A diary written almost a century ago provided the inspiration for a current exhibit at the Okotoks Art Gallery.

The exhibit, called 'Illuminating the Diary of Alda Dale Randall,' was created by Edmonton-based artist Marlena Wyman.

Wyman says she came across the diary while conducting research at the provincial archives and was captivated by the writings of Randall, a woman who immigrated to Alberta from North Dakota and homesteaded with her husband and seven children in the High Prairie-area.

She says the voices of pioneer women have often been overlooked in our history, adding that female homesteaders were usually the community-builders, introducing schools, churches and charity work.

"Her 1920 diary was the most complete and just amazing," Wyman says. "She wrote in it every day. So, I just went back to the archives and started to read through that and slowly, over time, I would find excerpts that particularly inspired me. They would just jump out and I could see something visually, and so I started to paint from those inspired phrases that she had written."

She points out that farming women would often work alongside their husbands in the fields throughout the day. At night, they would do the family's laundry, cook and put the kids to bed. Then, they would finally have a chance to sit down for some sewing and mending.

"They didn't stop working, they were just working, sitting," Wyman explains. "So I created this chair called 'The Sewing Chair and the Garden in Back.' In the front it has sewing notions, threads and wooden spools and then on the back of the chair I've decorated it with different things to do with the garden, so some mosaic plates that have garden and floral themes to them because the women also created gardens."

Wyman adds that it was those gardens that often sustained the family through tougher times and the winter months.

She explains that the propaganda of the day aimed at enticing homesteaders to farm here didn't always reflect the harshness of life that was the reality. She says diary entries often mention a lack of food and the resulting hunger experienced by the family.

But she says the beauty of Randall's experiences is also represented in the pages.

"She had a very balanced view of life, she loved the land and the life," Wyman explains. "There's another excerpt where she took the children out into the forest, because it's a more treed area up there, and she found this little grove that reminded her of a fairy woods. So, she wrote about how all of these plants reminded her of a fairy woods and one of my paintings is based around that."

All the pieces in the exhibit, including six encaustic paintings with image transfers, the vintage chair and a cabinet, were inspired by excerpts from the diary.

Illuminating the Diary of Alda Dale Randall will be at the Okotoks Art Gallery until April 7, 2018.

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