Visual Arts

In the News: Western ideas as varied as the people by Zoltan Varadi

Western ideas as varied as the people

by Zoltan Varadi, University of Alberta Express News site

October 11, 2006 – Edmonton – That particularly Canadian attribute which seems to find us constantly addressing and re-addressing our collective identity has, ironically enough, yielded at least one constant – our varied responses.

Such was certainly the case at The Idea of the West. The one-day symposium, hosted by the University of Alberta Bookstores on Wednesday, posited the question of ‘What it means to be a westerner’ to a mutli-disciplinary swath of artists hailing from British Columbia to Saskatchewan, including novelist Gail Anderson-Dargatz, musician Roy Forbes, broadcaster Fil Fraser, sculptor Sharon Moore-Foster and the U of A’s distinguished drama professor emeritus Thomas Peacocke, among others.

Peacocke, a Genie-award winner and recipient of the Order of Canada, discussed the prairie mythology, arguing that the “artist is tied up with self.” He then offered a series of spirited anecdotes from his personal history growing up in small-town Barons, AB, relating how those experiences shaped him as a person and as a storyteller. Quoting Robert Crouch, he said, ” ‘We have no identity until someone tells us what it is.’ Fiction makes us real.”

Anderson-Dargatz’s presentation concurred with that sentiment, albeit from a perspective quite different from that of Peacocke. Whereas Peacocke evoked the prairie winds and grain elevators of Barons, the novelist repeatedly touched on the rain-soaked, “haunted” landscape of her home in the Schushwaps as the basis for informing her sense of self as well as providing the framework of her tales.

“I don’t think there is one unified West,” she said, citing varying geographies, economies and cultures. “My West is the wellspring for my fiction.”

She, too, used a quote to illustrate the importance of a narrative tradition, this one from Isabelle Allende: “Death does not exist unless we forget to tell their stories.”

When Moore-Foster took to the podium, her admission of how, as a figurative sculptor, she was at first uncertain about effectively infusing a regional influence to her work led to some of the more interesting personal insights of the day.

“The sky, the mountains, are all too much for me,” she said. “Then I go into the studio and just let myself be me – not a mother, not a teacher. I’m just facing the energy and the light comes in, the prairie light, and it’s always different, ever shifting. I’m always seeing things differently and learning to start again. That shift in energy is what I search for, and it’s what the West provides.”

The U of A alumna added that the kind of indifference artists often face from everyone -from families to government – also makes for a marked characteristic of the western artist communicating fundamental truths about their culture.

“Maybe it’s the gift of masochism,” she said to much laughter. “Yes it’s painful, but we do it because it needs to be done. Sometimes boundaries aren’t bad, because we can burst out of them. We do it because we believe. We come, we work, and we are all different but on the same journey, and I think that’s part of the spirit of the West.”

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University of Alberta Bookstores:

Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s website:

The original online article can be found at:

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Silken Tether, a poem by Sharon Moore Foster

Silken Tether

Beautiful Day
Rain, Mist Cover to hide in

Quiet cacophony

Cries, Pleas to heaven
Witnessed through glass

A muffled wildness

Like a beating heart
Inside a bell jar.

The edge of the prayer bowl is lined with felt.

All is contained
In a gentle, loving prison.

If, as Antoinette suggests, the soul is held between the exhale and the pursuant inhalation

It too is captive.

Again the silken tether holds all in place…
Breath by breath,
Soul by Self.

Is it more courageous to stay?
Trustingly awaiting a call to arms,
A path revealed
That will beckon and break the self-imposed exile.

Is the true self a fixed constant?

Does the truest self move with the pulse of life…
Threading it’s way around and through life’s inconsistencies,
Humanity’s unconsciousness and the
Death of Illusion?

What gentile force can be applied
To remove the filters between Self / Soul / Life?

For all my complaints, it is an arguably peaceful place.

A little too like death for my previous self to appreciate.

This, the muffled beat of my heart, the stillness of my soul,
This, I’m uncomfortable with…
As I have truly appreciated the value of conflict, impulse and debate.

Death in life
Is that transformation?
Does it have to take so long?

Am I to be truly cold before transformation is complete and I actively move In
Body and Soul and Self
On the same path

Smiling, if not quiet

Sharon Moore-Foster
May 29, 2010

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