Danielle Bruneau – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #100

August 2020

Danielle Bruneau

Danielle Bruneau

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council features visual artist Danielle Bruneau. Currently working in acrylics, water colours, pen and ink, mixed media on everything from canvas to saw blades and cast iron frying pans, she has previously enjoyed working with stained glass (copper foil and soldered lead), wood working, as well as computer graphics, website design and photography.

Raised along the Winnipeg River, between St. Georges and Great Falls, she lived in Fort Nelson in Northern BC for 10 years. Since 2004, she has called Vancouver home, living on a 40’ live-aboard boat moored at the mouth of the Fraser River and then residing in condos with mountain views, but ended up being mostly art space where she could eat and sleep.  She said, “Presently, I’m in a renovated shuttle bus – chasing sunrises, sunsets and different landscapes.”

In her “mobile” life, Bruneau finds inspiration “in everything from old buildings in rural settings to unique architecture in urban environments, how light and clouds play across the prairies, and in anything near the water, how it catches my attentions with its reflective quality.”

Before she was even in kindergarten, her uncle, Art Vincent, gave her pencils and paper rolls from the mill. She sketched scenes from her grandparents’ farm and watched her creative muse, Mr. Dress-Up, on her family’s first black and white television. As a teenager, Bob Ross had her dreaming of when she would own a real easel. At Powerview School, her talented art teacher, Sister Pauline Menard, taught her many skills in different media. “Although she would not give anyone an A, she did give a few of us the privilege of using the art room during lunch breaks to pursue projects.”

Bruneau also acquired knowledge from various online artists, citing Robert Genn’s newsletter and video tutorials. But she believes in “practice, practice, practice! The only way to learn art is to create art.”

At University of Manitoba, Bruneau studied for a bachelor’s degree in architecture, sharing professors from both Interior Design and Fine Arts. Afternoons included open studio with instruction and critique from professors, professional artists, and architects. She also worked on projects in pen and ink, water colour, clay and mixed media, and model building.

“My favourite professor, Claude De Forest, pushed us to develop our drawing and painting skills, with “plein air” outings and his famous Sketch Camp, a week on a Lake of the Woods island with various artists, instruction, practice, and group critiques from sunup to sundown.”

In the mid-1990’s, Bruneau instructed at Northern Lights College, teaching evening and weekend classes in website design. She also taught Adobe Page-Maker, MS Publisher, and other courses. She Bruneau loves gifting her art to friends and family and finds it rewarding when her hand-painted greeting cards have been framed. She also enjoys getting out on Monday nights with Winnipeg River Sketchcrawlers. On weekends, she concentrates on acrylic paintings, exploring ideas for a themed series.

“The artwork itself – the process, is an inspiration for me – putting what I see and how I see it onto media with a paint brush has its own satisfaction. The process of sketching and painting really helps me balance out a stressful career.”

Her artwork and photos can be viewed on Instagram.

Walter Keller – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #99

July 2020

Walter Keller

Walter Keller

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council updates the profile of chainsaw carver Walter Keller. Born in Switzerland, he came to Canada in 1967 and now lives in Elma. After years of forestry work and log building, he discovered chainsaw carving. And, since 2009, he has been teaching others how to carve with a chainsaw.

Totally self-taught, Keller has become well-known as an accomplished artist. But he admits his intention to stick to strictly freelance pieces has failed. Among recent commissions, two stand out: a corporate client asked him to carve a giant Western Red cedar log into a totem (the largest work he had ever done), and the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s board chairman asked him to create a group of six bear sculptures for his office. Keller said, “Over the last decade, I’ve worked for an ever-widening circle of clients. And challenging commissions came my way and I could not refuse.”

It is the special interactions with his clients that fuel his dedication. Clients have handed him cash through the half-opened window of a vehicle at a highway rest stop, but he has also been invited to unveiling parties with a lot of pomp and honor.

Recently, Keller has focused on refining his carving techniques, by reducing power tool use in favor of hand tool application, to highlight growth forms provided by Mother Nature. Largely due to his clients’ wishes, he also overcame his dislike of applying colours.

He still does large pieces, but climbing scaffolds, working from ladders or crawling on hands and knees often cause pain and fatigue. Also, his long-standing annual three day carving courses ended when his co-host could no longer help. However, he still attends about three regional shows every year and takes pleasure in displaying his art with the close-knit group formerly known as Agassiz Chainsaw Sculptors. In more predictable times, the members have exhibited at Fire ‘n Water Festival, Beausejour Rodeo, Festival du Voyageur, and 4P event in Powerview.

He said, “This year, I plan to do some charitable work in the public domain; where this will take me remains to be seen.”
Given his reluctance to compete against friends and his belief that performing for crowds downgrades the actual art making, regular carving competitions do not work for him. He especially detests the speed carve, limited by the clock and blaring horns.
Keller feels thankful for the opportunities to learn and grow. But he believes all is not well in this world and he hopes that his pieces of art will raise awareness of the real value of wood and trees. He said, “Mankind reduces forest environments through clearing and converting land. In our own back yards, trees get discarded without even an attempt for any kind of utilization.”
In response, he has proclaimed himself as “Patrona Sylvatica,” the patron saint of the boreal forest. In the accompanying photo, he poses with a sculpture which represents the nurturing properties of our forests and his hope that an intact boreal forest may see us through the uncertain future.
He said, “It is through carving that I can find my peace and maintain a positive outlook. Whenever possible, my life partner and I venture into the wilderness to recharge our bond with Mother Nature, our source of inspiration and creativity.”

Jim Niedermayer – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #98

June 2020

Jim Niedermayer

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council updates the profile of chainsaw carver, Jim Niedermayer. Born and raised in Powerview-Pine Falls, he’s spent plenty of time in the boreal forest, especially when he’s harvesting wild rice on his assigned lakes. From a young age, Nature intrigued him and he learned early to have the utmost respect for all living things.

When he’s creating his art, his main goal is to repurpose dead trees. He often goes to people’s yards and carves the stumps left behind after their beloved mature spruce, pine or oak is removed. He said, “I enjoy putting life back into them, carving animals and birds that had once depended on the trees.”

Niedermayer’s skills with a chain saw are self-taught. In 2009, when the paper mill in Pine Falls shut down, he decided to start carving. People responded positively to his first efforts and their reactions made him determined to improve. His persistence paid off.

Jim Niedermayer

He began to take part in competitions, where he met lots of amazing carvers, in places ranging from Peterborough to Moosejaw to Winnipeg, and many other communities. He said, “They push me to do my best and exceed expectations. It’s challenging and gratifying getting together and competing with so many talented artists.”

Niedermayer enjoys competitions because the participants give each other a helping hand when needed. He said, “It’s a small world. We’ve become a carver family.” He also values the support and work of his wife, Joanne. “She serves as my assistant at most events and is a big part of my carving career.”

Niedermayer notes that chainsaw carving is a fast-growing pastime, combining sport, entertainment, and art. It involves great physical effort, such as moving logs and equipment, controlling the various saws, and standing for as long as it takes to complete a carving. The act of carving also offers unlimited opportunities to explore creative concepts and keeps crowds enthralled for hours.

As a carver, Niedermayer has won many awards and met many interesting people. He notes two of the most memorable. When Sean Penn visited Manitoba to film the movie, “Flag Day,” he purchased a carving and took it back to the United States.

Another time, Niedermayer was working on a spruce tree at a city golf course. The course was closed to the public and the Winnipeg Jets were participating in a fundraising event. The players became so fascinated by his project that Niedermayer ended up hanging out with them. He said, “Mark Scheifele signed my saw. We joked how it was the first time for him, signing a chainsaw. I think he’ll remember me.”

As will many other people who have seen Niedermayer doing what he loves, making beautiful art out of a log or a stump.

Anita Schewe Drabyk – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #97

May 2020

Anita Drabyk

Anita Drabyk

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council updates the profile of photographer, visual artist, editor and writer Anita Schewe Drabyk. After growing up on a farm near Beausejour, she studied biology and ecology at both Winnipeg universities, resided in Saskatoon, and moved to Pinawa in 1985. While her husband worked in China, she lived near Shanghai for two years.

Drabyk’s photography, visual art and writing combine all of her interests, including biology studies, life experiences and love of nature. For her, close-ups of flowers and objects showcase the beauty and colour hidden in otherwise softer scenes. She also enjoys working with the subtleties of the light and colour of the prairies. Places she has visited and people she has met influence all of her work.

She creates her art and photography by experimenting with different media and incorporating the advice and expertise of various painters, photographers and writers from across Canada. She said, “In my nonfiction writing, I draw on personal experiences growing up and working.”

Drabyk learned her art forms by self-study but also with the help of many teachers. She has taken courses at Emily Carr School of Art and with Courtney Milne, a Saskatchewan photographer, and participated in a Saskatoon photography group.

Over the years, she joined several Pinawa art and photography groups, and various local writing groups. Vivian Thomson, a well-known Pinawa artist, Nancy-Lou Ateah, an experienced artist in Victoria Beach, and many other instructors have helped her refine her techniques and expand her knowledge. She has also taken writing classes with Donna Besel, an award-winning writer. She said, “Our own local artists have provided great inspiration, knowledge, and practice.”

Recently, Boreal Shores Tour featured Drabyk’s work, at one of the tour’s stops in Pinawa. She has also taught introductory photography classes and art classes including two years as an aide in the Canadian school in China. She said, “Having a daughter in Girl Guides, hockey and sports has expanded my subject areas for all of my artistic pursuits.”

Her favourite art quote: “Nature is so powerful, so strong. Capturing its essence is not easy – your work becomes a dance with light and the weather. It takes you to a place within yourself.” – Annie Leibovitz

Ray St. Hilaire – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #96

April 2020

Ray St. Hilaire

Ray St. Hilaire

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council updates the profile of local musician, Ray St. Hilaire. Born and raised in Winnipeg, he retired to live full time near the town of Lac du Bonnet, on the shores of the Winnipeg River. Before he moved to the country, he worked as an industrial mechanic in the city. But he never abandoned his love of music.

His musical journey began with learning how to play the accordion. When he was twelve, he took accordion lessons for six months. He said, “It’s a wonderful instrument that seems to have fallen by the wayside over the years.”

But his accordion sessions soon ended after he saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and  experienced a musical epiphany. Somehow, he knew the electric guitar would provide “the ticket to my five minutes of fame.”

He immediately switched to guitar. Since then, he has played rhythm guitar and bass guitar, and has sung in my many bands. A couple of years ago, he had the good fortune to be gifted an upright bass, also called a double bass. He uses it in his musical ensemble called “Rice and Beans, the Band.” He said, “The upright bass is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. “

To keep his fingers nimble and his voice strong, he welcomes all opportunities to entertain folks who love good music and loves to get hired by local venues. When asked what motivates him to keep practicing and performing, he said, “Music is so invigorating and at the same time relaxing.”

For over forty years, St. Hilaire was involved in the Winnipeg music scene. He has performed all over Manitoba, as far south as Emerson and as far north as The Pas. Although he travels far and wide to numerous gigs, and even performs during vacations in Mexico, he happily makes time to instruct young musicians.

He said, “A musician loves to play for him or herself, but the greatest joy comes from sharing and showing his art with others. I have taught guitar for years and am so proud of my students who have surpassed my expectations.”

His band has played at Festival du Voyageur, 4P Festival, and the anniversary gathering for Harley-Davidson Owners of Canada. He also loves appearing at the Lac du Bonnet Personal Care Home with his group and loves seeing how the residents respond to his songs.

According to St. Hilaire, the most worthwhile achievement has been performing every year for the Children’s Wish Foundation at their charity fundraiser. In addition, he has volunteered for several years as a board member for the Winnipeg River Arts Council and even stepped up to serve as its president.

His favourite quote: “When the music is over – turn out the lights” Jim Morrison, The Doors.

