With brilliant and detailed clarity, Manitoba artist Lynda Toews has painted a series of farm animal portraits that will be on display at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery in Winnipeg from March 13 to June 20.
“I want to inspire the feeling of holiness in nature because the lack of that feeling can account for how easily we destroy it,” says Toews, a member of Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach.
With her exhibit, “A place in the kingdom: Paintings and stories celebrating farm animals,” Toews hopes to instill in visitors a sense of wonder and an attitude that honours and celebrates the created world of farm animals.
Since moving from Winnipeg to a farm in southeastern Manitoba five years ago, she has been inspired to paint farm animals. “I find myself drawn to the individual personalities and beauty of the local farm animals, especially when the sun is low in the sky and warm light delineates their forms,” she says.
“Working with this subject matter led her to explore the relationship between the contribution of farm animals and the Mennonite journey of survival,” says gallery curator Ray Dirks.
As she worked on these paintings she collected stories of 22 older Mennonites who related interesting and significant relationships and experiences they have had with their farm animals. Toews hopes the paintings and personal stories will forge stronger connections between the generations and between urban and rural people.
“The stories and paintings are intended to evoke contemplation of the divinely designed beauty, intelligence, individuality and loyalty of farm animals, as well as the love that can exist in the human/animal relationship,” Dirks says.
“Our culture tends to discard people when they reach a certain age,” Toews says. “I believe older people are very interesting and have much to teach us. . . . And with our 21st-century urban lifestyle surrounded by hard, cold metal, glass and concrete, or exhaust, noise, cyberspace, we can easily forget the beauty in natural things: soft fur and warm breath and the smell of hay.”
Toews, who has degrees in fine arts and education, hopes to instill in spectators and readers empathy for all of life, a sense of wonder and a connection with the past. “It needs to start with a change in attitude and I think art is a good avenue for how we can influence attitude in ways other than through practical, scientific solutions,” she says.
Although Toews is well aware of a Canadian culture that sees animals as primarily objects for exploitation and consumption, she says, “I don’t want to focus on that. I want to focus on the beauty and wonder to get at the heart of our attitudes.”
Artist Lynda Toews is pictured in her studio with some of her works from ‘A place in the kingdom: Paintings and heritage stories celebrating farm animals,’ on display at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery in Winnipeg until June 20. (Photo by Gary Brown)
‘Supper Chores’ by Lynda Toews (acrylic on canvas) - ‘I recently learned that there was a time when cows were milked right on the field, instead of being herded into barns,’ says artist Lynda Toews. ‘Of course the farmer may only have owned a few cows. The housebarn in the background was my great grandfather’s in Blumenhof, Man., and the late autumn afternoon landscape is invented.’
‘Equally Yoked’ by Lynda Toews (acrylic on canvas) - ‘I obtained permission from Janet Kehler, the graphic artist for the South East Manitoba Draft Horse Association, to use her photograph of Mark and Tracy Bergen’s Percheron mares,’ explains artist Lynda Toews. ‘Many of my paintings are based on photographs that members of this association have allowed me to take of their horses and this is much appreciated.’