he is an icon for authenticity. Being a success for being yourself – now that is something to aspire to.


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Art as a window on the world and the soul� By Susan Thompson Interviews with three members of the Peace River Art ClubThe town of Peace River seems blessed with a disproportionate amount of natural beauty. Every road in or out leads to a sweeping view of the valley's high, tree-lined hills, which explode into colour in the fall. Meandering creeks cut through forest and farmland and provide gathering places for a variety of wildlife. The wide, glittering river itself flows directly through the heart of the town, which lies nestled along opposite banks and is held together by the graceful arches of a large bridge. In winter, the sky often shines with the dancing colours of the northern lights.It seems only natural that living in such a landscape would inspire art, and Peace River is indeed at the heart of a small but talented community of local artists.http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/valerie_palmer.jpg" alt="Valerie Palmer" align="left" /> Valerie Palmer is known locally as the "mushroom lady" because of her complex, earth-toned abstracts made from mushroom spore prints. Born and educated in England, Palmer emigrated to Canada in 1958. After living in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and B.C., Palmer settled on an acreage a few kilometers outside of Peace River in the mid 70s with her husband Don. Although Palmer says she has been interested in art since she as a little girl, the abundant nature of the Peace Valley led her to develop her interest in art to its full potential. "I've always loved nature and the country, so I find this particular place with the valley and the river and the nature that goes with it very attractive."Palmer says she was surprised at the numbers and varieties of mushrooms on her property when she first moved to the area and began to use them to make prints by laying the mushrooms on paper and leaving them to drop their spores. Over time she learned which mushrooms had spores of certain colours, and began to incorporate negative spaces into the prints by using natural materials such as grasses and leaves as a sort of stencil."I think to do any kind of artwork you have to have good powers of observation," says Palmer. "With the computers and all these types of gadgets...kids are probably not in tune enough with the natural things that are going on around them and that bothers me. They need to learn to observe, to see, to hear."Palmer also does charcoal drawings, etchings, and photography. Her work has been shown and sold at exhibitions around the province, including a joint show with Geri France at the Oppertshauser Gallery in Stony Plain and a solo show at the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton. Most recently Palmer's spore prints were displayed at a juried group show in Peace River during the Alberta Winter Games.http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/valerie_palmer.jpg" alt="Judy Woods" align="right" /> For Judy Woods art is more a kind of therapy, both for herself and the children she teaches. Although she has gained significant local recognition for her sensitive and detailed charcoal drawings focusing mainly on wildlife, she says it was struggling with the emotional effects of a difficult life that set her on the artist's path."I started out as a little kid," Woods remembers. "We lived in Rocky Mountain house where all the wildlife was and that's what kind of inspired me."Woods says that living in the Peace lets her stay close to the nature that she loves, and she enjoys going camping and taking walks outdoors on her acreage near Dixonville. But external observation isn't the only thing that drives her to create."It's very calming. And I think that's what really drove me to it, the harsher life that we had when we were growing up. It was a way of calming myself instead of being angry."Woods has shown her work at a number of local exhibitions including the recent shows at the Alberta Winter Games, and has also contributed a number of pieces to silent auctions."I've also sold a few pieces. Quite a few pieces actually in this area," Woods says.Woods currently instructs art classes for students in grade one to nine at Dixonville school. Through the classes, she is also able to help students with behavioral problems or difficult home situations express themselves, just as she has learned to do."The students that don't achieve well in the regular curriculum will achieve well in this area, because it's a way of letting their feelings be expressed," she explains. http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/valerie_palmer.jpg" alt="Ruth Doyon" align="left" /> While both Valerie Palmer and Judy Woods take landscape and living things as their main inspiration, Ruth Doyon's work is more purely introspective. A native of Quebec, Doyon originally studied with printmaker, author and Grande Prairie College instructor Keith Howard in the early 90s and later worked with him as a master printer using non-toxic printmaking techniques. She is currently only a course away from finishing her fine arts diploma.Doyon says it has been a personal choice to maintain a full-time job while doing her art, since she feels it gives her the ability to experiment."Although I'd like to make a living at art, I don't want to have the pressure to make commercial pieces that will sell. I know that in the next few years I'm going to go probably in directions that I haven't been before and that's great."Her work has been shown as part of a number of exhibitions and several travelling shows, including "Traces et Territoires" which toured Moncton, Winnipeg, and Regina; "Vision albertaine," and the Alberta Society of Artists' travelling exhibition on "9/11." Her work has appeared annually at the Centre d'arts visuels de l'Alberta in Edmonton since 1998, and she also exhibited in Peace River during the Winter Games.Doyon says that her cultural heritage is only part of what informs her work. "I don't have the feeling that what I do is specifically French. Of course it's part of who I am but . . . I'm certainly not too much in the traditional way. If you go to Quebec and look at the art there, traditionally you will see lots of old houses. Here in western Canada you will see lots of animals." Her work represents personal pursuits. "More recently, it has become the expression of my inner world, a window for my soul."
