Three St. Isidore Artists

Quiet Community With Time to Create

by Susan Thompson

Laval Bergeron completes a train snow sculpture

The Francophone hamlet of St. Isidore is nestled among the pines just northeast of the town of Peace River. Despite its tiny size and sleepy country demeanor, at the centre of St. Isidore lies a vibrant and distinctive arts and cultural community that draws attention and visitors from across Canada.

One of the most distinctive features of the community is the St. Isidore Carnaval. The annual winter festival features various cultural activities and live music, as well as a popular snow sculpting competition that allows professional and amateur sculptors alike to turn blank white blocks of snow into stunning pieces of art. Snow sculptures are also used to decorate the entire venue, always in keeping with that year’s theme.

Every year, local artist Laval Bergeron creates everything from African animals to full-sized trains out of snow for the event, demonstrating his creativity and mastery of this sensitive medium. As a result Bergeron and partner Rénald Lavoie, recently featured in Art of the Peace for his soapstone carvings, have themselves become known across Canada, going on to compete in Quebec at the much larger Carnaval there as well as competing in or judging the snow sculpting competitions in St. Isidore.

Sandbanks by Barry Warne

However, Bergeron doesn’t sculpt for money or fame. Instead, he prefers to volunteer his time, and sculpt snow simply for the love of it. “I like that I don’t get paid, that I can volunteer,” he says. Bergeron also enjoys the temporary nature of the work, which vanishes as soon as the weather warms, or more tragically, when works are vandalized by overenthusiastic party-goers or teens. “I like it because you can’t sell it and you don’t have to worry about it. It’s going to disappear in no time,” he says. The only way Bergeron’s work can then be remembered is in pictures, or in the memories of those who enjoy it while it lasts. “It’s in our minds,” says Bergeron.

While Bergeron delights in creating art that is meant to be transient, painter Barry Warne views his art as an act of conservation. Self-taught artist Warne prefers to paint the nature he loves, particularly trees, “I think just nature itself, we take it so much for granted and we abuse it so badly, that I think people need to kind of look at it and wonder what they’re doing.”

The gentle landscapes Warne prefers to paint are drawn from elements he’s found across the country, some local it’s true, but others far-flung. A native of England who spent time serving with the Armed Forces in Edmonton, Warne chose to settle near St. Isidore with his family as a sort of trial and never left. Although a true Anglophone and thus not part of the local Francophone culture, he appreciates the quiet pace of country life there, which leaves ample time to create. “It’s the solitude of it, to be able to express your own feelings of things. Whether they turn out good or bad, whatever. It’s just being able to do it.”

While Warne doesn’t view his work as political or as a harsh criticism on society, at the same time he abhors the waste and the constant push for expansion that characterizes so much of the modern day life and economy, seeking to express an opposing viewpoint in his work. “Small is beautiful sometimes,” he says, appearing almost to state a personal motto.

This need to celebrate the things we take for granted drives Warne far more than any personal ambition. Thus, like Bergeron, Warne tends to donate his time and artistic efforts, such as a recent show where he donated the proceeds to Alzheimer’s research, and another in support of the Peace River Library. For these artists, art is a community service, a contribution to the greater human good.

Marie Lavoie at her loom

Community is also a huge part of what drives one of St. Isidore’s other most famous tourist attractions besides Carnaval itself, the weaver’s hall in the cultural centre. Marie Lavoie has been weaving for 36 years and has no plans to stop. “I learned from the others and I took courses. Most of the seniors were raised into it. It was part of their daily tasks. At the time there were large families, and sometimes the grandparents and aunts lived with them. They would weave during the wintertime. It was their way of recycling what they couldn’t use any more for other things.”

There are about five regular weavers, but sometimes more when others come to learn. The weavers create everything from simple tea towels to rugs or custom pieces, using mainly cotton and polyester. It is their heritage and craftsmanship that elevates their work to an art, attracting demand for their pieces at local sales and from tourists who come to visit based mainly on word of mouth. Local schools also bring children to the hall on field trips, and the weavers are always a central part of Carnaval.

Besides the traditional Francophone heritage of their work, the fellowship between the women is part of what keeps them coming back to the looms. “I am enjoying my companions, “ says Lavoie. “We’ve been working together since the very beginning.” While Lavoie says many of the things the weavers do are simple and standard due to public demand, “It depends what you’re working on. Some things are creative,” she says. “We are free to do whatever we want. If we’re not doing any big projects, or if the loom is empty, I can try something new.”


