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Prairie beauty captured: Hoppe and Ellard's 'Common Ground'

For years, artists Cindy Hoppe and Diane Larouche Ellard have been capturing the beauty of the prairies through photo walks near their homes south of Battleford.

THE BATTLEFORDS — Cindy Hoppe’s and Diane Larouche Ellard’s combined art showcase, “Common Ground,” helped bring the prairie landscape south of Battleford to life at the Chapel Gallery Feb. 11. 

For years, artists Hoppe and Ellard have been capturing the beauty of the prairies through photo walks near their homes south of Battleford, then using the photos as reference material for their studio work.  

“I’m thrilled to be here … this space is just absolutely phenomenal because of the natural light. It really makes all the work so much better,” Hoppe said.

Despite often using the same photo, they each produce work that maintains a connection to the reference material and still allows their chosen media to take them on wildly different paths. 

Hoppe’s process begins at Value Village, where she finds a chunk of material from some “Grandma’s stash,” and she brings it home if it’s wool or silk. “I force myself to stick to that.” 

“Anything you see here pretty much comes straight out of the dye pot, and that forms my pallet,” she said, gesturing to the fibre art hung on the walls.

Hoppe then builds the land and decides what will be a part of the picture. After the dyeing comes embroidery work, as she works with the threads on the bobbin. 

“I have to work from behind. I’m using my sewing machine needle like a drawing tool, and I’m just watching that draw grass, draw leaves, whatever texture I’m needing on the front. I won’t know what it looks like until I’ve run the bobbin dry.”

Despite their shared subject matter, after a point, Hoppe believes the materials take them in separate directions. For example, she finds the perfect thread for an orange lichen and feels compelled to follow that avenue. 

“It’s a very engaging process,” 

Hoppe says growing up in Landis with an artist and felter mother may have fostered her love of fabric and Saskatchewan, that have naturally intertwined. She likens it to a support group. 

“Artists on the prairies are few and far between,” she said, adding that the support she’s found with Ellard is essential. 

“I think we’re women supporting women. She has to take her work where her media and materials take her, and a photograph is just a starting place … we’re bouncing stuff off each other to make a piece the best it can be.”

On the other hand, Ellard was born in Ontario and moved to Saskatchewan at the age of two. She wasn’t always been drawn to landscapes.

“I didn’t start out as a landscape artist at all. I used to do entirely figurative people,” Ellard said, which included a lot of renaissance-based sketches and drawings. 

I was intimidated by landscape (art) because it was so overwhelming, like, ‘where do you start, what do you do?’”

Ellard started poking around the idea, and by going for walks in the unbroken prairies around Hoppe’s farm, their practice of creating prairie landscapes together began. 

“I was just learning more about landscapes and incorporating things I like, which is the mixed media, the patterns, and the mandalas … that juxtaposition of Cindy’s and my interest in common landscapes, but how we interpret it, is fascinating,” Ellard said.

“The tools we use are so different, but there [are] a lot of commonalities.” 

Before their speech at the Chapel Gallery, Leah Garven, the Chapel Gallery’s curator and manager, spoke to the exhibition.

Following a land acknowledgment, Leah Garven said, “We stand on this land to work with our neighbours who are the longtime stewards of the earth, and it’s wonderful to have this exhibition, looking at the land, and carrying on those sentiments.” 

Thanking the gallery’s local supporters, she added, “Saskatchewan artists have a strong connection to the land ... it’s who we are, and this exhibition is a testament to that.”

Cindy Hoppe’s and Diane Larouche Ellard’s prairie-inspired fibre and multimedia art exhibition, “Common Ground,” will be showcased at the Chapel Gallery until March 12, before it is shown in Moose Jaw in April. 

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