Brenda McKenzie – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #95

March 2020

Brenda McKenzie

Brenda McKenzie

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council revisits previously featured visual artist and author Brenda McKenzie. Since 1971, she has lived in Pinawa. She said, “But, before that, as an ‘army brat,’ I lived in various places.”

Her favourite medium includes acrylics, water colour, and occasionally, pen and ink. When asked about what inspires her art work, she said, “Colour is my first inspiration, and then how light defines an object or creates a mood.”

In the 1960’s, she took lessons at Winnipeg Art Gallery, and, in junior high, she participated in an art club with her teacher John Esler. At the University of Manitoba, she studied in the Faculty of Interior Design, learning from H. Adaskin and other staff. She said, “It was an intensive education in design of images, display, and colour.”

In Pinawa, she worked for five decades with well-known artist and high school art teacher, Vivian Thomson. When Thomson retired, McKenzie took over her classes. Prior to being hired for this fulltime art specialist position, she worked, for more than thirty years, as a substitute teacher in Pinawa schools. She also taught private art lessons for both adults and children. During the quarantine, she’s doing Skype art classes with two girls in England.

McKenzie’s work been exhibited at Crea8ery Gallery in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, Selkirk’s Fox Gallery, Pinawa’s Art 211 Gallery, and numerous Juried Art Exhibitions in the Winnipeg River district, and has been shown and sold at  markets in Beausejour and Lac du Bonnet. Her photography, oil painting, and acrylic painting have won awards at Juried Art Exhibitions in Pinawa, Las du Bonnet, and Beausejour. Last summer, WRAC included her “Aurora Path” paddle painting in their popular art auction.

Given all her years of teaching and creating, it’s no surprise McKenzie has become involved in local arts projects, including ART 211 Gallery, Juried (and Judged) Art Exhibitions, and Winnipeg River Arts Council. After years as a board member, she now serves as WRAC president and contributes countless volunteer hours to the council’s stated mission of “connecting people through art.”

Like many local artists, her work reflects the natural surroundings of Eastman, in all four seasons. But she prefers the winter light to harsher summer sun and shadows.

She said, “My ultimate work is portraiture – both animals and humans.” In 2017, McKenzie’s portrait of her mother-in-law won a prize at Lac du Bonnet Juried Art Exhibition. This picture portrays the older woman gazing into a past that has been clouded by Alzheimer’s.

Related to this topic, McKenzie’s first book, Loving You, was a memoir about finding help for her mother-in-law’s dementia. It sold independently across Canada and throughout Manitoba. She has just finished her second book, over 350 pages long, and she awaits reviews from her critics/readers.

McKenzie’s favourite art quote comes from Pablo Picasso: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Joye Platford – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #94

February 2020

Joye Platford

Joye Platford

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council features visual artist Joye Platford. A few years ago, she returned to her hometown of Pinawa after living in Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Since her return, she has become involved in the local arts community, as a member of the Pinawa Art Gallery (Art 211) and Winnipeg River Arts Council.

In 2009, she lived through serious cancer challenges and making art was part of her healing. After her treatments, she decided she was going to look into art therapy, but it was only offered in Winnipeg and there was a two year wait list. With her degrees in education and theology, she found employment in the Eastman area doing church work, teaching, and offering recreational art classes for children, adults and seniors.

Despite the distance and wait list obstacles, Platford managed to pursue her dream, and, in November, 2018, she graduated as an art therapist, which is a mental health professional who uses counselling and art to help people deal with emotional and psychological challenges. Platford said, “All my life, I used art-making to sort out my thoughts. And now I have completed a dream that I had for over 15 years.”

Platford took her training through Winnipeg Holistic Expressive Art Therapy (WHEAT) Institute at St. Norbert Center for the Arts. Art therapy works because people often experience difficulties in life but they might not be able to express their feelings about these difficulties in words. Instead, they can express them through art making. She said, “Art therapy brings together all aspects of my life, art, healing, spirituality, counselling, and personal growth.”

Platford offers art therapy in Pinawa and Beausejour. In Pinawa, she works through the art gallery. In Beausejour, she works at 708 Park Avenue. She said, “I wanted to stay in the rural area to provide the needed services.

Platford explains that a person does not have to be artistic to do art therapy. It is about relaxation, release, symbolism, expression of emotions, trauma resolution, and restoration of hope. She said, “I’ve seen amazing results with children-in-care, seniors with dementia, and people working on mental health challenges, self-care, addictions, and family issues.

In Beausejour, she offers classes for children and youth on Thursdays and a women’s group on Wednesday nights, and plans to start a Wednesday morning group. Also, she does individual sessions with all ages, in Pinawa or Beausejour. On March 13-15, she will be offering a women’s retreat at Moon Gate Guest House near Elma. She can be contacted through her website, or call/ text (204) 459-0355.

Annie Bergen – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #93

January 2020

Annie Bergen

Annie Bergen

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council revisits previously featured visual artist Annie Bergen, who lives a few kilometers east of Whitemouth. She has been located there for around seven years but, prior to that, she lived in Winnipeg. Bergen is a painter, primarily focusing on large scale interior and exterior murals. She also likes opportunities to experiment with her murals, adding cut-outs or mosaic elements to enhance the pieces.

Two of her Winnipeg projects received Mural of the Year award – an MTS mural on Salter Avenue, and “Restoration” – which is a mixed media, community made mosaic/mural located at the Red Road Lodge. She said, “I love driving around Winnipeg, where I have several exterior murals, seeing my artwork in public spaces for everyone to enjoy.”

Annie Bergen

Annie Bergen

Bergen also enjoys making art that inspires and engages the public, and that visually enhances public spaces. In partnership with Whitemouth River Recreation Commission, she directed a project in Whitemouth called “Co-op Community Trail.” It features community-made paintings and mosaics, created with input from the locals, placed along a 1500 foot path. Funded by Community Spaces, Sunova and Manitoba Arts Council, the trail weaves throughout the grounds of the Whitemouth Community Centre. Bergen feels particularly proud of these eye-catching installations.

In her career with the Artists in Schools program, she has worked with about 10,000 students, creating more than 60 murals in schools throughout Manitoba. Recently, she visited Lac du Bonnet Senior School to created murals. She said, “I find the act of teaching and sharing my skills with others very satisfying. I love engaging students and the community to help with these massive school murals and public mosaics.”

When asked about her influences, Bergen cites the late Marcel Dubriel, a Winkler high school art teacher who lived in the Pembina Valley, as her greatest mentor. Also, a local artist named Neil Fehr provided inspiration and guidance. Not only that, he hired her to help in his art gallery-studio in Winkler. This gave Bergan opportunities to access studio space, spending time experimenting with media and developing her skills and interests.

She said, “Aside from those two mentors, I am a self-taught artist and have basically just persisted with my own art practice over the years – carving out a niche for myself as a mural painter and blending that with my interest in working with students.”

Lian Drabyk – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #92

December 2019

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council features photographer Lian Drabyk.

Born in China, she lived there until she was one year old. After this, she grew up in Pinawa, Manitoba, where she attended elementary and high school. She still lives in this boreal community and finds plenty of inspiration in the surrounding wilderness.

For several years, Drabyk has worked on her skills as a photographer and she enjoys taking pictures from different views and perspectives. She said, “I particularly like black and white photography. My subjects include landscapes, wild animals, farm animals, pets, buildings, abstracts and star trails.”

For those who may not be familiar with this term, a “star trail” is a type of photograph that uses long exposure times to capture the apparent motion of stars in the night sky due to the Earth’s rotation.

Despite her relatively young age, Drabyk has travelled to the United States, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, England and many parts of Canada. In 2018, she received a diploma from the PrairieView School of Photography, located in downtown Winnipeg. In this school, she completed courses in digital Photography, 2-D animation, Drama/Media, video photography and various art courses.

In her spare time, Drabyk likes to help out at her former school, Pinawa Secondary, by taking pictures of the school’s sports events. These photographs have often been used in their yearbooks.

A couple of years ago, she joined Art 211, the Pinawa art gallery. Right after she joined the gallery, she began submitting many of her unique photos to be exhibited there. Also, during the past two years, she has participated in the Boreal Shores Art Tour. In 2017, she entered her work in the 2017 Eastman Juried Art Show in Whitemouth.

Samples of her work can be found at and .

Roberta Laliberte – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #91

November 2019

Artist Roberta Laliberte

Artist Roberta Laliberte

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council revisits previously featured artist Roberta Laliberte. Born in Pine Falls, she ended up living one house away from the home where she was raised. When she was a child, she started simply copying things she loved, such as Disney cartoons. As a teen, she studied as many art instruction books as she could find and became a gifted copyist. She said, “This is a common problem with self-taught artists.”

In the early 1990’s, Laliberte attended fine art school in Sackville, New Brunswick. Although she did not complete this course, she got a broader sense of who she was as a creator. As quality art instruction on the internet became more accessible, Laliberte started taking online classes and soon started teaching them.

Recently, she has worked as a teaching artist through the Manitoba Arts Council, and led workshops in St. James-Assiniboia School Division. Various schools have hired her to work with students and provide professional development for staff.  She leads paint nights and arts classes for all ages and will soon be offering pottery classes at her studio in Pine Falls.

Laliberte now works mainly with mixed media and water-colour on paper and canvas but recently re-discovered her love of pottery. In the spring, an opportunity to teach high school art reawakened this former interest as well as providing enough funds to purchase a kiln.

Like many artists in the region, Laliberte gets inspired by nature. She also likes the idea of marrying function with aesthetic. Form and function have recently become important influences as she contemplates what she creates and why.

“I feel that my style is becoming less fussy and I am always trying to pare it down to the essence. Regardless of what I am doing and how I am doing it there is an underlying need to create something.”

Last summer, she contributed a captivating portrait of a fox to WRAC’s popular paddle auction. She has had several group exhibitions and recently her first solo show, “North of 49,” was featured in Syracuse, New York. Also, the Boreal Shores Art Tour has included her work, since its inception.

Although people tend to think that artists are born with amazing ability, Laliberte believes failure is a part of the process. She advises anyone who feels pulled to create to dive right in – “practice makes perfect.”

“If you keep a playful spirit, being creative can be a fulfilling part of everyday living. We were all born with wonder and curiosity. For some reason we tell ourselves we aren’t capable or qualified, but there is no right or wrong way to create.”

Irene Loire-Maillard – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #90

October 2019

Irene Loire-Maillard

Irene Loire-Maillard

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council revisits previously featured artist Irene Loire-Maillard. Her artistic interests include drawing, pottery, sculpting, stone carving, photography, and painting using various mediums. She said, “Anything and everything inspires me. Once I have it in my head, I have to transcribe it from brain to material. Not an easy task.”

In 2003, she moved to Pinawa to be with her new husband Roger Dutton. Prior to that, for approximately forty years, she lived on West Coast and also for a short time in Nunavut. Loire-Maillard and her husband now spend part of their time in Pinawa and the other part in their “apartment in the sky” in Winnipeg.

Loire-Maillard’s artistic education is also varied. Since the 1960’s, in locations across Canada, she has studied various art mediums through workshops, classes, tutoring, and other methods. She has even done “plein air” painting in southern Spain. This French term means “in the open air” and applies to painting outdoors, using portable paints and easels, trying to capture the changing qualities of light and weather. Her art is mostly expressionist or abstract.

She said, “I want the viewer to see what moves them and make their own interpretation.”

Her art has been exhibited in several places and won first prize for acrylic painting and photography (content) in the Eastman Judged Art Exhibition. Winners have gone on to have their work displayed at the former Assiniboine Park Art Gallery.

Her first prize acrylic painting resulted from a long study on light and darkness in the art of medieval Italian painter, Michelangelo Caravaggio. She noted that beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder. “One person told that it looked like I put my brush in feces and smeared it on canvass. Another person offered me over a thousand dollars for it. This painting continues to hang on my living room wall!”

