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I miss many things about Saskatchewan, some that are not even gone. I still miss the old Capitol Theatre in Saskatoon, the interior reminded me of Romeo and Juliet, and it was part of my childhood. Torn down for a mall.
I miss my father, William Perehudoff, an artist, who of course was part of my childhood, and who now is so recently and shockingly – though yes it was expected – gone.
I miss the Mendel Art Gallery & Civic Conservatory, a stunning, well-loved early sixties modernist building on the South Saskatchewan River, which is still there and won’t be torn down (I hope), but as an art gallery will soon give way to the new Remai Art Gallery located a nudge farther along the riverbank.
And yes, yes, I’m sure I’ll fall in love with the Remai Art Gallery, too, but right now I am in mourning, because the Mendel was my part of my childhood, as my father was, and because when I walked over to the Mendel the day after my father’s funeral, Alison Norlen’s show LUNA was so crazy and shiny and faux-Eifel-Towery it cheered me up.
Now here is my new target of mourning – the closure of the famous, and sometimes infamous, Emma Lake Workshops, which my family’s summers were centred around (and still often are), and where hundreds of artists came for painting vacations, sculpture workshops, crafts and the intense camaraderie of being with like-minded creators. The Emma Lake Artists Workshop takes place at a rustic art camp now called the Kenderdine Campus, part of the University of Saskatchewan, in northern Saskatchewan. The workshops brought in a number of art star New Yorkers in the 60s and 70s such as critic Clement Greenberg and artists Kenneth Noland and Frank Stella. Even composer John Cage made it up there (and got lost in the muskeg).
Other artists from all over the world have been there, and it’s part of our Canadian cultural history. The workshops have continued to struggle on – until now. According to the CBC, “The U of S has decided to close the Kenderdine Campus at Emma Lake for the next three years.”
And there goes another part of my childhood.
Will the Emma Lake workshops be resurrected? Are things ever? I don’t know. But let me tell you about Emma Lake, a little epitaph.
What were the Emma Lake Artists Workshops?
The Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus is a mismatched collection of studios and decrepit wooden cabins and deep forest and mosquitoes and an old biology building and aluminum canoes and a round dining hall that looks out over the lake and moss and artists and craftspersons (and sometimes biologists and once I saw some gymnasts there).
It’s like a huge mud-mucked painting with twigs and smashed wild strawberries and pine needles all stuck in the mess, with maybe some leeches underneath the thick paint, and a few old palettes and some silver metallic acrylic slashed overtop. And it’s beautiful. Like an Anselm Kiefer painting maybe, if he were to come to the Saskatchewan boreal forest.
A thaw will come
I keep thinking of TS Eliot’s line in the Wasteland, that “April is the cruellest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land.”
But this is still winter, at least in Saskatchewan, and winter, Eliot says, keeps “us warm, covering/Earth in forgetful snow/ feeding a little life with dried tubers.”
I think there is comfort there somewhere, but at the same time I think these things are the snow: my father, the Mendel and Emma Lake. They will breed the lilacs. Even as they melt away.
More about William Perehudoff:
The Optimism of Colour: William Perehudoff rides again
I love my dad: William Perehudoff in Victoria
William Perehudoff at the Glenbow Art Gallery in Calgary