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Salt Spring Island was the destination of choice for Janet Halliwell following a long career in science and higher education policy and research administration.
Retiring from her position of executive vice president, social sciences and humanities in 2007, Janet moved with her husband to her newly constructed home on the island. Almost immediately she joined the board of the Salt Spring Arts Council and had the pleasure of working with many artists and artisans in that role and thereafter as chair of the council’s grants and awards programs.
Since its launch in 2015, Janet has been an active member of the steering committee for the Salt Spring National Art Prize.
“I can think of no better way than SSNAP to link the creativity and imagination of Salt Spring Island with a wider community of visual artists across Canada. In launching SSNAP we recognized the paucity of juried competitions for the visual arts in Canada – something in stark contrast with other parts of the world. Let’s celebrate our own exceptional talent in Canada!”
“Through SSNAP we showcase the outstanding artistic creation from all regions of Canada and the rich artistic community and the extraordinary natural landscape of Salt Spring that has inspired local artists and artisans. May the cross fertilization of SSNAP yield even more creativity and lasting artistic connections.”
Born in Sidney, BC and raised on Salt Spring Island in the 1970s, Stephen Roberts enjoyed a finance career in the global centres of art—London, New York, Hong Kong.
As if an antidote to the dry, pressurized world of international finance, Stephen developed a diverse interest in art through his proximity to some of the best traditional and contemporary art in the world’s leading centres. Yet his interest was informed much earlier than that, with a childhood spent among the many artists on Salt Spring, including a grandfather who painted and carved, and a father who practiced visual arts as well.
Being of this place, coastal British Columbia, Stephen developed an early appreciation for First Nations artistry. He collects today across a variety of mediums. The 2010 renovation of his Salt Spring Island home incorporated wood and glass installations by Tsartlip First Nation artist Chris Paul. In an upcoming project, Stephen has commissioned Chris Paul to wrap a concrete pillar in an anodized aluminum totem. “This is especially exciting to me as I get to work with the artist and the architect on how we bring this installation to life!”
Other prominent First Nations artists also feature in Stephen’s private collection, including Susan Point, Jimmy Charlie, and Luke Marston. “It’s the connections to the living things we see in this place that we call home that draw me back time and again to our First Nations artists,” says Stephen
During Stephen’s time in Asia, access to ancient artifacts was winding down and a vital contemporary movement emerging. Tang and Northern Chi Dynasty ceramics pieces in his collection form a base point for works that follow in an artistic arc that includes elegant Ming and more ornate Qing furniture, as well as replica Khmer and Javan stone sculpture, on into classic Korean celadon, and contemporary surrealist Thai and Chinese paintings. “I am impressed by the way some cultures venerate their artists. In Korea, classic celadon is contemporized by a cohort of celebrated masters, and in Russia, in the performing arts, ballerinas are the equivalent of our rock or hockey stars. It’s extraordinary.”
Back home and involved in numerous community organizations, Stephen has taken an active interest in our local arts scene. Stephen was a key sponsor for Anna Gustafson’s Snow Fence and counts her work as well as that of her husband Paul Burke in his collection. Janis Woode is another local favourite and one of Janis’s outdoor works is a surprising element to encounter along a path up from the water. Michael Robb’s fantastical works also have pride of place. “I feel like I’ve made a great rediscovery with Michael’s work. It’s deep, but it’s also bright and uplifting. I connect with the figures of Michael’s imagination.”
“By sponsoring this prize in the visual arts, I want to support my neighbours in what must be one of our country’s most artistic communities. Drawing other artists and those who appreciate their work is my goal. Our island and our friends in the arts on Salt Spring deserve recognition for the extraordinary talent we have right here among us.”
—Stephen P Roberts
A spry woman with a sharp sense of humour, Rosemaria Behncke was a painter both by education and lifelong vocation.
She enjoyed the latter part of her life surrounded by “everything that’s peaceful and beautiful,” the two things she said most inspired her art.
Her story is a testament to her steadfast commitment to independence and personal freedom. To the end, she showed no signs of regret for running her “one-woman party.”
Her many years spent on Salt Spring Island were a marked contrast to her early years in Hamburg, living through what she called “the hunger years” of World II and its aftermath.
Born in 1920, Rosemaria was part of a wealthy family with ties to high-ranking Nazi officials. “My family was military, but as a painter I didn’t have to be a war person,” she said. Her views landed her in trouble with her family during World War II, which began when she was only nineteen.
