Penny-Gunderson

1. Tell us about yourself!

I’m a 60 year old artist, living in Calgary. I have been exploring the themes of disability, and coming to terms with it in my last few pieces of work. My favourite medium is encaustic, which is painting with melted beeswax, tree resin, and pigment paint. I’m a mom and a grandma. I’m a person who has been on disability for several years, and I’ve been using my art as a way to express myself and also because it’s something I can do at home on my own time.

2. How did you get started as an artist?

I was in High River at the time of the flood. I lived there. I was due to have a show primarily of my pastel works, at the library for only a week. But, I was flooded out. I was one of the red dot houses. I got out of there with a few rubber containers of paint and that was it. All those works were ruined by the water and the mold. I was living in a borrowed camper and I wanted to thank all the generous people that were helping, there were so many at that time, and I had been reading at the library about encaustic cards made with a travel iron and beeswax, so I got some old candles from the second hand store and an old travel iron and I made thank you cards for all the people that were helping me. Once I got settled, I got more into encaustics. It’s kind of melded a few of my loves; I love portraiture work, and figure work, and expressing character through art.

3. How did you get into your art form?

I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve won several scholarships for workshops in the US and I received a scholarship to the International Encaustics Association Conference. I was able to go there and meet people who painted encaustics from all over the world and take part in several workshops after this conference. Calgary Arts Development helped to fund me to be able to do that. That was one of the ways I got more experience and more time to learn. This past summer, Red Deer College gave me a scholarship to go to their summer series and I spent a week there with a wonderful artist from Vancouver. I worked on developing encaustics of photographs. That’s part of what I’m going to include in this project I’m working on in the workshop with the women. We are doing a mending circle. This is a sewing circle involving the slow stitch movement that is very popular right now. Slow stitch means meaningfully doing the stitching, it doesn’t have to be perfect and it can be very obvious that you’ve patched or fixed something. We are going to work on mending and talking about women and the history of sewing circles. While they’re mending, I’m going to take photographs of their hands, and do black and white prints on fabric, then dip them in wax. They’re very beautiful when they’re done in black and white with a light fixture behind them.

4. How do you feel being a woman in the art scene in Calgary, and what do you think the city can do better to support women?

I think it’s more supportive than it has been in the past. I’m one of this year’s 2019-2020 RBC’s Emerging Visual Artists, so I’m taking part in some professional development that they’re having at Arts Commons. One of the opportunities was a panel discussion. One of the questions was how is Calgary for women? How is Calgary for minorities? They said they’re aware and that it’s becoming more inclusive. So, it’s kind of an exciting time to be learning new things, and coming into my own in my 60s! As a woman in the arts scene, I think we’re making ourselves more heard, but there’s also a mindset for the galleries, for museum owners and curators, that this is an important thing to address. That there are exhibits, that there are adequate representation of women being presented and even works in the past, it’s important to seek out what women contributed at that time.

5. What are you most excited for with your residency here at the Women’s Centre?

I’m excited to learn more about what the Women’s Centre is about, what they do, and what their outreach is. But I think the most exciting thing for me is to get to know the women and to understand them and their stories. I think the mending circle has that historical thing with women coming together and sewing and talking. My sister called it “stitch and bitch”.

6. Who is or was an influential woman in your life?

I think very much my mother. My mother was born a rural Albertan. She didn’t have much education, she quit school in grade 9 to go to work and help her family. She married a little bit later for women at that time, so she was in her 30s when she married. Her first child was my brother Martin. Martin was quite disabled with cerebral palsy and mom was an incredible mother to a disabled child, she always made him work up to his potential. She learned to drive as an older woman, she took her practical nursing by correspondence, and she went out to work while we were in our teens. I see her as a woman who had tremendous strength, but also as a woman who was trying to learn.

7.What does feminism mean to you?

Feminism means to me choice. That women have choices in their lives. Even when I was a teen and a young adult, I remember going for the first time to get a loan, and I couldn’t get a loan in my own name. I couldn’t get a bank account in my own name. I had to have my husband do all those things for me, and I remember that I thought that was so unfair. Some of the changes that have taken place, even just in my lifetime, are amazing. Feminism means to me that women have choices and that they’re supported in those choices.

 

8 thoughts on “Meet Penny, Our New Artist in Residence”

  1. Penny is my sister. She is a wonderful artist and empathetic person. Kudos to her for working with disabilities to fulfill her potential.

  2. Penny is an inspiration to all who know her. She is gentle and caring for others. Her love of people and her caring for them are reflected in her art. She has an indomitable spirit and hasn’t let her disabilities rule her life. Instead, her creations show how she works with them.

  3. This interview is lovely and so articulate! Thank you, Penny, for being part of the Women’s Centre community. I can’t wait to see your work!

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