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How to Build an Interactive Arts Scene

by Jody FarrellFor Dan Arberry, what began as a passing statement following his first exhibition in years, has emerged into something of a personal mission. He’s determined to establish a viable, interactive arts scene in the Peace Region, and, if recent turnouts at arts events offer any indication, his own proactive contribution to that end appears to be working.[caption id="attachment_706" align="aligncenter" width="660" caption="Finding Balance Exhibition by Dan Arberry, Fall 2010"]http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" alt="" width="660" height="253" /> [/caption]In May 2010, Dan blogged about his exhibition, Once Upon a Still Life , which had just opened at the Unique Gallery in Grande Prairie. A blog is one of those wonders of online communication; a collection of personal entries posted on a computer site for others to read and, when inspired, offer comment. Arberry wrote:“My first showing in approximately 5-6 years. In the beginning I didn’t know what to expect. I have been living in Grande Prairie under the rocks and in the shadows for all these years and was scared to see the reception that I would receive. Since last November, when I started producing again, I have slowly submerged myself into the Grande Prairie Art Scene. And some might laugh when I say “art scene”, but the truth is...there is. Perhaps it just isn’t getting the exposure that it deserves. But, I also think that this group of skilled and modest artists sit back and watch...”People agreed; the show was indeed a success. Arberry himself knew that his own online presence, along with a concerted effort to gather and forward timely announcements of his opening to as many Grande Prairie and Peace region residents as possible, was at least partly responsible for the large number of visitors that night. But he was also awed at the vitality of the crowd. People were hungry for art and eager for discourse. “So many elements of the night made it a success,” Arberry blogged. “The people. The laughs. The creative conversations. Emerging talent coming out. And the support that I felt throughout the evening.”Arberry continued to document his feelings and insights on his own webpage, but also made a serious effort to let others know of other upcoming art shows and events. His goal was to build as big and as visible an arts community as possible. He began, he explains, the process of “eating the elephant.”“It’s not something you can do all at once,’’ Arberry elaborates on the metaphor that aptly illustrates his long-term plan to effectively expand both attendance at the actual shows, and an ongoing, widespread discussion about exhibitions and art. “It requires little bites,” he adds, noting that anything large and lasting usually does.Early information regarding exhibitions had always appeared on the Art of the Peace website and in its newletters, but the society’s board members, including Arberry, were forever tackling the problem of less-than-optimal communication and participation of artists and art lovers throughout the region.[caption id="attachment_705" align="aligncenter" width="660" caption="Dan Arberry reviews the Prairie Ranger Photography exhibition, The Red Carpet"]http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" alt="" width="660" height="304" /> [/caption]Arberry began gathering his own list of email addresses of anyone remotely linked to the arts in and around the Peace Region, and many from further afield. As months passed, he continued to announce, attend, and blog about exhibitions. He saw a marked increase in attendance. From 20 to 30 participants, exhibitions grew to 60 people or more on opening night. And these included a newer, younger crowd that arts groups had not reached in any sustainable manner before now.July’s official re-opening of Grande Prairie’s Centre for Creative Arts was a big success, with hundreds of all ages attending the all-day outdoor activities, entertainment and ribbon cutting, and indoor exhibitions, including a live (clothed) model drawing class. The fine summer weather and the opening coinciding with Grande Prairie’s annual Street Performers Festival may have helped matters, but the interest was strong.Another big surprise was the standing room only attendance at last September’s Wearable Art Show and exhibition at the Centre for Creative Arts. That entire Arts Days weekend, which featured a variety of activities throughout Alberta, was locally deemed a colossal success. The province-backed festival had funding for posters and ads, but lots of information circulated for free online. Alberta Culture and Community officials were thrilled at the public attendance and participation in and around Grande Prairie.Recent discussions with fellow Art of the Peace board members resulted in Arberry’s creation of a more general arts blog on both the magazine’s website, and its http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" target="_blank"> Art of the Peace Facebook page , another online tool that allows for more visible and immediate interaction among followers.“I try to write about and go to as many exhibitions as possible. I also invite anyone out there to go, and to share their impressions. Some people are scared to walk into an art exhibition. It can be intimidating. I tell them I’ll go with them.”Small bites like these are how Arberry approaches the elephant-sized task of establishing a larger-than-ever-imagined arts scene in the Peace.Visit Art of the Peace’s online blog at http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" artofthepeace.ca , and become a friend of http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" target="_blank"> Art of the Peace on Facebook .
7 years ago

