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Artist hopes to see more community involvement in arts programs

Retired community developer said there is a need for art spaces within the community.

YORKTON – The talents of local artists have been on display at the Godfrey Dean Art Gallery since June 1 through to the 30th.

Among the 50 or so artists with works on display is Bernice Puritch, who considers herself a rookie of the acrylic on canvass discipline.

"About three and a half years ago a friend of mine invited me to go with her to a paint night," said Puritch in an interview with Yorkton This Week, adding, “at the paint night we had a glass of wine and we painted — that was the first time in my entire life that I had ever picked up a brush and put paint to canvass."

Puritch said she immediately fell in love with the practice.

"What I appreciated was the ability to have control over it,” said Puritch, "when you work in life you tend not to be able to do that and so this gave me an opportunity to do that — to actually feel like I can pour out what I wanted to put on that canvass — the colours that I wanted to create and the stories I wanted to tell."

Puritch said she got involved in the craft and was already taking classes, but at the height of her interest the global pandemic put the brakes on her plans to learn.

"I had just started to go into a couple of classes ... unfortunately COVID stepped in and so virtually it meant not being able to go into a class or to share with someone, talk to someone about what you do and so it became insular," said Puritch.

Puritch said she didn't like the idea of using Google and Youtube to learn.  

"It didn't feel like it was something that I could use to learn with because that's not how I learn," said Puritch, "I need to be around people."

“That's how it started, and for three-and-a-half years I just kept morphing and I'm not done,” said Puritch.

Puritch said that over the past three-and-a-half years she would spend a couple of hours per-day working at her paintings, spending an average of 10-15 hours per-week honing her skills and has painted upwards of 100 different pieces.

As for a favourite piece, Puritch said “it depends what day you talk to me,” with a laugh.

“I gravitated to typically what is Saskatchewan in the sense of wanting to be able to do that,” said Puritch.

The scenes from some of her paintings include fields at harvest, old farm yards and trucks among others.

“Maybe you think that's what you have to do because that's where you live and that's what you see and feel,” said Puritch, adding, “I grew up on a farm in Manitoba … and so those were some of the things that you saw.”

Puritch said her style has evolved into impressionism.

“I wanted to let go a bit more — I wanted to drift into more seeing what comes out of it —  as I'm kind of changing with the way I look at things. I think any artist — when you start — you want to feel like you are in control of what you're putting on the canvas and then as you let go you find that you are moving towards a style that is truly resonating of letting go.”

“You want to leave more of that impressionism for others to interpret,” said Puritch, “as you do that they can see then for themselves what they like in it or how they might see it.”

Puritch did concede that her favourite piece was one she painted of her granddaughter.

“It's a picture of my granddaughter and she's … sitting at a restaurant at a table and she's looking out the window,” said Puritch, “I did it and I felt proud of it and every time I look at it … it reflects her and I think I captured her and that makes me feel good.”

Having nurtured a love for the art over the past few years, it begs the question of Puritch if she wished she'd have started practicing the art form earlier in life.

“The reality is that life puts you where you are and sometimes if you're not ready for it you won't do it,” said Puritch, “I probably would not have had the patience, I would not have had the time and I probably would not have given myself the freedom to enjoy it as much because of lack of time.”

“My life was very busy when I worked in government and so I think that it came at a right time,” said Puritch. “you have to capture what you can when you can do it, but as a result of that I think I've put a lot more thought into what I think needs to happen for artists and how I look at artists in this community.”

Puritch said she worked for Social Services in Community Development.

“My job was to take funds that were given from within government — some of it was Social Services but some of the money came from Health and Education — we worked in the province to put money back into community so that they can develop services for children and families,” said Puritch noting her involvement in the KidsFirst program, “that was my baby.”

“KidsFirst is a free home visiting program that can share child development information and other supports with caregivers in the convenience of their home or other locations in the community,” read an article on the program on SIGN's website.

“Those were the kinds of things that we did in order to be able to have community take ownership of the process,” said Puritch, “we facilitated that, we supported that, and as a developer — what I believed in quite strongly — was that when you worked with community they truly did not know you were there, they believed it was theirs.”

With a background in in community development, Puritch said she feels there is a need for community involvement in the arts.

“I believe that art connects community — it brings people together,” said Puritch, adding, “whether it's from a passion of what you see or if you touch, if it's wood, if it's carving, if it's quilting, if it's music, if it's whatever — that brings people in a connected way in the community, but it reflects that community.”

“Without art we don't have soul in that community,” said Puritch, “I really believe that our community has wonderful things happening but by far not enough — we need to do so much more in this community around the world of art.”

“I believe — and for the right reasons — we have a commitment and should be proud of the work that our community does for our youth and our children and adults in the world of sport.”

“People are going golfing because people have invested in it, we have arenas for children to be in, we have gyms, we have so many other venues for people to go and do things that I think is a form of art in essence.”

“People are doing things they love and they want to express themselves out there doing it. Sometimes it's captured in a sport field, sometimes it's in a different field, but whatever it is when they do it there's a place for them.”

“We don't have a place where people can go and share art on an ongoing basis,” said Puritch. “I think we're going to lose so many young people if we don't have a place for them to feel supported.”

“They're not going to take their art and put it out there unless they feel comfortable doing that. They need to increase skills, they need to feel like somebody cares about what they do.”

Puritch said the starting point for getting the ball rolling on the subject is a meeting of the minds.

“What we really need to do is find a way to facilitate a meeting in this community of artists,” said Puritch, “I'm a believer that you can't impose a plan or a concept onto people — they need to be part of that development — so inviting them and sharing with them some thoughts.”

What are their needs, how would they like to see it look, where could it be and what supports might they need are just some of the questions Puritch said would need to be answered.

“I think you would get people to come to some consensus of how we can begin this process to create this, but we need to have the support of the city because I believe that they probably have some opportunities in what they support,” said Puritch.

“I also believe that others actually have to see some value around art,” said Puritch, “we need to have a collective of people that can bring different perspectives to a meeting like this so that they would actually be respected for their respective areas of expertise.”

To view some of Puritch's paintings along with many other local artists, visit the Godfrey Dean Art Gallery for their Local Artists Showcase, running now until the 30th of June.

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