They are simple structures built many years ago for modest, practical reasons but they have come to represent something more to Guelph artist Sharyn Seibert.
To her, they are structures worthy of veneration. They are Ward Icons.
“These buildings have more meaning now to me,” said Seibert. “It’s almost as if they have seen us through a very difficult time and they need to be honoured. That is what icon means. It’s a representative symbol worthy of veneration.”
Their iconic status is interpreted in different ways depending on the viewer's relationship to the buildings.
“Anybody who has travelled through The Ward, lived here or grew up here, has a different feeling about each of them,” Seibert said. “Some are very mysterious, almost ghostly. Others are cheerful and it is sort of coming out in my paintings.”
Seibert has experimented with a variety of styles during her long and storied career as an artist and educator. She has drawn inspiration from the classic art and architecture of the European masters as well as the natural beauty of places such as the reformed reformatory lands on the western edge of Guelph recaptured in her collection, the Yorklands Green Hub.
This new series was inspired, in part, by a group Canadian art masters.
“We went to the art gallery (AGO) a couple weeks ago,” she said. “I was looking at some of the Group of Seven paintings by (Arthur) Lismer and (Franklin) Carmichael and the light on the buildings is just so impressive. That kind of inspired me to come back and do some architecture.”
It is a departure from the style Seibert is most associated with.
“I do the landscapes and abstracts, and I have several shows coming up so, this is a complete reversal of what I was supposed to be doing,” she said. “I just felt compelled to paint these and they are not particularly easy to paint. I am using my left brain a lot, angles and measurement and the light. It’s not like doing the other paintings so, it is quite hard work actually.”
Seibert’s home and studio are on Richardson Street in The Ward, a short walk from the buildings she has been painting and she has been getting comments from people across the country who have also lived in The Ward. Many are sending her stories and old photos of their families posing in front of their former homes.
“I can’t believe the response I am getting to these buildings,” said Seibert. “We’re living in a complicated time that is fraught with worry and I think what these buildings do is they take people back to their childhood. People are saying to me, ‘I grew up in The Ward. I loved it. It was a simpler time.'“
A comment from former Ward resident Lisa Graziotto resonated deeply with Seibert.
“She said, ‘There has never been a day when I have not fondly remembered my childhood. The school, the river, and the buildings in some way. It was an adventure,’” Seibert repeated. “I think that summarizes what people are feeling about these and this is a totally unexpected outcome for me.”
Many of the messages urge her to capture these icons on canvas before the machinery of progress consumes them forever.
“People are sending me suggestions of other buildings,” said Seibert. “They are saying things like, ‘you better get that building with all the murals and all the vines, because they are going to leave soon. You better get those pictures now before you can’t see them anymore.’”
Seibert has several more buildings planned for the series and each time she walks through her neighbourhood she spots another iconic building worthy of veneration.
“I love these buildings,” she said. “They are right around the corner from my home. Some of them are very humorous and as I said, each has its own personality. I will do this until my energy for it runs out, though I am pretty tenacious with my themes. It’s like fireworks.”
Paintings from the Ward Icons series as well as other examples of Seibert’s work will be available to view and purchase during the Ward Night Market between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., Thursday April 28 at Laza Food and Beverages, 74 Ontario St.
To see and learn more about Seibert and her art visit sharynseibert.com.