Her first prize for photography (content) depicted three Berbers at a sand-covered computer on the Sahara’s edge. She said, “When I finally got to use the computer, half of the keyboard was Arabic. Never did get to send an email. But it was a super snapshot!”

Presently, Loire-Maillard is working on creating abstract human figure drawings and cloud formations. She said, “Our Winnipeg apartment offers inspiration – a huge sky with a sea of green treetops as far as the eye can see.”

She has also studied stone carving with an Inuit carver in Nunavut and made a fairly large sculpture of an animal she loves – the muskox. And she loves to write, participating in a local creative writing group with author Donna Besel and, prior to that, taking courses at University of British Columbia.

Mentored by Metro Dmytriw, she recently created a bronze bust of her husband and it is not abstract. She is very excited about the bust and noted, “Roger has lots of texture, with his curly hair and beard, so it was a challenge!”

Donna Besel – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #89

September 2019

Donna Besel Photo by David Griffin Whyte

Donna Besel

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council revisits previously featured artist Donna Besel, an award-winning, best-selling author who enjoys visual arts, theatre, photography, guitar-playing, and song-writing. Besel knows the Eastman area well. She grew up in Whiteshell Provincial Park, went to Whitemouth Collegiate, and resided in Lac du Bonnet for more than thirty-five years. She now lives (and writes) on the Winnipeg River, near Powerview-Pine Falls.

Besel said, “In Manitoba, we have many well-known Winnipeg, Mennonite, francophone, and Indigenous writers. When Prairie Fire Magazine asked me to contribute stories to ‘Boreality Project,’ a multi-media, four-season artistic interpretation of the boreal forest, I started to fully identify as a boreal writer.”

Besel graduated from University of Manitoba with an English Honours Degree and studied education at Brandon University. In 2017, the University of Manitoba featured her in their alumni magazine (UM Today) in an article about overcoming adversity.

She said, “My favourite authors – Alice Munro and Elizabeth Strout. They write deep and astonishing stories about the realities of life.”

Donna Besel at McNally Robinson Bookstore photo by Emily Christie

Donna Besel at McNally Robinson Bookstore

Besel’s writing has earned wide-spread recognition: CBC Literary Awards (three times), Canada Council for the Arts, Manitoba Arts Council. Her collection of short stories, Lessons from a Nude Man, captured fourth place on McNally Robinson’s 2015 annual bestsellers list, two nominations from Manitoba Book Awards and a spot on Canada’s Relit Awards. In 2016, she was artist-in-residence at the Deep Bay Cabin in Riding Mountain National Park. Her work has been featured on CBC Radio, and published in literary journals, anthologies, and magazines.

She loves writing of all kinds, leads workshops for writers of all ages, and has done presentations and workshops across Canada at universities, bookstores, libraries, conferences, forums, retreats, and Milner Ridge Correctional Institute.

Donna Besel reading at Calgary Creative Nonfiction Collective Society Conference Photo by Leo Aragon

Donna Besel reading at Calgary Creative Nonfiction Collective Society Conference

Previously, Besel taught in Sunrise School Division. For the past nine years, she has worked in schools from Gillam to Sprague, leading creative writing workshops for K-12 students, supported by Manitoba Arts Council’s province-wide Artists in Schools program. Recent gigs include presentations at “Proutopia” (Winnipeg Beach arts festival), guest lectures at Canadian Mennonite University, and co-facilitation of “Wild Writing in the Boreal,” a writers’ weekend at Falcon Trails Resort (upcoming on November 15 to 17).

Besel’s message to writers: “You have something to say and you have the right to say it.”

Another inspirational quote comes from writer Anne Lamotte: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Verla Fortier – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #88

August 2019

Writer Verla Fortier

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council features writer Verla Fortier, a former nurse and retired Professor of Nursing with a Masters’ Degree in Health Science. Two years ago, after forty-five years away, she returned to her home town of Pine Falls, where she grew up, on the edge of the boreal forest. Around the same time, Fortier learned that she had a serious chronic illness.

Although she was in her sixties and she had spent forty years as a nurse and nursing professor, she began to fully discover how being outside near trees, shrubs, and grass affects health and wellness. She found plenty of evidence to prove the game-changing qualities of green space, in the fields of physics, biology, chemistry, neuroscience, urban planning, forestry medicine, botany, ecology, geometry, and psychology. It transformed her life – and she wanted to show other people how it could change their lives, too.

She said, “I took a sharp left turn into tree research to control my fears of dying too early, losing my mind to dementia, and my illness running rampant.”

Writer Verla Fortier

Writer Verla Fortier

Fortier knew she wanted to write, and now she had a strong motivation. She took an online course on “How to Write Non-Fiction” and started creating her first book. In this publication, she tells her personal story, includes her research on urban green space, and provides practical tips that she learned along the way. She hopes the book and its companion workbook will save readers time, effort, and frustration so they can feel better than ever as they age, with or without chronic illness—whether they live in the city or the country.

Fortier’s book launch is scheduled for Wednesday, September 25, at Allard Regional Library in St. Georges. From 12:00 to 1:00 p.m., she will share highlights from her research and describe how her messy journey led to writing her first publication.

Her words of inspiration: “Spending time outside will make you live longer, prevent dementia, and control your chronic illness. The science is there.”

Bernice Phillips – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #87

July 2019

Bernice Phillips

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council revisits previously featured artist Bernice Phillips. A long-time resident of Powerview-Pine Falls, Phillips holds several positions along with her growing art practice. She cooks meals for seniors and works at “Through the Arbour,” the family-run business that provides massage, herbal products and consultations, reflexology, “Day Spa” services, and natural body care products. Also, when necessary, she looks after grandchildren.

But art has always been central in her life. As a child, she would take her father’s scrapbook and wonder at the pictures he drew as a young man. She says, “Contemplating his concepts and visions, I was in awe at how he was able to bring his work to life.”

In her younger years, demands of work and family were constant. As the third daughter, with four younger brothers, she had a busy home life. She says, “Like many of us, art got put on the back burner.”

Phillips used drawing and gardening to find peace, away from a not-so-nice world of bullying and expectations. After she left home, she married and had children, and enjoyed all the fun and learning experiences that come with family life.

When her kids started school, Phillips began taking workshops in various art methods, such as pottery at Powerview School. She says, “I loved working with clay, using the wheel, and exploring the pinch method and sculpting!’

After pottery, she tried stained glass, willow furniture-making, air-brushing, embroidery and quilting, to name a few. Then she signed up for a tole painting workshop (“the folk art of decorative painting on tin and wooden utensils, objects and furniture”).  She knew she had finally found her medium. She began to look at the world with different eyes, seeing the way light and shadows changed the shades of leaves and plants.

After painting in acrylic for many years, she decided to explore watercolour by taking workshops with two well-known local artists, first Nancy-Lou Ateah and then Roberta Laliberte. In the last few years, she started experimenting in mixed media. This opened up a whole new path, combining watercolour and acrylic, working on many different backgrounds such as glass, wood, and canvas.

Phillips is currently showing her art at the Gwen Fox Gallery in Selkirk, along with three other artists, until July 27. In August, on the 17th & 18th, her work can be seen at her home in Powerview, in the Garden Path Studio, Stop #10 of the Boreal Shores Art Tour. She also decorated one of the beautiful paddles that will be auctioned off during August in the “Paddle the River” fundraiser for Winnipeg River Arts Council.
Phillips says, “My art usually reflects my surroundings, the trees, animals, and my beloved garden where I spend many hours enjoying the outdoors.”

Mary Louise Chown – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #86

June 2019

Mary Louise Chown

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council revisits previously featured artist Mary Louise Chown. A woman of many talents, she is a storyteller, visual artist, musician, and observer of life. Over the years, she has done batik, printmaking, acrylic and watercolour, videography, writing, as well as performance art. She says, “I am no longer a prairie chicken, more like an old crone, and I have explored many art forms in my life.”

About eight years ago, she and her husband bought a farm near River Hills, on the Whitemouth River, where they keep bees and laying hens, and where she opened the Ladyslipper Art Studio and returned to drawing, painting, and teaching art in the Eastman area.

For most of Chown’s adult life, her main art form has been storytelling, having begun this arts practice in the 1970’s. She learned storytelling by telling stories, asking for feedback, and listening to her mentor-storytellers. She says, “I love the old mythologies and folktales, and the ways they can still speak to us.”

As far back as she can remember, she has drawn and painted. For a while, she had a studio in the Exchange District in Winnipeg. At forty-nine years old, she studied Fine Arts at university for four years, which taught her even more about all forms of visual arts. After that, the storytelling, drawing, and painting began to merge and feed each other. She says, “Everything requires practice, practice, practice …”

Chown feels a connectedness between all animate and inanimate things on Earth and experiences the deeper spiritual meaning of life through the intensity of the physical environment. She says, “My images are drawn from the flowing shapes I see around me. I’m always attempting to penetrate the mystery of the world and the wonder of my own existence.”

She has taught beginning drawing at several community clubs and also through WRAC programs. When she worked in Manitoba Arts Council’s Artists in the Schools, she taught painting, collage, and storytelling in schools across the province. She has also taken extra training in videography at Red River Community College, written a book about her work as a visiting artist in hospice and palliative care, and taught all levels of storytelling from beginners to masters’ level.

Her artwork has been displayed in several group shows in Winnipeg and one of her video installations was exhibited in Winnipeg, Inuvik, and in the loft of the barn on her farm. The video component of this installation won an award in Edmonton.

Chown believes that all the elements of life can be found in the creative arts — the commonplace transformed into the extraordinary through imagination and skill. Her words of encouragement for aspiring artists: “All art forms tell a story. Use your art to explore and celebrate the world around you.”

Wayne Letkeman – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #85

May 2019

Wayne Letkeman

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features visual artist Wayne Letkeman, a commercial pilot employed by Adventure Air in Lac du Bonnet. In 2016, while living in Thompson, he started painting.  He moved back to this area last summer, but he had lived here previously while working at Tantalum Mining.

Letkeman is a self-taught artist, using oil as his medium. Like many people, he never felt that he had much artistic talent. But his purchase of a home a few years back motivated him to try his hand at painting. He needed to decorate his new place but found that he did not like any of the interior decorations available in stores. So he decided to try creating some himself.

While flying and living in the North, he had many opportunities to see the Northern Lights. He began to try recreating those images and discovered he really enjoyed the results. Although he has not had any formal training, he wanted to learn more.

One of Letkeman’s paintings, a work depicting the Northern Lights, was chosen to be included in a six month art show currently travelling around Manitoba. This exhibition will conclude in October. Also, his work was selected to be exhibited at several galleries in Southern Manitoba in 2020. Feeling inspired by this recognition, he plans to create many more paintings. Letkeman also enjoys landscape and seascape, with ambitions to go in different directions, depending on his increasing growth in artistic quality.

He said, “Although I’m not sure at this time if my skills could lead into teaching, I have developed a passion which is enjoyable and relaxing.”

To check out his work, interested people can follow his Instagram account – wletkeman300. They can also enjoy samples of his art by visiting his website at

Melvin Vincent – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #84

April 2019

Melvin Vincent

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features woodcrafter and visual artist, Melvin Vincent. Before the Pine Falls Pulp and Paper Mill ceased operations, he worked in the thermal mechanical section and, prior to that, he sharpened materials in the stone ground area. A lifelong resident of St. Georges, he is a self-taught artist with a great fondness for decorating pieces of wood with acrylic paint.

Like many people in our region, Vincent has always enjoyed nature and wildlife, and his interest in painting grew out of his interest in taxidermy. He said, “It began with Charlie Niedermeyer. He gave me a crash course in taxidermy and I did it for fifteen years. Then I started painting and I’ve been doing that for the past fifteen years.”

