Prairie Scenes

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After I'd spent a few years chasing about the prairies with her, I began to forgive the old buildings for depriving me of a real holiday and, eventually, I became infected with her enthusiasm for them. I shared her anticipation when we drove off the highway to explore yet another lost village in Saskatchewan, or walked to the end of an overgrown Caragana hedge to see what was on the other side.

Of course poking about in the hinterland had a purpose beyond the delights and surprises it offered us. Later on, at home, Deanna would browse through the resultant library of slides until she settled on a scene-an old garage, an abandoned farmstead, or whatever struck her fancy at that moment. Then she would set about depicting it with her art. It was a bit random and uncoordinated, but it worked for her. This is the way it was-in the beginning. When her work became better known and appreciated, much of it was determined by the increasing number of commissions.

She responded best to vintage buildings and forgotten farmhouses and such obscure things. These subjects she preferred and they best suited her art, but she was inclined to accept most of the commissions offered to her, and these sometimes included a modern structures that were perhaps more suited to architectural models than to her unique style. However, it was in her nature to want to please people, and she took them on against the advice I would have offered her if I hadn't already known that she would disregard it.

She liked commissions because she enjoyed the positive responses she usually received from customers when the final product was handed over. Of course she also enjoyed receiving the money from her commissions and sales, but it was more than money to her, it was a symbol of appreciation for her work.

She was once offered an opportunity to have her work mass-produced using some kind of resilient material. The project would only require her to do the basic models and later to put a stroke of paint and signature on each mass-produced item. They would do the rest. They promised her big money for doing it, but she wasn't the least interested and she turned them down flat.

She loved what she did and how she did it. She took pride in the fact that all her work was completely her work, that everything came from basic materials applied with her own hand, that everything she did was a "one-of", and that the prairie scenes she depicted, where the buildings come back to merge with the plane, are unlike anything else in the world. That's all very true, but it's more than that. Her prairie scenes have a small quotient of magic in them. If you stand five or ten feet away from one of them, and if you stare hard at it long enough, you begin to feel like you could almost get there from here, if only you could try harder. You can't, unfortunately, but at that moment you're about as close as you can get to the real thing without actually being there.

Aside from the Batts School and one early farmstead-a multiple commission from a friend and her family members-she didn't repeat any of her large prairie scene sculptures. As far as I know, every other prairie scene is original and singular. On a few occasions she sculpted an elevator from both the track side and the railway side, but these sculptures still qualify as one-of-a kind because of the change in vantage point.

The buildings and trees are depicted as we found them, although she might not include all of the trees and bushes. One day we encountered an abandoned garage with a tire on its roof and that's the way she depicted it. Occasionally she would add a tractor or an old vehicle to a scene-or possibly a yard pump or some minor object-in order to enhance it.

She became quite excited when she found something unusual-the pink house near Bow Island, for example. She was very fond of junk piles and insisted on close-up photos from various angles, which explains several of my favourite scars.

She signed and dated everything she made, even the smallest items.

When she wasn't making a big piece (this includes her large owls), she would sculpt small things-butterflies, flowers, small owls and mammals. She did hundreds and hundreds of such things-maybe thousands, I lost count. They were our bread-and-butter items, sold mainly in the Artisan's Gallery during our early years at the Calgary Stampede.

She worked constantly and it was hard work. She was at it for hours and hours nearly every day for thirty-five years. When I close my eyes I see her at her work table, her head bent over her sculpture, paint brush in her hand.


Click on images to enlarge


Along Highway 14

An Alberta Place

An Early Farmstead

Badlands No. 1

Badlands No. 2

Badlands No. 3

Batts School

Bits and Pieces

Chore Coat

Church in the Badlands

Cornation Station

Country General Store

Deserted Farmstead

Donst Farm

Dunmore Cash Store

Farmstead with Old Car

Firetruck

Flaxton North Dakota

Frostad's Garage

General Store with Church