Up-and-coming talent swept the top three placings for the 36th annual James Weir People’s Choice art competition, announced on Thursday evening at the Allie Griffin Art Gallery.
Kelly Stephenson won first place for her acrylic painting of the Rocky Mountains near Banff, while Tana Cugnet won second for her painting of an air-seeder in the soil, and Kendra Garbe won third for her painting of an owl.
There were a total of 986 ballots cast this year, down from last year’s total of 1,221, with 22 entries. There were 60 spoiled ballots which couldn’t be counted, and curator Regan Lanning gave guided tours to groups from schools, groups and long-term care homes with over 500 people taking part.
Kelly, who is originally from Beijing, China, noted that she and husband Marty were on their honeymoon at Banff and she was struck by the beauty of the landscape.
She first did art in China, doing Chinese brass painting, and decided to try out an acrylic painting of this incredible landscape.
“That’s such an amazing place, the Rocky Mountains. There are so much amazing landscapes,” she said.
Asked how she felt about being named the top-voted artist, Kelly said, “It’s out of my mind. I know there is some really good artists here, some have art college education, so I’m not quite sure I could win.”
She added she has been painting for about two years now, and her family in Beijing have been sending her art supplies such as oil and acrylic paints.
Tana Cugnet said she has also been painting about two years, and decided to do a larger painting of a piece of farm equipment, an air-seeder. She had taken lunch out to the field during seeding, and took some closeup photos of various parts of the seeder.
She was struck by the detail in the soil, and by how the seeder points lined up, which led to her painting’s title, “Light At The End Of The Tunnel”.
“I’m always looking for interesting angles,” said Tana. “I took this up close, because usually you don’t see how complicated this machinery is.”
The air-seeder is part of the zero-till practice on her farm, and pointed out the hoses that injects seeds and fertilizer directly into the ground, and leaves the stubble in the soil above it to help prevent soil erosion.
“When you get up close, to me it’s so interesting. When I took this shot, it was the tunnel angle that interested me. As a farmer, sometimes you need to find that light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
Prior to this painting, most of her works were smaller ones, but she felt this larger size was needed to fully appreciate the fine details in the soil and the implement.
Kendra Garbe’s closeup painting of an owl was only the second work she has done on a canvas, as for a long time she mainly did paintings on rocks. She had entered the James Weir competition last year with a rock painting of a tiger, but found that canvases are much lighter and easier to work with.
She said she has never taken any formal art classes in painting, but in school did really well with colouring pictures.
Since painting this view of an owl, with the title “Eyes on You”, she has done a series of other paintings of owls and other animals, and has people asking her to do paintings of their pets.
Kendra chuckled as she said she credited her husband for giving her inspiration to focus on the owl’s eyes, as he would watch her while she worked on her paintings.