Many Eastman residents know Charlie Niedermeyer for his handcrafted knives, wildlife carvings, and paintings. Niedermeyer’s work has been purchased by hunters, fishers, and art-lovers from all over the world. Recently, he donated a hand-carved paddle with the blade covered on both sides with scenes from the boreal forest. It will be auctioned off in a WRAC fundraiser, along with smaller paddles decorated by selected WRAC artists.

Niedermeyer’s son, Jim, another well-known local artist, creates chainsaw carvings and has participated in multiple large-scale competitions. Inspired by the Niedermeyers, Vincent started chainsaw carving and joined the Winnipeg River Carving Association. Now he’s the president of this organization.

Recently, the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg asked the Winnipeg River chainsaw carvers to put on a showcase carving event. Some of the carvers required slabs to make benches. Vincent volunteered to saw the slabs, and went out and bought a portable Alaskan saw mill.

This opened up new artistic possibilities that he wanted to explore so he has sliced up hundreds of cottonwood, poplar, and other woods into slabs of varying thickness. He makes sturdy benches out of the pieces, etches the surfaces with a heated drawing tool or paints wildlife and boreal forest scenes on the wood, and covers his artwork with a durable finish. He also saws logs on a diagonal angle to create smaller works of art. He keeps the live edge on the slabs to add striking visual interest. “Live edges” means the bark is not removed from the logs.

In 2017, he suffered a stroke and had to be rushed to Winnipeg from the Pine Falls Hospital. His doctors told him the stroke could have crippled him for life. He said, “Thank God for Stars Ambulance. I received medical attention quickly.”

Grateful for the airborne life-saving assistance, Vincent created a wood bench which was auctioned off with all proceeds going to Stars Ambulance. They raised $1650.00 from the bench he donated.

Given the rapid medical care and his determination to keep active, he now suffers only a few minor symptoms. From the looks of his many projects-in-progress and workshops full of his art, he has been very active. His business is called “Vincent Woodworking and Arts” and interested buyers can call 1-(204) 367-4376 to view his work. He said, “I have lots of paintings, wood carving, and benches. I’d really like to sell some and make room for my new projects.”

It’s worth the trip to St. Georges, just to see the magical creations he fashions from large pieces of wood.

Lisa Delorme Meiler – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #83

March 2019

Lisa Delorme Meiler "Lost in the Fire"

Lisa Delorme Meiler

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features visual artist Lisa Delorme Meiler, who proudly identifies herself as a born-and-raised prairie girl, and a Métis artist. Although she now resides in the town of Oakbank, she has lived in various communities in the Northeast region for most of her life.

An emerging fine artist, she has been working hard to perfect her acrylic art. Recently, she began to explore other mediums such as hand painted earrings and hand painted glassware. Although she was trained as a graphic artist, she says she is self-taught as a “fine artist,” never having any formal fine arts education.

But she’s always known she loves to create art and express herself artistically. She said, “My life-long passion was encouraged from childhood to adulthood. My paintings are inspired by the beauty of nature and the world around me.”

To share her talents, she has facilitated art workshops in the Seven Oaks School Division through Manitoba Arts Council’s Arts Smart Program and has volunteered her time facilitating art workshops for organizations like Wahbung Abinoonjiiag Inc. and Siloam Mission.
In 2013, she started exhibiting her work, with her debut presentation being a self-hosted art show. Since then, she has exhibited her art at events such as Manitoba Art Expo, Neechi Niche, Envision Festival of the Arts, and the Artisan Square at the Fire and Water Festival in Lac du Bonnet.

Her artwork has been published in Red Rising Magazine, which featured her paintings,  “Storytelling as a Resistance” (November 2016 – Issue 4), “Love” (March 2017 – Issue 5), and “Le Métis” (Issue 9, which will be published in March 30, 2019).

Also, her art was used on the cover of the “Late O’clock” album, recorded by a Manitoba band called The Deeds, who were nominated for the best rock album of the year at the 2017 Indigenous Music Awards.
The painting in the accompanying photo is called “Lost in the Fire,” inspired by the Manigotagan region, with photo credited to Faye Hall. When asked for inspiring words, Delorme Meiler said, “My hope is that my paintings ignite a love of art and trigger an emotional response and a connection. I want the viewer to enjoy the work infinitely.”

Nicki Blatz – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #82

February 2019

Nicki Blatz

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features visual artist Nicki Blatz. A long-time resident of the area, she has lived in Great Falls since she was eleven years old, over forty-five years ago.

Recently retired, she made a New Year’s resolution to paint, sketch or draw every day. She says, “Fortunately, that is one resolution I have been good at keeping.”

When asked about her preferred medium, she says that she previously “dabbled with acrylics.” But, since last October, she has been exploring the use of watercolour paints. Last fall, she created a small collection of greeting cards for the Great Falls Christmas craft sale. She says, “I liked the medium and was surprised by how well my work turned out.”

When she was a kid, Blatz learned how to make art by sitting and drawing. She also remembers her grandfather giving advice about line placement and offering tips on how to create a more realistic picture. She says, “Those few hints made my pictures look so much better!”

In high school, she took art classes with Sister Pauline, a legendary art teacher who worked at Powerview School. For several decades, this talented and enthusiastic nun inspired hundreds of students (and adults) interested in all forms of art.

To further hone her skills, Blatz has participated in numerous workshops given by well-known Victoria Beach artist Nancy Lou Ateah. Blatz also takes the time to watch YouTube tutorials. Other than the printed greeting cards, she has not exhibited her work but feels encouraged by the response to her cards.

When asked what inspires her as an artist, she says, “I have always loved painting and drawing or art in general. I love observing Nature, light and shadow, water, flowers, birds, and outdoor scenes.”

Logan Goulet – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #81

January 2019

Logan Goulet

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features musician Logan Goulet. Besides being a talented multi-instrumentalist (guitar, bass, vocals, programming), he is a songwriter and producer. He also dabbles in theatre and sits on the board for the Eureka Theatre Group in Lac du Bonnet.

Goulet has spent most of his life in Lac Du Bonnet but his father is a pilot who has worked all over the globe so he has lived in Nigeria, Maldives, and Indonesia for short periods. For over fifteen years now, Goulet has been consistently living in Lac Du Bonnet.

He first started really getting into music, and to a lesser extent acting, when he was thirteen and he lived in Bali, Indonesia. At the school he went to, the music program focused heavily on learning an instrument and writing music, so his skills kind of branched from there. Along with some guitar lessons, he attended Mid Ocean School of Media Arts in Winnipeg and learned about audio mixing and production.

He says, “What I find inspiring is the ability through music to take all the crazy ideas you have running through your head and turning them into something you can share with others, and hopefully inspire them as well.”

While most of Goulet’s music projects have been stuck in what he calls “production heck,” more recently he has performed at Fire and Water Music Festival, supporting his uncle Richard Nadolsky. He also appeared as the wicked Wendigo in the local stage production, “The Saga of JD McArthur”, which has a cast recording album that should be available soon. As well, he finds time to co-host a music interview podcast called Zoofonix.

Goulet admits that he hasn’t received any great critical acclaim (yet). Given that disclaimer, he does admit to winning a talent contest in 2003, which really surprised him, and placing second in another one in 2004.

He keeps himself motivated as an artist by saying, “Don’t let that little voice of doubt in your head stop you from showing the world what you have to offer. It’s a better place with your creativity out there!”

Ron Neufeld – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #80

December 2018

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features writer Ron Neufeld. Born in Calgary, he has also lived in the United States and British Columbia. Neufeld’s background is in the construction trades. After retiring in 2013, he moved to Vancouver Island where he began taking creative writing courses at the University of Victoria. In September of 2018, he moved to Pinawa, in order to be closer to family living in Winnipeg.

Ron Neufeld

Since then, he has wasted no time jumping right into the lively arts scene in Manitoba. He has attended the Eastern Manitoba Concert Association’s performances and author readings at McNally Robinson’s Bookstore in Winnipeg. He also volunteered to help with set-up and takedown at Mary’s Wedding (the Theatre Projects play in Great Falls), signed up for the memoir writing classes offered by Winnipeg River Arts Council at the Lac du Bonnet Library, and recently agreed to serve on WRAC’s board of directors.

Neufeld grew up in a family of storytellers – refugees from the Ukraine who settled in Calgary after World War II. His earliest childhood memories are of Sunday evenings lying on the living room carpet listening to his parents, their friends, and especially his grandmother share stories of unbelievable hardship, suffering, and loss. But he also heard stories of resilience, hope, resourcefulness, and love.

In 2007, together with his father, he wrote and self-published his memoirs. Neufeld says, “These tales told by immigrants were often infused with laughter and so I learned that tragedy and humour are not incompatible.”

His constant companion is a Border Collie-Great Pyrenees cross named Magnus and he loves exploring his new community with his canine friend. He writes daily, both short stories and memoir, inspired by the beauty of the Whiteshell Provincial Park and the artists who live along the Winnipeg River. He cares deeply about nature and the environment, and wants to explore this topic in greater depth in his artistic work.  

He says, “Landscape and how it shapes us is an important theme in my writing.”

Ward Wotton – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #79

November 2018

Ward Wotton

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features theatre, film, and broadcast technician, Ward Wotton. In October, he moved to the Leisure Falls area, in the RM of Alexander.

Wotton grew up in Deloraine, Manitoba. He attended Saskatchewan Technical College in Saskatoon and then worked as a recreation director in Creelman-Fillmore area in rural Saskatchewan, and as a tour guide and promotions specialist in British Columbia. After moving back to Manitoba, he worked for CKX television in Brandon, Valley Cable Vision in Morden, and CKY in Winnipeg.

In early 90’s, he founded Lucky Dog Network, filming amateur football, soccer, dance, and figure skating events. He went on to create television commercials for Parker Jarvis ad agency in Winnipeg and Partners agency in Toronto, creating ads for clients such as MTS, Walmart, Manitoba Hydro, and tourism.

When asked, he says, “I like having different jobs and acquiring new skills. I’ve taken courses with Film Manitoba, from the industry and my union. I’m also self-taught, constantly learning on the job.”

In 1997, he joined International Association of Theatre, Stage, and Film Employees – Local 63 Winnipeg, and worked in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Toronto on television series (Tracker, Doc, Shirley Holmes), movies (Chicago, Shall We Dance, Harvest, Jesse James), and the mini-series Avro Arrow. After that, he did technical stage work at various venues, including Rainbow Stage, Pantages, MTC Concert Hall, ballets, operas, and touring shows including War Horse, Wicked, Wizard of Oz, West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, and Evita.

Wotton says, “My proudest achievements: a video on the National Women’s Hockey Championship, now displayed in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and a video on the Royal Winnipeg Ballet  dance school’s National Championships.”

Wotton has coached various sports, including hockey and baseball. These days, he wants to share the technical skills he has acquired over the years. He hopes to mentor young people in the area, through Creative Manitoba’s rural youth mentorship program, in partnership with Winnipeg River Arts Council.

Wotton’s motto: “Try your best and enjoy life.


Cliff Zarecki – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #78

October 2018

Cliff Zarecki

Cliff Zarecki

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features wood carver, Cliff Zarecki, who grew up in the Lee River area on his parents’ homestead and went to school in Lac du Bonnet.

Before the cottagers got there, the Lee River was a much quieter wilderness. Spending time close to nature made Zarecki passionate about it. When he was younger, he did a lot of hunting, gathering, and fishing, but soon grew more interested in creating birds and animals through wood carving. He uses basswood, a local wood, but also works with harder-to-find woods such as walnut, butternut, and a southern USA swamp wood called Tupelo.

During a caribou hunting trip in Northern Manitoba, his friend, Ron Jackson, got him started. “Ron gave classes which I took for years and enjoyed. He also encouraged everyone to enter the Prairie Canada Carvers competition held every spring in Winnipeg,” Zarecki said.

