CARBERRY — Weaving together a rich tapestry of Westman artists, Drawn Together has been providing a platform for rural creatives to connect through a united passion.
Drawn Together launched in 2015 and is centred on the philosophy of finding support for rural-based artists in the Westman region, said member Colleen Granger.
Since its inception, the group has served to help inspire members and grow their art practice.
“It’s not just you’re a great artist — you’re a great artist and great person. That’s what keeps us going,” Granger said.
The founders of the group would often lament the fact that people would work alone in their studios, or live in more rural areas of Westman, limiting the opportunity for artists to engage with each other, said longtime member Amy Buehler.
Nobody was getting any ideas or feedback from other artists, she said, so they thought they would gauge interest in creating a group. Membership to the group is through invitation.
The first meeting took place in a Brandon restaurant, and initially, about a dozen members joined the group.
These numbers have held consistent for the past six years — although they have seen members come and go.
Artist Mary Lowe has been a member of Drawn Together since its inception. It was an interesting experience when Drawn Together first formed because not everyone knew each other, yet they were able to connect through word-of-mouth and mutual friends to create a robust artist collective.
“It was very organic,” Lowe said.
The incredible input provided by a talented group of women is invaluable, she said. It has been a wonderful experience that has only pushed them as artists.
“It’s a good way to talk about work because I used to go to an opening at the Brandon art gallery and not ever have a conversation with anybody because I didn’t know anybody,” said artist Anne Fallis. “That’s now been solved.”
Buehler added a number of members had been involved with the program Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art that served to connect mature women artists with developing women artists. They had participated in the project and really enjoyed the experience, Buehler said.
During the program, they would have productive discussions with a focus on “women and art.”
The only catch was the program was centred in Winnipeg, so artists decided to bring something similar to the Brandon area.
“Making art is a very solitary thing. You can be staring at your work way too much [and start to have doubts],” Granger said. “It’s really good to have a place to come and share your work.”
Drawn Together currently has 10 members, and they are glad to see it has survived many changes, including participants moving away and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The majority of members come from university fine arts training, and this helps create stimulating and informative critiques when showing their work to other members.
“This is a group that is very similar to the kind of thing you experience when you’re studying art,” Buehler said.
Drawn Together members take turns hosting gatherings at different individual studios, Granger said. These excursions have been able to foster an environment that is supportive and encouraging when it comes to creating art.
During these visits, the groups hold critiques where they reflect on each other’s creations. It can be challenging because showcasing a new piece is the equivalent of wearing one’s heart on their sleeve. Lowe noted: “If you see something, then you say something” about a piece, and if critiques are necessary, they are done with kindness.
“You find good things and you also find areas that could use some improvement. It’s always sandwiched together in a very nice way,” Lowe said.
When starting off with a new concept or idea, this feedback can be essential, Granger added, because viewers may react in unexpected ways or see unexpected things. These interactions add to the beauty of creating art.
A richness is present in the critiques because they all come from artistic backgrounds and experiences.
Member Katharine Bruce said Drawn Together has been an incredible process. It was amazing to connect and find so many artists living in the area.
“I was just delighted to have them invite me to be part of this,” Bruce said. She became a member soon after the group began.
The whole concept was to share work with each other, but this has shifted as the group has begun to create for exhibitions specifically.
“When you’re making art, you want to share it,” Buehler said.
Their first show “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” was organized through the Art Gallery of Southern Manitoba in 2016. The show then travelled to two other galleries.
Drawn Together has been a great network of support that pushes members to new creative levels. The group rallied to create the exhibition “Afterword: A Book Project” at the Heritage Home for the Arts in Killarney. Together, members were able to collaborate and find unique ways to showcase important pieces of literature through mixed media. They each found a piece of writing they responded to, binding them together in a theme that was not limiting.
Staying connected during COVID-19 has been a challenge, Granger said, but the group remains united in their love of art. They’ve used social media and video conferencing to stay connected amid public health restrictions.
The pandemic has proven to be a time of creativity that saw the artists become increasingly busy as the world seemed to find a new appreciation for art.
Cathie Ugrin has been a member of the group since the beginning and described the connections she has forged as a “lifeline.”
“With COVID, it’s been stressful and last year was a gong show, but just to be able to touch base and ... see what these incredible women are up to and how their brains work, it’s been just wonderfully reinforcing,” Ugrin said. “It’s made me braver.”
Ugrin said they would turn to each other and draw on the broad range of backgrounds and experiences to create unique and inventive pieces.
Exhibitions like “Afterword” also give them the opportunity to inspire and pursue artwork they have never tried before.
“That’s what I love about this group. It’s a safe place and it’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know what to do with this.’ You feel comfortable enough. We all have our little quirks and abilities that we’re really good at, and I like that everyone is open with sharing those ideas,” Ugrin said. “I love when we bring our work and share our work. Nobody else might have seen that. It’s very personal sometimes.”
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun