By Jennifer Thorpe
The St. Marys Station Gallery is opening a third Virtual Exhibit this week featuring London artist Rosemary Sloot in “Rosemary – Memories of A Dutch Family’s Immigration To Canada.”
Pleased with the overwhelmingly positive response to their series of Virtual Exhibits, Curator Cameron Porteous is enthusiastic about expanding the Gallery’s online presence in response to the pandemic restrictions in Perth County which make art exhibits in the historic train station in St Marys a challenge. The Virtual Exhibit ‘Rosemary’ features work from Sloot’s ‘Immigrant’ collection as well as the artist’s personal insights about each piece. Porteous is also presenting Rosemary Sloot as the Gallery’s first guest artist in a future new online series of Artist Chats with host Jennifer Thorpe.
Visitors to the Virtual Gallery will discover that the ‘Immigrant’ collection is a deeply personal homage to Sloot’s parents that deftly captures “the inescapable burden of the immigrant, forever to be pulled between two worlds.” It’s also a collection that represents an important seven-year creative journey for the artist, one that began when she learned that her dying mother’s one regret was leaving the Netherlands. Devastated by this revelation, Sloot began painting what would become her most successful collection to gain a deeper understanding of the sacrifice her parents had made.
Sloot’s timing was auspicious. The opening at the Burlington Art Centre in 2012 coincided with Ontario’s newly created Dutch Heritage Month. It’s also marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Sloot family’s crossing.
Part of the large wave of Dutch immigration following WWII, the Sloot family arrived in Canada in 1952 with four young children and a fifth on the way. Their first home was a rustic Ontario farmhouse with no electricity or running water. With just a stove in the kitchen, Sloot’s mother recalled there was “not so much as a nail to hang a tea towel.” It was a stark contrast to their life in the Netherlands but the family persevered.
Sloot’s work explores the deep disappointments, the hard-won victories and the loneliness and longing of such an important move. In her images, she naturally combined historical research with family photographs, documents, and small but uniquely Dutch pieces the family was able to bring with them. Those small, time-worn pieces she chose to paint in their current condition and in startling colour, a vital contrast to the sepia tones of so much of the work.
Although there was some initial family pressure not to continue the work, Sloot challenged herself to use different techniques in each piece. Often mistaken for photographic or digital manipulation, Sloot combined expert technique and exquisite attention to detail with glazing and super-imposed or layered images to suggest the passage of time and memory. In the painting, “Matters of the mind and heart,” one of her personal favourites in the collection, she superimposed her mother’s scrupulous Dutch handwriting in her English copy book on the glazed image of the tidy family farms in the Netherlands. The effect is subtle but it beautifully illustrates her mother’s diligent effort to learn a second language in a new country while her heart was still very much back at home.
Moving beyond canvas and paper, Sloot also included, for the first time, an installation piece entitled “De Kist” (The Crate), a scaled-down representation of the crates that so many immigrant families were intimately familiar with. The exterior shipping labels she created reflect Dutch humour with last names and destinations, but the paintings of her sister’s handwriting hung on the interior of the crate tell of the family’s loss of treasured possessions. It is a striking and decidedly poignant piece that directly engaged viewers on its 2012-2013 national tour.
‘Immigrant’ went on to inspire London-area artists to explore their own immigration stories in a collective show, ‘Home And Away,’ in 2016. Plans are being made by Mokeham Publishing in Oakville to publish the complete ‘Immigrant’ collection in book form later this year.
Viewers can enjoy the virtual exhibit of ‘Rosemary’ at www.stmarysstationgallery.ca.
The artist’s work can also be viewed at rosemarysloot.com.
By Jennifer Thorpe