At these lessons, Zarecki met world class carvers. One of them, Larry Vanderhyde, agreed to mentor him. Later, he took courses from many elite carvers throughout Canada and the United States. For several years, he has instructed six young people in Lac du Bonnet. He tells them he won’t charge for materials but they must promise to enter the kids’ competition at the Prairie Canada event. He said, “Several have won prizes. I sponsor the kids’ section. They can win $100 for first, $50 for second and $25 for third so I joke that I pay the kids to take my class.”

As well as Prairie Canada, Zarecki has entered the Eastman Judged Art Exhibits and the Southwestern Florida Woodcarving competitions, which has more than 600 entries. In both Winnipeg and Florida, he has won “Best of Show” awards at novice, intermediate and advanced levels. Presently, he competes in the masters’ group, and has won several “Best of Division” awards. But “Best of Show” in this category still eludes him.

Before retirement, he worked as an engineer. He got interested in art because he thinks it is so much harder to learn. Although he still enjoys wildlife photography, he finds he doesn’t have enough time to get really good, so he focuses on his carving.

“Making high quality work requires hard work and patience, and it sometimes drives my spouse nuts when I spend too much time on a project. The problem is – I’m totally hooked! To be successful one needs to focus on minute details, right from the initial planning stage.”

Ray St. Hilaire – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #77

September 2018

Ray St. Hilaire

Ray St. Hilaire

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features musician, Ray St. Hilaire. Although WRAC previously featured St. Hilaire as an artist, he has continued to pursue his musical career with great enthusiasm. He said “I’ve been performing with my band almost every weekend this past summer.”

Prior to moving to Lac du Bonnet, St. Hilaire worked as an industrial mechanic in Winnipeg. Eight years ago, he retired from mechanics and now lives with his wife Barb on the eastern shores of the Winnipeg River.

Ray St. Hilaire

Ray St. Hilaire

St. Hilaire plays multiple instruments including acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric bass, and his new favourites – upright bass or double bass. When he was around twelve years old, he took accordion lessons but, when he heard the Beatles, there was no turning back. He switched to guitar. Now, although he travels all over with his band, he gladly makes time to instruct young guitarists. “I get great satisfaction knowing I’ve given them a skill they will enjoy for the rest of their lives,” he said.

For over forty years, St. Hilaire played in the local Winnipeg music scene. “It feels like I’ve gigged in just about every hotel or club in Manitoba, going as far north as The Pas and as far south as Emerson,” he said.

These days, he sticks closer to home and appears regularly at the Lac du Bonnet Personal Care Home. With his band, “Rice and Beans,” he also gets hired for much larger venues. They’ve played at Festival du Voyageur, 4P Festival, charity events such as Children’s Wish Benefit, and the anniversary gathering for Harley-Davidson Owners of Canada.

St. Hilaire loves motorcycles, especially Harleys, and loves visiting Mexico in the winter. While there, he often performs with his band. He also takes time to volunteer for local organizations and serves on the board of the Winnipeg River Arts Council. At big events, he shows up with a smile to help out and he even took a turn as its president.

This past summer, while he attended the Fire & Water Music Festival, he felt inspired to write six new songs, with original music and lyrics. When asked what motivates him to keep practicing and performing, he said, “Music is so invigorating and at the same time relaxing –great medicine for the human condition!”


Julie Lavoie – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #76

August 2018

Julie Lavoie

Julie Lavoie

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features visual artist Julie Lavoie, a life-long resident of St-Georges. After raising their two children, she and her husband now live by themselves in a comfortable house on the community’s large rocky hill.

Lavoie loves trying new methods and finds it hard picking just one. Right now, she enjoys experimenting with different pencils. She said, “I gravitate toward graphite, pastels, and my new favourite, coloured pencils. They’re versatile and can mimic other medium. And they’ve come a long way since our high school days.”

Lavoie likes applying multiple layers with her pencils and then using a safe workable solvent, to achieve results that resemble oil paints. Even though the repeated applications take time, she has doesn’t mind investing days or weeks to complete one painting. She is self-taught and has been working on her arts practice for years. Even as a child, she liked making art. She said, “If homework involved art, it was just fun.”

In high school, she took art classes, with many opportunities to experience different mediums, to complete projects that inspired and challenged her, and to work on her drawing skills, increasing her knowledge of composition and perspective. She said, “Every year, I learned something new, building on skills from the previous year.”

In her twenties, she discovered the joy of art books. She used them to improve her skills and mimicked the artists she saw in these books, such as Pencil Drawing by Gene Franks. Another influence was Claudia Nice, a well-known instructor. Lavoie said, “Her techniques are easy to follow; she breaks down all the steps. In her books, she teaches about watercolours, pen and ink drawing, sketching, and other techniques. She’s still one of my favourites.”

She also uses the internet to explore new medium. For example, she discovered Lisa Clough, from Lachri Fine Arts, who creates work in oils, acrylics, graphite, a medium called Inktense, and, most important, coloured pencils. Lavoie said, “Clough’s styles range from realism to surrealism, and even contemporary.”

She also found Alyona Nickelson, an artistic pioneer who creates new products that change the way how coloured pencils react on paper. Lavoie said, “They are like pastels, but no smudging. You get vibrant colours; you can finish a painting in half the time.”

She has also learned a lot from local artists, taking watercolour classes with Nancy-Lou Ateah and Jo-Anne Thompson, watercolour and mixed media with Roberta Laliberte, and drawing with Leah Boulet. When asked for inspiring words, Lavoie said, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which one to keep.”

Linda Bourrier – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #75

July 2018

Linda Bourrier

Linda Bourrier

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features visual artist Linda Bourrier. Two years ago, she was living and working in Calgary, as an executive assistant at a large oil company. After retiring, she moved to Pine Falls, where her husband had family.

When she was around ten, she watched a neighborhood girl sketching clothes models. This experience inspired her passion for art and it remained a favourite subject throughout her school years. In grade twelve, she won the art award and her love for creativity deepened.

Later in life, while busy working and raising three children, she treated herself to evening and weekend workshops, starting with beginner watercolor classes at North Mount Pleasant Arts Centre in Calgary, then sessions in various artists’ studios, including Nancy-Lynne Hughes, Karin Richter, and a weekend workshop with Gordon MacKenzie from Ontario. While living in Pine Falls, she’s taken workshops with local artist Roberta Laliberte. She hopes to learn more from Laliberte and other artists in the area.

Bourrier said, “I’m absolutely hungry to learn new techniques.”

In her adult life, she prefers to depict flowers. Although watercolor painting is her first and favorite medium, she’s dabbled with acrylics and wants to learn more. A while ago, she tried making 3-D stained glass creations. Mixed media sparks a lot of interest, as well as cartoon type characters. She has also experimented with resin on glass, simple mobiles, copic markers, watercolor pens, and various children’s crafts. Right now, her special passion is creating homemade personal cards.

She said, “I like a more realistic style, rather than abstract. And I look at objects and scenery with ‘watercolor eyes.’ Colors also play a big part in stimulating me.”

Bourrier admits she hasn’t settled on a single art practice or medium but hopes, in her retirement, to focus on one and get better at it. She has not exhibited any of her work, but thinks she might like to, at some point. But she enjoys sharing her talents with children in her church and with interested friends. She also likes the fun of “art dates” with fellow artists, such as the River Crawlers Sketch Club, organized by Leah Boulet from St-Georges.

Bourrier said, “While doing art, I’m in my ‘happy place.’ It shuts out the rest of the world and any worries.”

Andreas Oertel – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #74

June 2018

Author Andreas Oertel

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council revisits previously featured writer Andreas Oertel. Born in Germany, Oertel spent most of his life in Manitoba. For the past sixteen years, he’s lived in the Lac du Bonnet area. By day, he works for the Manitoba Government. In spare hours, he finds time to follow his passion – writing action-adventure novels for middle grade readers (grades 4 to 7).

Oertel went to the University of Winnipeg and British Columbia Institute of Technology but he doesn’t think those classes really helped him with his fiction projects. He said, “In fact, if I could travel back in time, I’d go for a degree in English or diploma in journalism.”

Instead, he taught himself to write through trial and error – lots and lots of errors. He wrote, submitted to publishers, and was rejected over and over. With each rejection letter, he became more determined to learn the craft. He continued to write, revise and re-submit, and eventually his stories began getting published.

When asked what inspires him, he said, “I like to think that a young, reluctant reader somewhere might finish one of my books and think – Hey, that was a pretty cool story!’

Not surprising, given his motivation to inspire kids to love books, he makes lots of visits to schools and libraries, including the ones in the area.

Although he’s never taught a formal writing class, he’s had six books professionally published and they have been nominated for several awards (Silver Birch Award, Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award, and the McNally Robinson Book for Young People Award). In 2017, he won The Very Best Award! (Young Adult Category) for Prisoner of Warren.

This spring has been especially exciting for Oertel. In April, In Too Deep – the fifth book in The Shenanigans Series – was officially launched in Winnipeg at McNally Robinson Bookstore. In May, the 2018 TD Canada Book Tour, Canada’s single largest book event for young people, offered him a spot on their national circuit. Selected authors spread out across Canada, doing presentations and readings. Oertel’s assignment: tour southern Ontario and speak to over 800 middle graders. He said, “I was thrilled to be one of 30 authors. It was an exhausting week, but a lot of fun.”

His advice for writers, young or old: “If you have a desire to write, don’t give up. Also, your goal shouldn’t be to be a writer, your goal should be to write great stories. You’ll know you’re a writer when other people call you a writer.”

T. Thomas and C. Quesnel – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #73

May 2018

Tanis Thomas

Tanis Thomas

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council features Tanis Thomas and Carl Quesnel, a Pinawa couple who own and operate a family business called Boreal Workshop, which creates stunning handcrafted jewellery. In addition to jewellery and personal goods, they produce art objects, and vessels and containers suitable for personal and ceremonial use.

In 2016, Boreal Workshop moved from Winnipeg to Pinawa. The couple felt drawn by the beauty of the Canadian Shield. The scenic surroundings played a major role in their decision to live and work in this community.

Tanis Thomas is a member of Ochekwi-Sipi Cree Nation (Fisher River), with Cree and Metis ancestors from the Interlake and Grand Beach regions of Manitoba. Her education in art began at an early age. Her uncle, Don LaForte, was an accomplished visual artist and bon vivant.

Thomas said. “He passed on a belief that art is intrinsic to our nature.”

Carl Quesnel, the head jeweller and lapidary-gemologist is Canadian, of English and French ancestry, with roots in Winnipeg, and the Manigatogan-Long Lake area of Manitoba. For those who may not know, a lapidary is a person who cuts, polishes or engraves stones. Quesnel was introduced to lapidary at a young age by parents and grandparents, and he has studied gemology with the Gemological Institute of America. He is also an accomplished gold, silver, and copper smith.

The couple has lived and worked in diverse regions of Canada, from the Arctic to the Prairies. Boreal Workshop’s classical, minimalist aesthetic is reflected in each piece they design and hand make. As well, their work is informed by Indigenous and European cultures, the traditions of art and craft, and the environment.

Thomas said, “The influences of cultures, traditions, and the beauty of the natural world are intrinsic to our art.”

All of their creations are hand made in Canada and ethically produced. They cut and facet gemstones using select rough sourced from around the world. The metalwork they produce is also all handmade, typically in copper, silver, and gold. Where possible, they use local sources and distributors, and consider sustainability and the environment.

Their work is available on their website,, as well as at select retail locations in Manitoba. Pieces have been donated to the art and ceremonial exhibit, “Walking with Our Sisters,” and they support Manitoba-based arts organizations and exhibits with donations of jewellery and vessels for fundraising events.

Their motto: “We make beautiful things for all people.”

Cohen Sieg – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #72

April 2018

Singer-Song Writer Cohen Sieg

Singer-Song Writer Cohen Sieg

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features Cohen Sieg. A life-long resident of Sieg’s Corner, he’s a sixteen-year old singer/songwriter and musician. When he was six, he took some beginner guitar lessons which kindled his interest in music. At the age of ten, he decided to commit and take some real lessons. And the rest, as they say, is history. Since then, he has been mainly self-taught.

