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The art of history: Sketch group showcases Edmonton’s past through drawings

The art of history: Sketch group showcases Edmonton’s past through drawings
WATCH ABOVE: If a history book seems a little dry, you might find yourself learning a thing or two about Edmonton -- through sketches. Community reporter Morgan Black shares how a local exhibit is bringing together past, present and future.

An Edmonton exhibit explores the past, present and future of the city’s history through sketches.

Edmonton’s historian laureate Marlena Wyman curated Sketching History: Rediscovering Heritage Architecture through Urban Sketching to showcase the city’s heritage architecture and highlight its importance.

“If we don’t preserve our older buildings, we will never have heritage buildings that tell our story. It is part of the identity of Edmonton. If we continually reinvent ourselves, who are we? What is this city?” Wyman explained.

The exhibit is created by Urban Sketchers Edmonton. The original Urban Sketchers began in San Francisco and spread throughout the world. Wyman herself is a member of the Edmonton group, which began in 2011, meeting once a month to draw aspects of our city.

Hotel Macdonald by Karen Wall
Hotel Macdonald by Karen Wall Credit: City of Edmonton

When Wyman became historian laureate, she decided to focus the group of sketchers on heritage architecture. Now, 12 different artists make up the exhibit.

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“Because I’m a visual artist, I’ve been interpreting the position through my art practice. Art is the door that brings people in. It’s the attraction. If it’s interesting enough, they want to come closer and see what it is,” Wyman said.

Joanne Wojtysiak is a professional artist and part of Urban Sketchers Edmonton. She discovered the group online.

“I started working from home and I was looking for a group of artists to get me outside the house,” Wojtysiak explained. “I really admire the architecture of Edmonton.”

Wojtysiak said she was thrilled to be selected as a part of Sketching History.

“Every project is interesting in its own way. This is new for me. I haven’t been part of something like this before. I thought it was so exciting,” Wojtysiak said.

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“Edmonton has this amazing, rich history. If people become interested in that, maybe they will become interested in where the city is developing. It’s our home. We want to make it a home that people want to stay in and feel comfortable in. I think history is part of that journey.”

“When we go out and sketch, we start to see things we never saw before, it’s a way of observing things differently. When we have these beautiful buildings we walk past every day, we kind of take it for granted,” Wyman said.

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So, how has Edmonton changed over the years?

Buena Vista Building - Glenora Bed & Breakfast by Yvonne Rezek
Buena Vista Building – Glenora Bed & Breakfast by Yvonne Rezek Credit: City of Edmonton

“We didn’t always have a pristine river valley. When the city first started, they were dumping grounds. They were used for dumping grounds, industry, for livestock and gravel pits. It was an early bunch of concerned citizens who wanted the river valley cleaned up and have trees planted. That’s made it so beautiful today,” Wyman explained.

The darker side of Edmonton’s history is also depicted in the exhibit.

“There’s one panel here that is about the Papaschase Reserve and the Rossdale Burial Grounds. Edmonton is not just its building history. What was here before those buildings?” Wyman said.

Wyman wrote stories about each of the locations sketched, displayed alongside the drawings.

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“History is everything. It is overwhelming at times. This helps us look at things in bites,” Wyman said.

“This is an interestingly random exhibit. I wanted it to be sort of led by what the sketchers were interested in. Some of us would suggest buildings at risk, because we don’t know if that’s the last time we could capture them. Other times, it’s just someone’s favourite spot. There are lots of buildings people love that are not in this exhibit, but we will keep on sketching outside of the exhibit.”

READ MORE: Historic facade from Buena Vista returns to new apartment on Edmonton’s 124 Street

The main exhibit will be displayed at the Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre and the City of Edmonton Archives until December 2020. A smaller exhibit is travelling to Edmonton Public Library branches, and an upcoming complementary online exhibit will also be available.

“The art draws them in. They wonder what’s behind the story. One of the most gratifying things is when people come up to me and tell me, ‘I never knew that, that’s really interesting. That’s really important.’ That’s exactly what I’m hoping this exhibit will do,” Wyman said.