How to Build an Interactive Arts Scene

by Jody FarrellFor Dan Arberry, what began as a passing statement following his first exhibition in years, has emerged into something of a personal mission. He’s determined to establish a viable, interactive arts scene in the Peace Region, and, if recent turnouts at arts events offer any indication, his own proactive contribution to that end appears to be working.[caption id="attachment_706" align="aligncenter" width="660" caption="Finding Balance Exhibition by Dan Arberry, Fall 2010"]http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" alt="" width="660" height="253" /> [/caption]In May 2010, Dan blogged about his exhibition, Once Upon a Still Life , which had just opened at the Unique Gallery in Grande Prairie. A blog is one of those wonders of online communication; a collection of personal entries posted on a computer site for others to read and, when inspired, offer comment. Arberry wrote:“My first showing in approximately 5-6 years. In the beginning I didn’t know what to expect. I have been living in Grande Prairie under the rocks and in the shadows for all these years and was scared to see the reception that I would receive. Since last November, when I started producing again, I have slowly submerged myself into the Grande Prairie Art Scene. And some might laugh when I say “art scene”, but the truth is...there is. Perhaps it just isn’t getting the exposure that it deserves. But, I also think that this group of skilled and modest artists sit back and watch...”People agreed; the show was indeed a success. Arberry himself knew that his own online presence, along with a concerted effort to gather and forward timely announcements of his opening to as many Grande Prairie and Peace region residents as possible, was at least partly responsible for the large number of visitors that night. But he was also awed at the vitality of the crowd. People were hungry for art and eager for discourse. “So many elements of the night made it a success,” Arberry blogged. “The people. The laughs. The creative conversations. Emerging talent coming out. And the support that I felt throughout the evening.”Arberry continued to document his feelings and insights on his own webpage, but also made a serious effort to let others know of other upcoming art shows and events. His goal was to build as big and as visible an arts community as possible. He began, he explains, the process of “eating the elephant.”“It’s not something you can do all at once,’’ Arberry elaborates on the metaphor that aptly illustrates his long-term plan to effectively expand both attendance at the actual shows, and an ongoing, widespread discussion about exhibitions and art. “It requires little bites,” he adds, noting that anything large and lasting usually does.Early information regarding exhibitions had always appeared on the Art of the Peace website and in its newletters, but the society’s board members, including Arberry, were forever tackling the problem of less-than-optimal communication and participation of artists and art lovers throughout the region.[caption id="attachment_705" align="aligncenter" width="660" caption="Dan Arberry reviews the Prairie Ranger Photography exhibition, The Red Carpet"]http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" alt="" width="660" height="304" /> [/caption]Arberry began gathering his own list of email addresses of anyone remotely linked to the arts in and around the Peace Region, and many from further afield. As months passed, he continued to announce, attend, and blog about exhibitions. He saw a marked increase in attendance. From 20 to 30 participants, exhibitions grew to 60 people or more on opening night. And these included a newer, younger crowd that arts groups had not reached in any sustainable manner before now.July’s official re-opening of Grande Prairie’s Centre for Creative Arts was a big success, with hundreds of all ages attending the all-day outdoor activities, entertainment and ribbon cutting, and indoor exhibitions, including a live (clothed) model drawing class. The fine summer weather and the opening coinciding with Grande Prairie’s annual Street Performers Festival may have helped matters, but the interest was strong.Another big surprise was the standing room only attendance at last September’s Wearable Art Show and exhibition at the Centre for Creative Arts. That entire Arts Days weekend, which featured a variety of activities throughout Alberta, was locally deemed a colossal success. The province-backed festival had funding for posters and ads, but lots of information circulated for free online. Alberta Culture and Community officials were thrilled at the public attendance and participation in and around Grande Prairie.Recent discussions with fellow Art of the Peace board members resulted in Arberry’s creation of a more general arts blog on both the magazine’s website, and its http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" target="_blank"> Art of the Peace Facebook page , another online tool that allows for more visible and immediate interaction among followers.“I try to write about and go to as many exhibitions as possible. I also invite anyone out there to go, and to share their impressions. Some people are scared to walk into an art exhibition. It can be intimidating. I tell them I’ll go with them.”Small bites like these are how Arberry approaches the elephant-sized task of establishing a larger-than-ever-imagined arts scene in the Peace.Visit Art of the Peace’s online blog at http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" artofthepeace.ca , and become a friend of http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" target="_blank"> Art of the Peace on Facebook .
7 years ago