His musical style is pop/folk but he also likes country, rock and a bit of blues. The guitar is his main instrument, but he has been known to pick up and play bass guitar, piano, drums, saxophone, clarinet, mandolin, ukulele, banjo, harmonica, trumpet, accordion, and an assortment of percussion instruments.

He also makes films, including music videos and similar creative projects. Working with Winnipeg Film Group, he made a music video and hopes to further explore this medium.

Cohen Seig "Celebrating Stories" event in Lac du Bonnet Library 2014

Cohen Seig

Sieg has always wanted to be an entertainer and strives to be the best musician he can be. He said, “I feel most confident when I’m on stage. I want to put on the best show for my audience. I try to write songs that spark an emotional response. I pour my heart out and strive to capture people’s souls.”

He has performed at gigs all over Manitoba such as Lac du Bonnet’s Fire & Water Music Festival (3 times), Selkirk events, and Red River Exhibition. He’s also played at venues all across Canada from Charlottetown, P.E.I. to Vancouver, B.C. He posts his work on social media sites such as Instagram and YouTube, and currently has a single out on ITunes, Spotify and Google Play.

Sieg is always working on new projects and he hopes to have an album out soon. He likes contests and has entered Canadian Music Class Challenge and CBC’s Searchlight (along with a video he made). One of his tunes placed second in a Steinbach song writing contest.

He said, “Every person interprets a song differently. I hope my work affects each individual in a unique way. As long as someone connects to my material, I did my job right.”

Roberta Laliberte – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #71

March 2018

Artist Roberta Laliberte

Artist Roberta Laliberte

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council revisits previously featured visual artist Roberta Laliberte, who grew up Pine Falls and still lives there.

When she was young, Laliberte learned by copying. In a small community, before the internet, it was all she had. She said, “I thought my art had to look super realistic. Later on, I wanted to show viewers how I saw the world, and not replicate it perfectly.”

She began studying artists online, learning techniques and finding new mediums to interpret in her own way. In 1993, she attended fine arts at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, but did not complete a degree. She said, “At the time, I didn’t see the value. Now I see it.”

Recently, she has developed her application process, influenced by every-day experiences. She prefers paper as a surface but likes mixed media, adding more of them to her repertoire, such as chalk pastels and different charcoals. Also, texture, shape and colour inspire her.

She said, “I now lean towards semi-abstract or abstract landscapes and still life, with loose, spontaneous passages and thick impasto sections.”

Laliberte instructs artist in schools, private classes, and online groups with students from all over the world. She helps teachers with professional development and has earned a Community Collaborative Arts Coordinator Certificate, awarded by Creative Manitoba, a Winnipeg organization dedicated to professional artists’ development. She spent a week at the Lincoln Center in New York, taking their International Educator Workshop, which uses inquiry-based approaches to learning.

She encourages students to explore and learn, just as children do. She said, “We decide at some point what we are good at and leave it at that. People tell me I’m talented. I have some skills but the one that serves me best is my tenacity.”

She has produced public art installations such as the one commissioned by a jury from Heritage Canada/La Maison Des Artistes for Library Allard in St. Georges, and created videos, such as the ones with Canada’s first Youth Walking Theatre Company. Her work has also been exhibited in shows throughout Manitoba. Supported by Manitoba Arts Council’s ArtsSmarts program, she has helped students create large installations. In 2000, Dateline Arts Magazine named her as one of their Artists of the Year.

Her favourite quote: “We were all born to create. What you make speaks to who you are and where you are in that moment, and it is good.”



Before They Migrate

Before They Migrate

Daryl Woodbeck – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #70

February 2018

Daryl Woodbeck

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features actor Daryl Woodbeck from Pinawa. By day, he works at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories as an Emergency Preparedness Officer, writing and reviewing policies and training personnel on emergency procedures.

After work, he brings his engaging personality to the Pinawa Players. An actor of long standing, he has honed his skills in plays as diverse as “Lend me A Tanner” (singing opera), “Lafferty’s Wake” (posing as an Irish performer), and, most recently, “Sadie Flynn Comes to Big Oak” (showcasing his comic timing alongside Myles Drynan, his long-term “partner in mime”).

Woodbeck said, “I love the thrill of being on stage, hearing the reaction of the audience, and knowing the cast has given the audience a new experience.”

His passion for live theatre began in the 1980’s as a backstage worker helping with props, set design, lighting, and sound management in Pinawa. After all this valuable experience, he ventured onto the stage with his first role in “The Nerd” and he has acted in plenty of plays ever since. Both Beausejour’s Haystack Productions and Gillam’s Live Wire Productions have benefitted from his work.

Offstage, Daryl has directed such works as “I Take This Man,” “Done to Death,” and “Leading Ladies.” In this last play, presented in 2009, a publicity photo showed him wearing a wig and a smartly tailored dress.

In “Moon over Buffalo,” he worked with his wife, Wanda. She will be directing this April’s production of “Calendar Girls” and Woodbeck will be the prompter for the women in the cast.

The Pinawa Players is now Manitoba’s longest running amateur company. Woodbeck encourages anyone interested in theatre to come and join this incredible group of people. His philosophy to acting is simple – “It has to be fun because the pay is lousy!”

Jim Niedermayer – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #69

January 2018

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council highlights a previously featured artist, chainsaw carver Jim Niedermayer. Born and raised in Powerview-Pine Falls, he currently resides in Silver Falls.

Niedermayer learned how to carve on his own. His father, a talented knife-maker and woodcarver, gave him a book on the subject and he worked at it for about six months. But he already knew how to handle a chainsaw. For years, he harvested wild rice from remote lakes. Any lumber he needed at his camp had to be made on the spot so he learned how to rip logs into boards freehand.

When he makes a carving, he uses full safety gear: pants, glasses, ear protection, steel toe boots, gloves, and respirator mask. Contrary to what some folks may feel when they pick up a chainsaw, Niedermayer said, “It’s actually calming for me, making something new out of a log, giving something a second chance, beyond the tree’s life.”
During the past few years, he has earned a growing profile in the chainsaw carving community. His work is scattered across most provinces, either from competing or being hired to create a work of art out of a tree stump in someone’s yard. He has even carved trees in a city park.

Wherever he goes, he serves as a mentor for new chainsaw artists and enjoys meeting carvers. He said, “They are like family. Even though we are competing, we help each other.”

Niedermayer has done demonstrations at many schools and festivals. This February, he will be appearing at the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg, alongside some of the top cavers from across Canada. Over the past eight years, he has participated in numerous competitions. One of the more memorable events was the Canadian Chainsaw Competition, held in London, Ontario. He won a fifth place, out of twelve of Canada’s top carvers.

His advice to anyone interested in getting into this kind of art – “Do not quit. There will be times when you think you reached your limits but just hang on and things get better. Chainsaw carving has it all, sport, art, and entertainment. The best thing is to go out and watch an event and you will learn a lot.”

Richard Cline – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #68

December 2017

Richard Cline

Richard Cline

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features visual artist, Richard Cline. Throughout his life, Cline has had a working relationship with the natural environment. Now retired in Seven Sisters, he worked for thirty years as a Conservation Officer (Game Warden) in Virden, Lynn Lake, Gillam, and Riverton. His knowledge of the animals and landscape is now expressed in his photo-realistic oil paintings.

Born in Glenboro, Cline learned basic drawing and painting skills from his mother. Initially expressing himself in cartooning and line drawing, he came to love the results achieved by a close examination of both line and colour in the animals and plants he found around his home. Researching master classical painters such as Rembrandt and modern masters such as Terry Isaac and Robert Bateman, Cline has worked to hone his talent in presenting accurate images for the viewer.

Recently he had the opportunity to work with Robert Bateman for a weekend Master Artists’ class on Cortez Island. Cline continues to take classes with other artists in the Pinawa Art Gallery, Steinbach Arts Centre, or with his mentor and friend, Gary Holden.

Cline has participated in the Eastman Judged Art Exhibitions including the Pinawa event (2013), Lac du Bonnet (2015) and Whitemouth (2017). In the latter, he was awarded first and third prize for his entries. He has also applied to be one of the artists in the second annual Boreal Shores Art Tour 2018.

His paintings display his respect and love of the world around him. Now he is challenging himself in a series of portraits as well as doing commissions for clients. He wants nothing more than to continually improve his skills.

To inspire himself and other artists, he quotes this simple assertion from renowned Canadian artist, Robert Bateman, “If you truly love art, JUST DO IT!”

Fay Campbell – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #67

November 2017

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features one of Pinawa’s “pioneers,” Fay Campbell. In 1963, she moved from Chalk River and fell in love with the lively spirit of the town and its wilderness surroundings. After her arrival, she met Joyce Hampton, a landscape specialist, who was already finding success as an artist. Campbell signed up as Hampton’s pupil and immediately started to develop her own artistic skills. In subsequent years, Rose Drynan and Vivian Thomson have also mentored her.

In the town’s growing art community, Campbell found further support and encouragement, especially after the formation of the artists’ collective, Pinawa Art 211, and later, the Pinawa Art Gallery.

She is now a “snowbird” and lives part of the year in Texas with her husband Wilf. During her time away from Pinawa, she takes art classes, and teaches and mentors other aspiring artists, completing the circle of instruction.

When Pinawa friends and neighbours move to new jobs, her art often show up in their luggage, as reminders of their former homeland’s beauty.

She said, “My paintings have gone international. They are now hanging in Indonesia, Jakarta, and England, to name a few countries.”

Campbell has found another outlet to display her work, with the many recent Eastman Judged Art Exhibitions in our region. In 2013, she won a third place prize in water colour for her painting “Poppies,” and an Honourable Mention for her acrylic painting of still life hydrangeas. In the 2017, the EJAE judges awarded a first place to her acrylic painting, “Winter Trail.” After a short viewing interlude at the Pinawa Art gallery, this piece found a home in a private collection.

Campbell said, “I regret that there is not enough time for all the paintings I’d like to create but I definitely plan to continue my journey as an artist in Eastern Manitoba.”

Heather Westdal – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #66

October 2017

Heather Westdal

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council features artist Heather Westdal. A long-time Pinawa resident, she recently retired from her position as Home Economics teacher at Pinawa Senior School.

In 2013, a friend challenged Westdal to discover her “inner visual artist.” Both of them already shared a strong background in music. They played in Pinawa’s Community Band and Heather often performed with the school’s jazz band and the musical ensemble, Satin Dolls. But they wanted to try something new and different in their lives. Westdal decided to try visual art for her challenge.

In January of that same year, Winnipeg River Arts Council partnered with Pinawa Art 211 to offer drawing lessons, taught by Mary Louise Chown. Westdal signed up for the classes and was immediately captivated by Chown’s quiet, supportive instructional style. When asked to draw a piece with a repetitive design, Westdal focused on a philodendron plant. This exercise later became her first acrylic painting.

These classes sparked Westdal’s connection to canvas and paints. She joined the group of artists who run the Pinawa Art Gallery, known as Pinawa Art 211. With encouragement and support from these artists, her work progressed quickly. Although early creations were landscaped-based, she has since developed her painting skills and now incorporates textural concepts. She used this technique in “The Buddha,” an image which she entered in the recent Eastman Judged Art Exhibition hosted by Whitemouth. In 2015, she entered her work in the previous EJAE, held in Lac du Bonnet.

She continues to expand her knowledge of acrylic painting through ongoing mentorship from the Pinawa Art Gallery artists, as well as the use of books and art magazine. When asked about her inspiration, Westdal said, “I find my muse using photos. They provide a back story and this narrative informs my interpretation.”

The use of photos also applies to her commissioned paintings. She said, “These works involve many discussions with the owner of the photos. These conversations help create the final painting.”

