Regina-born ceramic artist Jeannie Mah is the latest recipient of the award for artistic excellence at the Saskatchewan Arts Awards. She says the win came courtesy of memories of past and present from the place she grew up.
Known home and abroad for her ceramic art and porcelain cups, Mah's art entered a new level of introspection when she returned to Regina after years away.
After her return in the late '80s at age 38, she started seeing demolition and the erasure of human effort everywhere.
For Mah, the place she grew up is both here and gone.
Mah remembers gazing out the window of her dad's store in the '50s, wistfully looking at Victoria School, where she'd eventually go to kindergarten. But the school was demolished four months into her first year there.
The next notable demolition that affected Mah was her dad's store — where the family had also lived — which was demolished to make way for the current city hall.
She was later commissioned to do a piece to go in that new city hall.
"I thought what I'd like to do is to put back some of the history that was completely erased from the block."
This would be Mah's first time trying to put an image of herself onto a pot.
After getting a bachelor degree in education in Regina, she moved around but eventually settled in Vancouver. During that time, she began making art. She continues to this day to garner critical acclaim from around the globe for its sophistication and technical prowess.
Mah would eventually return to the quiet Prairie capital as an adult, which she admits was only because of the RPL Film Theatre and Wascana Pool. Unfortunately, four years after her return, she learned about plans to get rid of the Wascana Pool.
"I could not believe that, so it was my first time going to city hall to fight for something I believed was one of the best things in the city," she said. "We don't understand what's great about us and we keep destroying it."
Upon her return to Regina, she found herself increasingly inspired by the world around her. Prior to that, Mah had spent much of her time working on and learning about the history of pots. No one was more surprised by this shift in focus than her.
"Coming back to Saskatchewan as an adult, geographical memories almost flood you," she said. "The first spring we were back, I suddenly had the urge to play baseball, and I hadn't played baseball since I was 12."
She said the demolishing of buildings for newer and shiner architectural projects is concerning, when much monumental effort was put into constructing the Prairies. This is why she loudly advocated to save Wascana Pool, and for the preservation of the Bagshaw residence on her street, Angus Crescent. Although she lost both fights, Mah is not deterred.
As for her Saskatchewan Arts Award, Mah feels incredibly fortunate to have been selected.
"It's great to be recognized by a jury of peers," she said.
LISTEN | Jeannie Mah spoke with Stefani Langenegger on CBC Saskatchewan's The Morning Edition