14 years ago

Art as a window on the world and the soul� By Susan Thompson Interviews with three members of the Peace River Art ClubThe town of Peace River seems blessed with a disproportionate amount of natural beauty. Every road in or out leads to a sweeping view of the valley's high, tree-lined hills, which explode into colour in the fall. Meandering creeks cut through forest and farmland and provide gathering places for a variety of wildlife. The wide, glittering river itself flows directly through the heart of the town, which lies nestled along opposite banks and is held together by the graceful arches of a large bridge. In winter, the sky often shines with the dancing colours of the northern lights.It seems only natural that living in such a landscape would inspire art, and Peace River is indeed at the heart of a small but talented community of local artists.http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/valerie_palmer.jpg" alt="Valerie Palmer" align="left" /> Valerie Palmer is known locally as the "mushroom lady" because of her complex, earth-toned abstracts made from mushroom spore prints. Born and educated in England, Palmer emigrated to Canada in 1958. After living in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and B.C., Palmer settled on an acreage a few kilometers outside of Peace River in the mid 70s with her husband Don. Although Palmer says she has been interested in art since she as a little girl, the abundant nature of the Peace Valley led her to develop her interest in art to its full potential. "I've always loved nature and the country, so I find this particular place with the valley and the river and the nature that goes with it very attractive."Palmer says she was surprised at the numbers and varieties of mushrooms on her property when she first moved to the area and began to use them to make prints by laying the mushrooms on paper and leaving them to drop their spores. Over time she learned which mushrooms had spores of certain colours, and began to incorporate negative spaces into the prints by using natural materials such as grasses and leaves as a sort of stencil."I think to do any kind of artwork you have to have good powers of observation," says Palmer. "With the computers and all these types of gadgets...kids are probably not in tune enough with the natural things that are going on around them and that bothers me. They need to learn to observe, to see, to hear."Palmer also does charcoal drawings, etchings, and photography. Her work has been shown and sold at exhibitions around the province, including a joint show with Geri France at the Oppertshauser Gallery in Stony Plain and a solo show at the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton. Most recently Palmer's spore prints were displayed at a juried group show in Peace River during the Alberta Winter Games.http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/valerie_palmer.jpg" alt="Judy Woods" align="right" /> For Judy Woods art is more a kind of therapy, both for herself and the children she teaches. Although she has gained significant local recognition for her sensitive and detailed charcoal drawings focusing mainly on wildlife, she says it was struggling with the emotional effects of a difficult life that set her on the artist's path."I started out as a little kid," Woods remembers. "We lived in Rocky Mountain house where all the wildlife was and that's what kind of inspired me."Woods says that living in the Peace lets her stay close to the nature that she loves, and she enjoys going camping and taking walks outdoors on her acreage near Dixonville. But external observation isn't the only thing that drives her to create."It's very calming. And I think that's what really drove me to it, the harsher life that we had when we were growing up. It was a way of calming myself instead of being angry."Woods has shown her work at a number of local exhibitions including the recent shows at the Alberta Winter Games, and has also contributed a number of pieces to silent auctions."I've also sold a few pieces. Quite a few pieces actually in this area," Woods says.Woods currently instructs art classes for students in grade one to nine at Dixonville school. Through the classes, she is also able to help students with behavioral problems or difficult home situations express themselves, just as she has learned to do."The students that don't achieve well in the regular curriculum will achieve well in this area, because it's a way of letting their feelings be expressed," she explains. http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/valerie_palmer.jpg" alt="Ruth Doyon" align="left" /> While both Valerie Palmer and Judy Woods take landscape and living things as their main inspiration, Ruth Doyon's work is more purely introspective. A native of Quebec, Doyon originally studied with printmaker, author and Grande Prairie College instructor Keith Howard in the early 90s and later worked with him as a master printer using non-toxic printmaking techniques. She is currently only a course away from finishing her fine arts diploma.Doyon says it has been a personal choice to maintain a full-time job while doing her art, since she feels it gives her the ability to experiment."Although I'd like to make a living at art, I don't want to have the pressure to make commercial pieces that will sell. I know that in the next few years I'm going to go probably in directions that I haven't been before and that's great."Her work has been shown as part of a number of exhibitions and several travelling shows, including "Traces et Territoires" which toured Moncton, Winnipeg, and Regina; "Vision albertaine," and the Alberta Society of Artists' travelling exhibition on "9/11." Her work has appeared annually at the Centre d'arts visuels de l'Alberta in Edmonton since 1998, and she also exhibited in Peace River during the Winter Games.Doyon says that her cultural heritage is only part of what informs her work. "I don't have the feeling that what I do is specifically French. Of course it's part of who I am but . . . I'm certainly not too much in the traditional way. If you go to Quebec and look at the art there, traditionally you will see lots of old houses. Here in western Canada you will see lots of animals." Her work represents personal pursuits. "More recently, it has become the expression of my inner world, a window for my soul."
14 years ago

Art as a window on the world and the soul� By Susan Thompson Interviews with three members of the Peace River Art ClubThe town of Peace River seems blessed with a disproportionate amount of natural beauty. Every road in or out leads to a sweeping view of the valley's high, tree-lined hills, which explode into colour in the fall. Meandering creeks cut through forest and farmland and provide gathering places for a variety of wildlife. The wide, glittering river itself flows directly through the heart of the town, which lies nestled along opposite banks and is held together by the graceful arches of a large bridge. In winter, the sky often shines with the dancing colours of the northern lights.It seems only natural that living in such a landscape would inspire art, and Peace River is indeed at the heart of a small but talented community of local artists.http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/valerie_palmer.jpg" alt="Valerie Palmer" align="left" /> Valerie Palmer is known locally as the "mushroom lady" because of her complex, earth-toned abstracts made from mushroom spore prints. Born and educated in England, Palmer emigrated to Canada in 1958. After living in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and B.C., Palmer settled on an acreage a few kilometers outside of Peace River in the mid 70s with her husband Don. Although Palmer says she has been interested in art since she as a little girl, the abundant nature of the Peace Valley led her to develop her interest in art to its full potential. "I've always loved nature and the country, so I find this particular place with the valley and the river and the nature that goes with it very attractive."Palmer says she was surprised at the numbers and varieties of mushrooms on her property when she first moved to the area and began to use them to make prints by laying the mushrooms on paper and leaving them to drop their spores. Over time she learned which mushrooms had spores of certain colours, and began to incorporate negative spaces into the prints by using natural materials such as grasses and leaves as a sort of stencil."I think to do any kind of artwork you have to have good powers of observation," says Palmer. "With the computers and all these types of gadgets...kids are probably not in tune enough with the natural things that are going on around them and that bothers me. They need to learn to observe, to see, to hear."Palmer also does charcoal drawings, etchings, and photography. Her work has been shown and sold at exhibitions around the province, including a joint show with Geri France at the Oppertshauser Gallery in Stony Plain and a solo show at the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton. Most recently Palmer's spore prints were displayed at a juried group show in Peace River during the Alberta Winter Games.http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/valerie_palmer.jpg" alt="Judy Woods" align="right" /> For Judy Woods art is more a kind of therapy, both for herself and the children she teaches. Although she has gained significant local recognition for her sensitive and detailed charcoal drawings focusing mainly on wildlife, she says it was struggling with the emotional effects of a difficult life that set her on the artist's path."I started out as a little kid," Woods remembers. "We lived in Rocky Mountain house where all the wildlife was and that's what kind of inspired me."Woods says that living in the Peace lets her stay close to the nature that she loves, and she enjoys going camping and taking walks outdoors on her acreage near Dixonville. But external observation isn't the only thing that drives her to create."It's very calming. And I think that's what really drove me to it, the harsher life that we had when we were growing up. It was a way of calming myself instead of being angry."Woods has shown her work at a number of local exhibitions including the recent shows at the Alberta Winter Games, and has also contributed a number of pieces to silent auctions."I've also sold a few pieces. Quite a few pieces actually in this area," Woods says.Woods currently instructs art classes for students in grade one to nine at Dixonville school. Through the classes, she is also able to help students with behavioral problems or difficult home situations express themselves, just as she has learned to do."The students that don't achieve well in the regular curriculum will achieve well in this area, because it's a way of letting their feelings be expressed," she explains. http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/valerie_palmer.jpg" alt="Ruth Doyon" align="left" /> While both Valerie Palmer and Judy Woods take landscape and living things as their main inspiration, Ruth Doyon's work is more purely introspective. A native of Quebec, Doyon originally studied with printmaker, author and Grande Prairie College instructor Keith Howard in the early 90s and later worked with him as a master printer using non-toxic printmaking techniques. She is currently only a course away from finishing her fine arts diploma.Doyon says it has been a personal choice to maintain a full-time job while doing her art, since she feels it gives her the ability to experiment."Although I'd like to make a living at art, I don't want to have the pressure to make commercial pieces that will sell. I know that in the next few years I'm going to go probably in directions that I haven't been before and that's great."Her work has been shown as part of a number of exhibitions and several travelling shows, including "Traces et Territoires" which toured Moncton, Winnipeg, and Regina; "Vision albertaine," and the Alberta Society of Artists' travelling exhibition on "9/11." Her work has appeared annually at the Centre d'arts visuels de l'Alberta in Edmonton since 1998, and she also exhibited in Peace River during the Winter Games.Doyon says that her cultural heritage is only part of what informs her work. "I don't have the feeling that what I do is specifically French. Of course it's part of who I am but . . . I'm certainly not too much in the traditional way. If you go to Quebec and look at the art there, traditionally you will see lots of old houses. Here in western Canada you will see lots of animals." Her work represents personal pursuits. "More recently, it has become the expression of my inner world, a window for my soul."
14 years ago