Leah Boulet – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #65

September 2017

Leah Boulet

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council revisits a previously featured artist, Leah Boulet. Born and raised in Pine Falls, she moved to Silver Falls in 1987, and then moved to St-Georges in 1995. Boulet has many artistic talents but, right now, she is focused on pen and water colour illustration. She says, “I like illustrating better than fine art.”

To enhance her skills, she has taken courses from well-known rural artists: Pinawa’s Brenda McKenzie, Pine Falls’ Roberta Laliberte, and Winnipeg Beach’s Heidi Hunter. She reads books about illustration, has completed online courses such as “Sketchbook Skool,” and follows internet artists, including Jonathan Twingley from United States, Felix Scheinberger from Germany, and Prashan Miranda from Canada/East India.

Boulet completed a Human Ecology Degree, where she studied design and fashion illustration, with clothing/textile major and business minor, and did her practicum with a magazine. Presently, she puts her business skills to use, working as an accounting clerk for Rural Municipality of Alexander. Last spring, she co-instructed an art course with Roberta Laliberte. She did four weeks on drawing and Roberta did four weeks on water colours. Prior to that, she taught a year of high school art.

Last year, the editor Wayne Chan asked to include her story and two of her illustrations in his collection of short stories, Manitoba at Christmas. Her photography has been exhibited at St-Georges Museum and her art has also been shown at the school. At this point, she’s not interested in prizes, but she’d like to enter arts shows, such as Eastman Judged Art Exhibition in the future.

A few years ago, Boulet discovered “Sketchcrawlers,” the concept of getting artists together to sketch outside. This idea started in United States and has since spread across the world. She says, “I wanted to try it. So I invited one friend. It felt scary to sketch in public, like I was pretending to be something I wasn’t. But it got me outside to enjoy the summer.”

After that, she kept inviting people of all skill levels to join her, and created a Facebook group called “River Sketchcrawlers.” Anyone interested in sketching can check out this page, sign up for notifications, and join the fun. The artists meet in the summer, on Monday nights, at a location that it is announced a couple of days earlier. If it is raining, they move into a shelter.

Boulet says, “I love the creative process, making something where nothing existed. I also love the stories that you find in art.”


Donna Besel – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #64

August 2017

Donna Besel (photo by David Griffin Whyte)

Donna Besel

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council updates the profile of a previously featured artist, Donna Besel. This award-winning author loves writing of all kinds. For almost ten years, she has taught creative writing workshops in schools from Gillam to Sprague, through the Manitoba Arts Council’s province-wide “Artists in the Schools” program. Her message to writers, young and old: “You have something to say, and the right to say it.”

Besel knows Eastman well. She grew up in Whiteshell Provincial Park, went to high school in Whitemouth, and lived in the Riverland area of Lac du Bonnet for almost thirty-five years. She is now located further north on the shores of the Winnipeg River, in St-Georges.

She likes to paint and draw, plays guitar, writes songs, and has taught visual art, music, and drama. Since its inception in 2009, she has served on the WRAC board and strongly believes in its motto: “Connecting people through art.”

Besel’s work has appeared in various national publications and on CBC radio, and she has presented at forums, conferences, workshops, libraries, and universities. Her writing has won prizes from publications such as Prairie Fire and This Magazine, and reached finalist level in CBC’s Literary Awards three times.

In 2012, she spoke about life as a rural writer at the Manitoba Writers’ Guild national symposium. For seven years, she served on the MWG board, a province-wide organization, supporting writers and writing.

In 2016, the Manitoba Book Awards nominated Besel as one of Manitoba’s most promising writers and nominated her collection of short stories, Lessons from a Nude Man, for the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction. This book also earned a fourth place spot on McNally Robinson Bookstore’s 2015 bestsellers list. In the same year, she received a Canada Council grant and a two-week residency at the Deep Bay cabin in Riding Mountain National Park from Manitoba Arts Council.

In January of this year, Canada’s ReLit Awards nominated Besel’s book for their national shortlist. In May, the University of Manitoba featured her in their alumni magazine, UM Today, in an article about overcoming adversity.

When asked what motivates her writing, Besel quotes from Anne Lamott, a famous writing teacher: “You own everything that has happened to you. Tell your stories.”

St-Georges Historical Society – Local Orginization – Issue #63

July 2017

Reception at Lalour Art Exhibit

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features St-Georges Historical Society. This organization started out early in 1968, shortly after Canada’s hundredth anniversary, when the community of St-Georges, participated in many centennial events. The Women’s Catholic League (Ligue des femmes catholiques) was primarily responsible for its creation, after they met in the local church basement and formed the first committee.

In 1970, the society incorporated, just in time for Manitoba’s centennial celebrations, and the St-Georges Museum soon opened its doors to the public. Since then, board members and volunteers have run the museum and its programs, with Jean Dupont acting as the curator. After his demise, the society created a foundation in his name and his estate donated the first funds.

Created as a regional museum, one of the first in the area, the St-George facility was also a founding member of the Association of Manitoba Museums. In October of 2012, it received a plaque from the association to commemorate this distinction. In May of 2014, fire destroyed a large part of the building, damaging exhibits and artifacts, but volunteers worked hard to preserve items that could be salvaged.

At present, the society operates out of a temporary location at Place McDougall in St-Georges, and partners with Allard Library, where most of their events are held. Every year, it organizes its schedule in advance and their regular program includes art shows, Crèche Festival, summer camp, travelling exhibits, and temporary exhibits.

Since 2014, Diane Dubé has served as volunteer director-curator. Once the new museum is open, she will be replaced by a director and a part-time assistant. In the summer, two students will help with seasonal activities, as well as working on the archives.

Winnipeg River Arts Council – Local Orginization – Issue #62

June 2017

Art Gallery in Pinawa

Art Gallery in Pinawa

For this month, WRAC highlights itself. Even though this organization has been around for a while, people still have questions. To help explain the arts council, here’s a brief overview of its origin, function, and goals.

In March of 2009, a group met to figure out how to develop a regional arts council and promote local visual, performing, and literary arts. After many meetings and lots of help from Winnipeg River Community Futures, the group made presentations to local communities. As a result, the towns of Powerview/Pine Falls and Lac du Bonnet, rural municipalities of Lac du Bonnet and Alexander, and local government district of Pinawa agreed to provide funding.

In 2011, WRAC incorporated as a non-profit and formed a ten-member board, with two individuals from each of the participating municipalities. Their first tasks: work on constitution and organizational structures, conduct an arts inventory. At present, board members attend monthly meetings, provide direction to the council, fundraise, and help out at events. Additional volunteers are recruited, as needed.

WRAC’S administrator, Jennifer Hudson Stewart, works in the Winnipeg River Community Futures Office in Lac du Bonnet (Tuesday and Thursday, from 9:00 until 12:00). She creates monthly newsletters, updates the Facebook page, and meets with local groups to promote the arts. She keeps track of finances, attends province-wide and Winnipeg workshops that support rural councils, and does the logistical groundwork to bring large events to the region.

She also organizes the rural youth mentorship program, which had paid six local artists to mentor local youth. If artists or organizations need assistance, she can answer questions, and help them write grants to support their projects. As many people know, funders are much more willing to provide financial assistance through an existing arts council.

Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre

WRAC’s main goal is to support local artists and arts organizations. Here’s a list of just some events it has partnered with or supported: 4P Festival, Fire &Water, Eastman Judged Arts Shows, Pinawa Art Gallery, Pinawa Players, Eastern Manitoba Concert Association, Boreal Shores Art Tour, photo exhibits, library events/displays, workshops, author readings, youth mentorships. Every month, WRAC highlights an artist or arts organizations via local media, newsletter, and website. Also, WRAC has brought four well-received Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre touring plays to Great Falls, Pinawa, and Lac du Bonnet.

On July 27, at 7:00 p.m., WRAC will host a national touring production called “Dreamcatchers” at Pinawa Community Centre. It is a free, family-friendly musical celebration of Canada 150 and features dozens of lively young performers. On December 9, a special seasonal show, the much-loved “Christmas Carol” will be presented at the Lac du Bonnet Community Centre, as a finale to the year-long 100th anniversary celebration.

Art by Bernice Phillips

In the future, WRAC hopes to add more communities, including First Nations, adjacent rural municipalities, and provincial parks east of Highway 11 and north of Highway 317. WRAC brochures are available throughout the region and membership is open to artists, citizens, arts organizations, and businesses. Members pay fees and have voting privileges at Annual General Meeting. Privileges include newsletter subscription and reduced rates for programs. Membership forms, with all the fees and categories listed, are available on WRAC website.

Local artists create quilts, books, paintings, fibre art, theatre, plays, videos, music, concerts, crafts, photography, wood carvings, sculpture, needlework, pottery, and much, much more. WRAC’s motto is “connecting people through art” and this organization is working hard to find, promote, and support all of these artists in as many ways as possible.

Wings of Power – Focus on Local Orginization – Issue #61

May 2017

Wings of Power

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council features Wings of Power, a social services organization, located in Powerview-Pine Falls, where it provides support for family and children, and adults with disabilities. It also serves people in adjacent communities, including Sagkeeng, the Beaches, St- Georges, Great Falls, Broadlands, Black River, and Hollow Water.

Wings of Power originated when Powerview School staff recognized that local preschool-aged children needed access to school readiness programs. Founded in 1997, it was recognized as an official organization in June of 1998. Paul Magnan and Paul Barnard, in cooperation with Sunrise School Division, initiated the concept.

A. Armstrong – Employee

It offers a variety of programs, services, and events. All are free and open to everyone. They host two summer barbeques, a fall harvest dinner, and breakfast with Santa. In their main building, they offer prenatal/ postnatal education, Mothers and Daughters in Touch program, and Circle of Security parenting. They host a free lending library and run a drop-in centre with free internet, phone, and fax service. The thrift store sells clothing items for $1.00 each.

Many of the children’s programs involve arts activities. In Grand Marais, Pine Falls, and Hollow Water, they offer “Lil Gigglers” – weekly parent/child play groups for kids from birth to five years old. In summer, they host eight weeks of activities for boys and girls. In partnership with Powerview School, they operate Little Wings Preschool for three and four year-olds, provide the breakfast program food, and run cooking classes for kids, twice a year.

They own a Pine Falls home where two youth with disabilities live, and run a Helping Hands program for eight young people with disabilities. All of them volunteer at the hospital, local businesses, organizations, and personal care homes.

The organization employs four managers, twelve full-time, and six part-time employees. A six member board supervises overall operations. In 2016/17 fiscal year, more than 6000 people accessed their building, programs, and events. Department of Families and Healthy Child fund 82% of programs and the other 18% is financed by grants and private donations. IERHA is a major partner.

With these ongoing partnerships and programs, Wings of Power shows their strong belief in their stated mission – “Building a better community one person at a time.”

The Thrift Shop

Grace Kost – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #60

April 2017

Grace Kost

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features quilter Grace Kost. Originally from Milner Ridge, Kost moved to Lac du Bonnet for her grade nine. She has lived there ever since, including fifty-one years in the same house.

In the 1980’s, Kost discovered her passion for quilting. Although she’s mostly self-taught, she has attended workshops in Winnipeg, Minneapolis, and various nearby American cities. After years of getting together with local quilters and learning complicated sewing methods, she started to design her own patterns. In collaboration with Anne Longston, Kost created “Sugar Maple Quilts” and soon various outlets began to sell their original motifs across Canada. Examples of their design projects include “Canadian Kids at Play” and another one called “Provincial Floral Emblems,” donated to raise money for breast cancer.

Kost says, “I like playing with colour. I love trying new techniques and styles.”

Her deceased husband, the acclaimed visual artist Robert Kost, influenced her a great deal. She says, “I learned about composition and colour. He constantly studied famous artists and read books about art. We shared many hours talking about art and design.”

Now retired, Kost previously worked as a realtor for Century 21. She wanted a career with a flexible schedule so she could accompany Robert on his travels to locate new scenery and subjects. On August 19 and 20, she will welcome the public to her Lac du Bonnet home, as part of the Boreal Shores Art Tour. She will be showing and selling selected items from her collection of Robert’s paintings and silk screen prints. Also, Pinawa’s Stu Iverson plans to use his photography skills and ink-jet printer to create giclee fine art prints from specially chosen examples of Robert’s work.

Kost has taken creative writing sessions with local author Donna Besel, enjoys musical gatherings, looks forward to classes with talented wood carvers Cathy and Rick Brereton, and loves “making messes and planning concerts” with her grandchildren.

She says, “Here’s my advice. Jump in. Expect surprises. As the old saying goes – your hand will please your eye.”

Boreal Shores Art Tour – August 19th & 20th, 2017

Creativity runs deep in Eastern Manitoba and inspiration flows at every turn. From the surreal east shore beaches of Lake Winnipeg, through the Winnipeg River System to the rugged lake country of the Whiteshell, join us on a tour of art and landscapes as artists across this beautiful region open their homes and studios to share their world with you.

More information here …..


Fire & Water Music Festival – August 4th – 6th, 2017

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August Long Weekend 2017

The Fire & Water Music Festival is a festival created and built for artists by artists. On August Long Weekend we come together to celebrate musicians, visual artists, sideshow performers, dancers and artisans alike.

The Fire & Water Music Festival offers three stages featuring independent music, artist workshops and children’s programming that is fun for all ages. We bring it all together with the Art Wave Art Show and the Artisan Square Trade and Craft Show featuring local visual artists.

Many of our fans plan their summer around this weekend, with regular fans coming in from all over Canada and as far away as Europe. Our 2014 Festival weekend even included a wedding!

More information here…..


Summer Winds Family Music Festival – July 21 & 22, 2017

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July 21 & 22, 2017

Our first music festival‘s attendance was about 400 people, and has increased to thousands each year. The Summer Winds Family Music Festival to date has raised approximately $200,000, thanks to the support of cash and in-kind donations from area residents and businesses, as well as the commitment of our festival fans.

Our success has been wonderful, but we still have a long road ahead of us. This year’s goal is to raise $60,000 to continue with the development of the new Victoria Beach Community Centre. Please help us make this dream a reality!

More information here…..


Lac du Bonnet and District Historical Society – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #59

March 2017

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features the Lac du Bonnet and District Historical Society. Incorporated on January 18, 1988, this organization received charitable designation status effective January 1, 1991.

Local residents established the Society to assemble and preserve the history of the Lac du Bonnet area. Their goals also include: planning ways to make sure future generations learn about the past, developing programs and facilities, seeking input from community. Because of limited resources, they have learned to be innovative and prudent to achieve these goals.

Gordon Emberley, who also served as chair of the local Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee, helped establish the Society. From the start, they realized that no such organization had ever existed in Lac du Bonnet.

The project off to a slow start and stalled during in the early 1990’s. Society member Gus Wruck said, “However, in the mid-2000’s, the donation of a log cabin called the Erickson dwelling revived interest.”

The moving and restoration of the Erickson cabin proved to be a truly creative project. It ended with the pioneer home being reinvented as a museum at Halliday Park, located along PR 502, near Lac du Bonnet. It is open primarily during summer months and other times by appointment. Visitors can visit the Society’s website for more detailed information.

The Society serves Town of Lac du Bonnet, RM of Lac du Bonnet, and Ward 4 of the RM of Alexander. It also attracts visitors from the summer population. Membership is open to the public and they always welcome individuals and families who support their activities and want to help out.

Every year, they host several fundraisers, a Heritage Day, a cultural awareness event, and other activities to recognise and celebrate the past. Fundraising events help folks learn more about the history of the area. Operations are supported by donations, municipal, provincial and federal grants.

There are no employees except for the summer student who is hired annually on a casual basis. Board members often volunteer for programs and projects. They hold monthly meetings and have worked hard to develop an updated Strategic Plan.


Pam Habing – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #58

February 2017

Pam Habing

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features Pam Habing.

Habing likes to experiment with different types of art so calls herself a mixed media artist. Right now, she really loves tile mosaics and alcohol inks. She grew up in Beausejour but lived in Winnipeg for twenty years. In the fall of 2014, she moved to Lac du Bonnet to be closer to family and she now works at Community Futures Winnipeg River.

While in Winnipeg, Habing lived for eight years in a loft above MAWA (Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art) and she often got together with fellow artists for art parties. From them, she learned techniques and explored new methods.

She said, “Working with different mediums and colors is therapy, particularly during the winter, dealing with seasonal depression. Also, nature inspires me every day.”

She has many close artist-friends, including Annie Bergen and Stacy Hildebrand. Another artist who inspired her was Marcus Bauer, a former roommate. Habing worked with Bergen on a mosaic mural project on a wall of the old Occidental Hotel, at the corner of Main and Logan. She said, “It took four years and I’m really proud to have been a part of it.”

Although she’s mostly self-taught, Habing attended Red River College in 2004 and graduated from the two year Digital Multimedia Technology Program, which included graphic design, drawing and illustration classes, animation, web design, and video/audio production. While taking these courses, she drew every day.

Habing hasn’t done any formal art instructing but has developed and taught web development courses, geared towards female artists. While involved with MAWA, she designed and maintained their website, created a workshop in partnership with Reva Stone, and taught a DIY workshop on building websites, using online resources.

She has sold a handful of pieces, but mostly makes art because she loves it. Her work has been exhibited in two shows, both at MAWA. One was a fundraiser called “Healing Hands, Healing Art” and another was a show she curated called “Tree Stories.”

Habing said, “I hope that my art sparks curiosity in others to explore, create and have fun! I’ve never considered myself a serious artist but I’ve realized over the years that everyone has the ability to create.”

Ginette McMullen – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #57

January 2017

Ginette McMullen

For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features writer Ginette McMullen.

At present, she lives in St. Georges, and she has lived there most of her life. She attended  elementary school in St. Georges and went to high school in Powerview. She is employed by Interlake-Eastman Regional Health Authority, working in Support Services.

McMullen writes mostly short stories: creative nonfiction and fiction. She is also working on a book. She is intrigued by people’s stories, present or past. Their courage inspires and motivates her to sit down and put pen to paper. She likes to record their struggles and trauma, and reflect on the ways humans of all ages overcome injustice.

Living in St. George, near the shores of the Winnipeg River, she is surrounded by nature. This love of the outdoors also feeds her passion for creating prose. Her grandsons are another inspiration. She said, “Their honesty, love and laughter give me energy for life.”

For as long as she can remember, she has been interested in writing and telling stories. From an early age, she had plenty of access to books. Her mother encouraged everyone in her family to read and made books a big part of her life. In high school, she had teachers who were passionate about writing. She said, “They fueled me to learn all I could.”

McMullen has attended writing classes and workshops instructed by local author Donna Besel. Although she sometimes struggles to identify herself as a “serious writer,” she has shared and read her stories to fellow students in these classes and workshop settings. She has also submitted short stories the CBC Creative Nonfiction Contest.

She likes to remind herself that her experiences and her commitment to writing are closely connected. One of her favourite quotes is: “Don’t shelf your passion for life, it is life.”

Tammy Holland – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #56

December 2016

Tammy Holland

Tammy Holland

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council features Tammy Holland, a visual artist from Molson, near Seddon’s Corner. She began drawing after spending a night out with teenage pals, experimenting with her mother’s homemade chokecherry wine. She got grounded for two weeks with no phone, no friends, and no television.

She said, “Once the hangover passed and boredom set in, I started drawing house plants and then the cat. I’m sure that cat was posing for me. Before long, I was no longer bored and I didn’t mind the solitude.”

Being shy and her own worse critic, she kept her art to herself. However, friends and family soon noticed her talent. In her twenties, she took a drawing class at Winnipeg Art Gallery, to balance the demands of university and nursing school. In art, she found her life passion. However, people told her that artists starve and only become famous after they die. Her family encouraged her to find a profession that paid the bills.

Holland’s second passion involves helping others, as a nurse. She has worked in several northern stations, in Churchill, Manitoba, as a flight nurse serving Arctic communities, and in Dauphin as an emergency nurse. She is now a home care nurse with IERHA.

Holland learned more about art from books, videos, workshops, and the late Bob Ross. She enjoys acrylics and water colours. Recently, she studied clay sculpture again, at Winnipeg Art Gallery. She loves clay but gets impatient waiting for the pieces to dry and gets discouraged when they don’t survive the firing process.

Surrounded by nature’s beauty, she finds inspiration in everything and everybody. She loves observing her pets’ antics; they often end up as subjects. In the past few years, she has found the courage to enter local shows. The first time, judges awarded her two honorable mentions. These prizes jumped-started her inspiration; she won third and second place in following competitions. In February, she will stage her first solo show at Lazy Tuesdays Restaurant, Seddon’s Corner. She has also done some commissioned pieces.

Holland said, “I consider myself an out-of-the-closet artist. A fledgling in the great big world of art.”

Jan Claude – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #55

November 2016

Jan Claude

Jan Claude

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council features visual artist Jan Claude.

Before she moved to Bird River, she lived in Winnipeg for most of her life. In 2010, her family’s cottage became their primary residence. Settling in the beautiful boreal wilderness of eastern Manitoba helped her develop as an artist.

She said, “I am a self-taught watercolour artist who painted part-time but this is where I am now able to explore the medium in a concentrated way.”

Claude loves watercolour as a medium and uses a variety of techniques in her work – from loose washes to detailed crispness – trying to evoke a feeling or capture a moment. She believes that much of the creative process in watercolour is directed by the paint and water and paper – the artist really just guides it.

Every time she paints she views it as an exciting new experience. She never quite knows how it will turn out and finds painting to be incredibly rewarding. She always hopes that she will have captured a moment and evoked a feeling in the finished painting.

In 2015, Claude entered her first juried art show, winning first and third place in the watercolour category. She was also accepted into the Manitoba Arts Network Rural and Northern Juried Art Exhibit in 2016 at the Pavilion Gallery in Assiniboine Park. She belongs to both the Pinawa and Gwen Fox Art Galleries, and the Boreal Shores Art Tour. She hopes to have her website open in the near future:

Regarding her abiding love of watercolour painting, she said, “I find great inspiration in the beauty and diversity of the land and people that surround us in this great country, and by the hand of God behind it all.”

Andreas Oertel – Focus on Local Artists – Issue #54

October 2016

Andreas Oertel

Andreas Oertel

For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council features Andreas Oertel, a writer from Lac du Bonnet. He was born in Germany, but has lived most of his life in Manitoba. Fifteen years ago, he moved to Lac du Bonnet with his wife. They both enjoy living in the area and look forward to retiring here.

His books of fiction are very popular with middle grade readers. Five of them have been published – History in the Faking, Stones of Time, Trouble at Impact Lake, Panama Pursuit, and Prisoner of Warren. His first book, History in the Faking, was nominated for a Silver Birch Award and a Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award.

Oertel always wanted to be a writer. His interest began in his late teens and this passion has never left him. Although he is basically self-taught, over the years, he has read dozens of books on the craft of writing. And he is constantly writing and re-writing. He admits his early attempts at fiction were pretty bad and he accumulated dozens of rejection letters. But he didn’t let that stop him. He says, “I was determined, so I kept at it — reading, studying, writing, and submitting my work to publishers.”

Throughout the year, he does many school visits and readings, but hasn’t done any formal instructing. His advice to aspiring writers: read fiction, read books on writing, and practice, practice, practice.

He says, “When you sit down to write your first story, don’t become obsessed with perfecting the first draft. In other words, don’t stress about grammar, typos, and sentence structure. If you try to make every sentence and every paragraph and every page perfect, you’ll get bogged down and discouraged. So spill your guts and complete that first draft. It’s satisfying to edit and fine-tune a story, but you have to finish the story first.”