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New exhibit opens at Shurniak Art Gallery

A unique exhibit of sculpture and paintings opened at the Shurniak Art Gallery in Assiniboia on August 29 as part of an evening dedicated to gallery volunteers.
gallery opening

A unique exhibit of sculpture and paintings opened at the Shurniak Art Gallery in Assiniboia on August 29 as part of an evening dedicated to gallery volunteers.
The exhibit titled “My Children and Other Wildlife” by Saskatchewan artist Sarah Lightfoot Wagner runs until September 30. After a dinner and short program, Bill Shurniak introduced Lightfoot Wagner who spoke about her background and artwork. The group then moved to the exhibit room for the official unveiling.
Lightfoot Wagner now lives in Saskatoon, but she is originally from B.C. Both the medium and subject of many of the works on display reflected the influence of the West Coast. Lightfoot Wagner explained that her creativity blossomed in childhood, but her present works of soapstone carving took off one summer during her university years. With her parents’ support, she dedicated a summer to stone carving. “My first work was a muskox that looked more like a loaf of bread,” she joked about her first attempts at sculpting the soft stone.
But that summer she found her true calling carving 10 pieces. A few ended up on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery. This exhibit featured several soapstone carvings and most depict the animals associated with B.C. like a seal, starfish and a bear. Other pieces include a goose guarding her young, a muskox and a tree with deep roots.
There is realistic colouring of the stone for each animal and, for example, the goose’s underbelly is lighter in colour than the wings or neck. “Soapstone is soft to carve and you can use woodcarving tools,” described Lightfoot Wagner. The soapstone is white in colour when dry at first. After carving, she will immerse the work in water to remove the dust particles which are suspended in the water. Later, she will oil the carvings and apply a wax finish. It is the differences in the finishing with oil and wax that creates the colour variation.
The contrast in colouring techniques can be seen in one of her works on display in the exhibit, the two entangled starfish. One starfish is left white, while the other is polished, oiled and waxed to reveal a deep green colour.
The exhibit also featured Lightfoot Wagner’s paintings. She moved to Saskatoon to attend the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. She took up her interest in painting after taking a class in Saskatoon. Saskatchewan is also where she attended Veterinary College and started her family, and her paintings in this exhibit reflect both of these new directions of her life. The centerpiece paintings feature portraits of her daughters and animals.
Lightfoot Wagner described her painting technique which resembles the planned method of a sculptor. She begins with a charcoal drawing on canvas and uses a method to remove much of the charcoal leaving lines for the final painting. Then she uses an underpainting technique that helps to set the mood for each work. For example, in the painting of a tiny bird, Lightfoot Wagner said that she softens the harsher white background with an underpainting of yellow and blue. It can be said that contrast itself is her technique in both paintings and her sculptures. She shows off details and colouring of her subject matter through contrast with the background and opposing shadow against light.
“My focus is on the animal,” Lightfoot Wagner explained about the animal paintings in the exhibit. She focuses on the subjects — the rhinoceros, cat, moose, fox, birds and other animals by setting them against “very plain backgrounds”. The portraits of her family embers also have studio-like backgrounds. This plain background allows the details in her focal points to pop out and almost appear in 3D. She has an acute understanding of animal physiology and knowledge of animal movement.
An additional piece, a wooden cabinet with a glasswork front, by Lightfoot Wagner is also part of the exhibit. She was assisted by her husband who built the wooden cabinet. The glass is set within copper wire and shells and stones are incorporated. The creamy glass and shell with hints of greens and other colouring are contrasted by the dark wood. Lightfoot Wagner has created art for 20 years. She says that many of her works were given as gifts.