She recalled being out with the horse and wagon, trying to find food in a nearby town, when a train pulled up filled with the horribly injured and burnt vicitms of an air raid. After transporting the injured to hospital in her cart, her assitance was needed, so she let her horse find its way home in the mist. Upon her return, her mother yelled at her for being out late and getting blood all over the wagon.
After the war Rosemaria went to study art—in one of the few buildings in Hamburg that hadn’t been destroyed. “We didn’t have too much to eat, almost nothing—but I didn’t stop studying,” she said. She courageously visited her uncle, a famous sculptor who lived in Austria, during the time the borders were still closed. Rosemaria demonstrated her independent spirit by making her way through the mountains and forest, avoiding the occupying French forces by hiding in the trees.
Later, when movement was permitted and she had completed her art studies, Rosemaria looked after her uncle’s Austrian estate while he resumed his professorship in Munich.
Inspired by her uncle’s visit to Africa, where he had been one of the first Europeans to go on safari, Rosemaria seized an opportunity to experience the dark continent for herself. She booked a passage that took her through the Red Sea, down the east coast of Africa, around the horn and through the Atlantic, destined for a German-run sisal plantation in Mozambique that employed 1,000 local workers.
During her time on the farm Rosemaria learned to drive, taking the wheel for the first time on a 500-km road trip with the plantation owner. By the time they returned, the two were in love and engaged. Unfortunately, an expired visa forced her premature return to Germany, and, although they corresponded daily, her fiancé died before they could be reunited.
Rosemaria never did marry or have children, but her accomplishments included a solo art exhibition in Germany and ongoing creative work.
The airy space and the tall windows of her peaceful Salt Spring Island home afforded a view of Mount Baker—ideal for her artwork, which included tile mosaic panels in addition to acrylic painting. It’s easy to feel the overwhelming peace that nature brings in such a setting, a feeling that Behncke failed to find in the United States but was happy to achieve when she first visited Canada in 1986.
“Freedom is a gift,” Behncke said, with clear satisfaction at a life lived as she alone determined.
Extract from Elizabeth Nolan’s article in the Driftwood – 2011
Born in Australia in 1926, Joan McConnell was a child of the Great Depression, and a young adult of the Second World War.
Immersed in the Bohemian world of the time at Sydney University, she involved herself in university politics and journalism while studying philosophy, literature, and history. She ultimately attained her certification as a librarian. This was a heady introduction into a society of future playwrights, musicians, artists and authors, many returning from the battlefields.
Following university, Joan married and moved to Cooma, headquarters of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric scheme, where husband Allen, a civil engineer, worked on dam design. This enormous, complex project required a workforce recruited from around the world. What had been a country town serving a farming community was soon transformed into the first real international centre in Australia.
Now the mother of three children, Joan began expanding her horizons. She joined the Cooma Theatre Society, the Film Society, the Garden Society, and enrolled in Sydney University Extension Courses in visual arts, music and theatre.
In 1964, the family emigrated to Canada, landing first in Niagara Falls in December and getting their first taste of real winter. Subsequently they moved to Montreal, where winter defied comprehension, and spent the next 22 years adjusting to it. Never one to sit around, Joan spent some eight years pursuing philosophy, history and the arts at the Thomas More Institute, then returned to university to study Political Science. She graduated from Concordia University in 1979 with first class honors, one year ahead of daughter Gillian’s graduation in fine art from Queen’s University.
Expo 67 provided an expansive introduction to Montreal, where the McConnells immersed themselves in a culture rich in the visual and performing arts. Gallery vernissages, concerts both classical and jazz, ballet and theatre in French and English were the order of the day, not to mention the fascination of the political drama in the streets. Despite all these heady attractions—and the cuisine—when Allen retired from his firm to continue his career as an international consultant, he needed access only to an airport. McConnell urged, “go west.” The couple found their way to Salt Spring Island, where they discovered that all the arts they had enjoyed in Montreal were exuberantly represented.
“By sponsoring this prize in the visual arts I hope that all of the arts and crafts will continue to prosper on Salt Spring Island. Just as importantly my hope is that our prize will promote Salt Spring Island as a prime destination for Canadians from all artistic disciplines to discover our special enchantments. Thus we will enrich one another.”