How to Build an Interactive Arts Scene

by Jody FarrellFor Dan Arberry, what began as a passing statement following his first exhibition in years, has emerged into something of a personal mission. He’s determined to establish a viable, interactive arts scene in the Peace Region, and, if recent turnouts at arts events offer any indication, his own proactive contribution to that end appears to be working.[caption id="attachment_706" align="aligncenter" width="660" caption="Finding Balance Exhibition by Dan Arberry, Fall 2010"]http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" alt="" width="660" height="253" /> [/caption]In May 2010, Dan blogged about his exhibition, Once Upon a Still Life , which had just opened at the Unique Gallery in Grande Prairie. A blog is one of those wonders of online communication; a collection of personal entries posted on a computer site for others to read and, when inspired, offer comment. Arberry wrote:“My first showing in approximately 5-6 years. In the beginning I didn’t know what to expect. I have been living in Grande Prairie under the rocks and in the shadows for all these years and was scared to see the reception that I would receive. Since last November, when I started producing again, I have slowly submerged myself into the Grande Prairie Art Scene. And some might laugh when I say “art scene”, but the truth is...there is. Perhaps it just isn’t getting the exposure that it deserves. But, I also think that this group of skilled and modest artists sit back and watch...”People agreed; the show was indeed a success. Arberry himself knew that his own online presence, along with a concerted effort to gather and forward timely announcements of his opening to as many Grande Prairie and Peace region residents as possible, was at least partly responsible for the large number of visitors that night. But he was also awed at the vitality of the crowd. People were hungry for art and eager for discourse. “So many elements of the night made it a success,” Arberry blogged. “The people. The laughs. The creative conversations. Emerging talent coming out. And the support that I felt throughout the evening.”Arberry continued to document his feelings and insights on his own webpage, but also made a serious effort to let others know of other upcoming art shows and events. His goal was to build as big and as visible an arts community as possible. He began, he explains, the process of “eating the elephant.”“It’s not something you can do all at once,’’ Arberry elaborates on the metaphor that aptly illustrates his long-term plan to effectively expand both attendance at the actual shows, and an ongoing, widespread discussion about exhibitions and art. “It requires little bites,” he adds, noting that anything large and lasting usually does.Early information regarding exhibitions had always appeared on the Art of the Peace website and in its newletters, but the society’s board members, including Arberry, were forever tackling the problem of less-than-optimal communication and participation of artists and art lovers throughout the region.[caption id="attachment_705" align="aligncenter" width="660" caption="Dan Arberry reviews the Prairie Ranger Photography exhibition, The Red Carpet"]http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" alt="" width="660" height="304" /> [/caption]Arberry began gathering his own list of email addresses of anyone remotely linked to the arts in and around the Peace Region, and many from further afield. As months passed, he continued to announce, attend, and blog about exhibitions. He saw a marked increase in attendance. From 20 to 30 participants, exhibitions grew to 60 people or more on opening night. And these included a newer, younger crowd that arts groups had not reached in any sustainable manner before now.July’s official re-opening of Grande Prairie’s Centre for Creative Arts was a big success, with hundreds of all ages attending the all-day outdoor activities, entertainment and ribbon cutting, and indoor exhibitions, including a live (clothed) model drawing class. The fine summer weather and the opening coinciding with Grande Prairie’s annual Street Performers Festival may have helped matters, but the interest was strong.Another big surprise was the standing room only attendance at last September’s Wearable Art Show and exhibition at the Centre for Creative Arts. That entire Arts Days weekend, which featured a variety of activities throughout Alberta, was locally deemed a colossal success. The province-backed festival had funding for posters and ads, but lots of information circulated for free online. Alberta Culture and Community officials were thrilled at the public attendance and participation in and around Grande Prairie.Recent discussions with fellow Art of the Peace board members resulted in Arberry’s creation of a more general arts blog on both the magazine’s website, and its http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" target="_blank"> Art of the Peace Facebook page , another online tool that allows for more visible and immediate interaction among followers.“I try to write about and go to as many exhibitions as possible. I also invite anyone out there to go, and to share their impressions. Some people are scared to walk into an art exhibition. It can be intimidating. I tell them I’ll go with them.”Small bites like these are how Arberry approaches the elephant-sized task of establishing a larger-than-ever-imagined arts scene in the Peace.Visit Art of the Peace’s online blog at http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" artofthepeace.ca , and become a friend of http://www.artofthepeace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Finding-Balance-Exhibition-by-Dan-Arberry-Fall-2010.jpg" target="_blank"> Art of the Peace on Facebook .
7 years ago