Guest curator Regan Shrumm taps into women’s art

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An independent curator from Victoria will be shedding light on some of Salt Spring’s early women artists during a month-long exhibition opening in February, while also gathering information on contemporary creative communities.

Regan Shrumm will be on the island in January through the Salt Spring Arts Council’s curator in residence program. Part of her work while here will be to create a self-published publication and an exhibition at the library that centres on female artists from the pre-1960s period.

Shrumm completed her master’s degree in art history and visual studies at the University of Victoria in 2015. While at university she received a number of prestigious awards and completed an internship at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History. Her recent work includes a position as senior assistant curator at Open Space, an artist-run facility in Victoria, and a fellowship at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, Wash.

The arts council’s Artist in Residence (AiR) program provides an opportunity for artists to work on Salt Spring. The program is open to all professionals working in the arts, in any genre or medium, at any stage of their careers and is also open to curators. The program aims to provide an extraordinary venue for individual artists and artist collaborations to create new works, explore new creative horizons and interact with both the local community and visitors to the island. AiR provides workspace for people accepted into the program, negotiates reduced rates for off-season accommodation and provides social and cultural support.

Preparation for Shrumm’s residency began last June and has included lots of time with the Salt Spring Archives. She also dove into Charles Kahn’s history of the island with relish; she was intrigued to learn in that book the island’s transformation into an arts community didn’t really begin until the arrival of outside artists in the 1960s.

“I thought that was interesting and I wanted to see if it was true,” Shrumm explained.

Her research did identify a few people who were creating art before that time. She entered her residency proposal intending to focus on Florence Walters, Sophie Purser King and Gwen Ruckle. Since then Shrumm has learned about Jessie Beryl Weatherell and added her to the project.

“I was interested in all four women because they kind of built community in all different ways,” Shrumm said.

King created sculptures. Ruckle painted and also made installations that Shrumm said were “way before her time.” Walters belonged to the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire and was part of a group that bought a machine gun for the troops with proceeds from their knitting sales. She also participated in an early market that was held in Fulford Harbour.

“Way before the Saturday market they built this community out of art — and all four women are kind of like that,” Shrumm said.

One of the challenges, Shrumm found, is the Salt Spring Archives may have reference to the women’s works but does not have the works themselves in its collection. The library exhibition will therefore include some images of the artists’ works and archives, but also adds an integrated, collaborative element with works commissioned by other artists based on their stories. Shrumm also intends to record new arts stories from island residents this month, to be interpreted by artists in different mediums and manners.

“As a frequent visitor it seems like something is always happening in the contemporary scene, so I’m hoping to interview artists and people involved in the arts community to talk about what makes the Salt Spring arts community special,” Shrumm said.

The interviews need not be restricted to traditional arts — anyone who makes something, from canning to crafts, is welcome to participate.

The library exhibition opens on Feb. 6 and runs to Feb. 28. Shrumm would like to have interviews done before then to be included in the show. She can be reached at 250-896-8266 or rshrumm@gmail.com.

A previous version of this story mistakenly stated the exhibition part of the project would run in January.

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