Despite their unique and important contributions to the Okanagan, artists don’t often receive the recognition they deserve.
“Most students can quickly name a local athlete or an accomplished actor or musician from here, but chances are that few, including the art students, can tell you about any of the incredible artists that have called the Okanagan Valley home,” said artist and West Kelowna’s Mount Boucherie Secondary School art instructor Jim Elwood. “I wanted to change that.”
This realization was the starting point for Elwood to launch the Elder Artists in Classrooms Project. The project’s aim is to honour the rich history of visual arts in the Okanagan Valley and to show the importance of connecting that history to young artists.
The project partnered seven teachers in the Central Okanagan Public Schools with the work of seven elder artists from the Okanagan Valley region, including Lee Claremont, Bob Kingsmill, Mary Smith McCulloch, and the late artists Mary Bull, Gwen Lamont, Daphne Odjig and Vernon’s own Allan Brooks.
Born in northern India, Brooks is one of the most significant wildlife artists in Canadian history, having pieces featured in both National Geographic and Birds of Canada. Recently, the federal government declared Brooks a person of national historic significance.
Nearly 200 art students from Grades 4 to 12 learned about their elder artist as a person, as an artist, and as a member of the Okanagan community. Lessons focused on how each of these alder artists explored subject matter, colour, style and composition to communicate their understanding of their surroundings and their community.
Students then created works of art inspired by the purpose and presentation of the elder artist that they studied, with 65 of the resulting works selected to be included in the exhibition at the Kelowna Art Gallery.
“We are so pleased to be able to share the work that youth created as a result of this experience,” said Nataley Nagy, Kelowna Art Gallery executive director. “It is clear that the students were able to learn more about and make strong connections with their elder artists, and hopefully a more meaningful connection with their community as well.”
The project is on display at the Kelowna Art Gallery until Nov. 26. For more information about current exhibitions, public programming, or special events, visit them online at www.kelownaartgallery.com or call 250-762-2226.