Earliest Artifacts

Exodus from Aklavik by Mollie Pearce  (age 14yrs.)

From the time I could hold a pencil or crayon I would draw.  At first it was just circles and then the usual stick people.  I was fascinated by grocery stores, so a lot of my drawing involved people shopping and rows and rows of boxes and cans.  Well, I thought they looked like boxes and cans however, as I often had to interpret my drawings for the grownups I guess they looked more like just a lot more circles and rectangles.

Then I got a kidney infection when I was six and wound up in the hospital for about a week.  It was at the beginning of December and the hospital staff were trying to make things look more “Christmassy”.   There was one very talented nurse on our ward who came in on her days off and painted pictures on the windows.  I was absolutely awestruck.  She asked the children on the ward to ask their parents to bring in some old Christmas cards that she could copy in paint on the windows.   She drew amazing (to my eyes) sketches which she filled in with paint.  I watched her for what seemed like hours. I thought to myself ‘I wish I could draw and paint like that.’

I also had a grade one teacher that would draw on the blackboard.  She drew different things for each month.  In April it would be ducks, rain boots and umbrellas.  In May it was flowers.  Even arithmetic questions were illustrated by objects like apples, teepees, trees and pumpkins with plus or minus signs between them.  It was the best thing about arithmetic period.

I filled notebooks with drawings.  In grade four one of my friends spent a whole recess and noon hour showing me how to draw a face on profile.  After that my glorified stick people became more realistic.  Of course, the proportions weren’t right but at least they began to look more human.  My parents had to ask less and less about what I was drawing.

By grade eight I was writing a book I called “Pioneer Daughters” (go ahead and laugh).  As we were at that time living on the prairie in Regina, Saskatchewan,  you can imagine what gave me the idea.  Anyhow I spent a lot of time writing and illustrating my book.  I designed the dresses I imagined the four daughters would have worn and spent a lot of time on the pictures.  That year I was asked to construct the grade eight graduation banner and I loved doing that.

Grade Nine was so exciting for me.  For the first time I was taught art by a real artist, one who had a particular interest in mosaics.  He had designed four mosaics for the school lobby, two were already in place and he was working on the third.  All four mosaics were to illustrate some part of academia.  The one that was in progress was all about Socrates and his students.  Mr. Miller, our teacher, and some grade 12 students were working on it.  That was the year that I discovered oil pastels.  The colours and the way they could be layered and blended enthralled me.  I drew a picture of women trying on hats in a store (still with the store fixation) and then I decided to branch out.

Our family was a naval family and so one of the postings we had was to Aklavik in the Northwest Territories.  I was not happy at the time of the posting as it was interrupting my upcoming Ballet recital, but I was so captured by the immensity, beauty and strangeness of the north that I soon accepted my disappointment.  I was not destined for the stage.  The north captivated me and so when I was trying to decide on what to draw I thought of a school trip we had taken while I was there.  Our teacher had taken us out of school to the river where we watched an Inuit woman cutting up a seal.  She was using the uniquely curved ulu (woman’s knife) and was carving up the seal very efficiently.  That scene was the one I chose to make an illustration of.   I wanted a lot of paper and so I used paper from a large roll of butcher paper and oil pastels.   That picture was one of three large pictures with the arctic as the subject.  Somehow that picture got misplaced after it was marked.   I did two more large pictures: one of the processional at the Anglican Church “All Saints”  and one of the shocking oil tank explosion in Aklavik which we witnessed when the townspeople were evacuated (picture above text).

At the end of the school year Mr. Miller asked me if I would like to help work on the huge mosaic during the summer and of course, I said yes.    It was very flattering to be trusted to cut and place the glass and ceramic tiles in the pattern he had set out.   I worked on it about two hours a day for several weeks until, once again, Dad was posted, this time to Ottawa.   I was thrilled to do it and I was able to work along side a grade 12 student.  Some day I would love to go back to Sheldon Williams High School and see the mosaic I worked on so long ago hanging there in the lobby.  That would be a thrill, even though I was just one of the unsung students who donated their time to work on the mosaics.

My Artifacts

I am much more confident about calling myself a writer than calling myself an artist.  However, I do both.  I have even had commissions for my artwork.  The one commissioned work that I am most proud of is the one I did of a farm house many years ago.  The family farm had long ago been sold and no longer existed, but the woman who had lived there as a child asked me to paint her a water colour of it based on an old oil painting and several photos.  The oil painting had been done by an Austrian prisoner of war who had been working on a farm across the road.  The oil painting had deteriorated as it had been stored in a garage for many years.  I agreed to take on the challenge.  I pored over the old painting, went to see a farmhouse made of similar materials and spent a great deal of time on the painting.  I decided, as a surprise, to add in a vignette of the woman and her two siblings as children on the bench swing they had in their yard.  The painting was fairly large, about 13″x16″ and the family was pleased.  I got the most money I’d ever received up to that point, about $250.

One other similar commission I did for my uncle who had a ranch in Alberta.  He sent me the plane ticket to visit them and I did for a whole week.  I had a wonderful time, made several sketches (in spite of the efforts of Tiny, their St.Bernard, to sit on my lap) and came home ready to paint.  I painted five versions of the ranch home – two in the winter scenery and three in the summer scenery.  I sent all five to my uncle so he could choose his favourite.  He decided to have all five framed, kept one for himself and gave the others to his children who all had their own homes.  I was very pleased with his satisfaction because he collected watercolours.  I considered it a good compliment.

Another commission was for the cover of a local magazine advertising farm gate produce.  I tried a number of designs for the publisher.  He chose two, one for the front cover and one for the back.  The design he chose showed a farm in a bushel basket.  The other design was the same one , as an outline.  I later found out he had that design enlarged and framed for his wall.

I have done illustrations for several magazines and two book covers.  One of my illustrations caused a bit of a controversy because I showed a baby bottle and one of the magazine readers objected to it.  She felt that because that magazine was for Moms and that they promoted breast feeding the bottle was sending the wrong message.  I countered with the fact that many moms fed their children juice and water from the bottle.  So for a couple of issues we had letters flying back and forth.

I love telling a story with words and through drawings.  I have a great admiration for a local evangelical who is also an artist.  He has done several murals and he travels with his wife every summer to camps and isolated communities where she sings songs on her guitar for the children and he draws to illustrate the Bible stories she tells.   I think this is a great teaching gift.

From childhood to the present I have been driven to draw and write.  I intend to go on doing so until I am no longer physically able.  I can’t imagine any other way to live.