Spring sunlight pushes through the stained glass windows of the Agassiz United Church, throwing bits of colour around the sanctuary. There’s a lively-but-hushed pace at the tables that fill the room, covered in paints and paper, sketchbooks, canvases, brushes, charcoal, pastels and pencils. Artists weave through the room, sitting alone and in groups, standing up up and sitting back down again.
Each one strains to gain new perspective on the puzzle before her; a twisted head, one hand planted on one hip. A skewed pout here. A flicker of a smile there. Pacing. Staring.
These artists aren’t all looking for perfection, but they are looking to learn. That’s been the crux of the Monday Painters for the past 50 years. Look back far enough, through the memories of some lifelong members, and you soon find out that ‘learning’ is how this thriving group got its start.
Sitting together in a circle, for an informal interview with a reporter, they say it started in the basement of Isa Taylor’s Agassiz home. But the further they talk, it seems to have started in the local’s heart.
“She set the tone,” for the group of today, June Grainger says.
Taylor was teaching art, and as the list of students grew, a group format started. They continued to meet, sometimes getting outside to paint en plien air. Artists continued to join in. They all continued to learn from Taylor.
Artists came in from Chilliwack and Sardis, so many that Taylor’s basement was no longer suffice.
They struck up a deal with the United Church, where many of the painters were already members. As it happened, Monday was the church’s least busy day of the week, and the easiest to give over.
Despite dips in membership over the years, the Monday Painters have kept on painting. And as they celebrate 50 years, they celebrate it on a high point – with about 40 members currently in the group.
Many of those painters will bring their work to the group’s annual show, held April 30.
Grainger is the featured artist for the event.
“I think it’s two emotions,” she says. “pleased that they asked me but also ‘oh dear, what should I do?'”
The group has informal, friendly critiques at the end of each Monday session. So the long time painter is used to feedback. But a show is a little different, she says.
“To do a show, well, it’s kind of like hanging your kids up on the wall and saying “do you like them?,” she says, laughing.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve painting — or how long your painting group has been meeting — there’s always something new to learn.
Another member, Diane Mackenzie, is one who’s played the role of teacher and mentor, as well as student.
She recalls her entry into the group, several years ago.
“I knew I had to find someplace to start and do it regularly. It was a very small group at that time, and Agnes Key said to me ‘oh, we’re all just a bunch of old ladies.'”
When Mackenzie told her that she was also feeling old, at 49, Key’s response was quick: “I’m 91!”
She was quickly brought in and got to teaching right away.
Through the group, she got to know it’s founder, Taylor.
“She painted right until the last year,” Mackenzie says. “She was the most gracious lady you’ve ever met.”
Between then, 1961, and now, plenty of artists have passed through the group. They’ve had artists in as teachers; Huirbert Van Drimmelen, Richard McDiarmid, Linda Muttitt, Diane Mackenzie, Chuck Chappell and Jack Reid recently.
They’ve travelled to locations to paint outdoors, including Steveston and Minter Gardens and Hope.
And they’re not ‘just a bunch of old ladies’ these days. All ages are welcome in the group, and men are certainly welcome.
Jim Scot was student of Mackenzie’s, who talked him into joining. It’s the friendships and the atmosphere that have kept him coming back for 11 years.
“This is a good group,” he says. “No pressure. I think we all feel we’re beginners.”
Another member, Marg Doman, walks by and listens for a minute.
“Imagine. A group of women — well, mostly women — sticking together for 50 years,” she says.
The Agassiz Monday Painters Annual Show is being held on Saturday, April 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Agassiz United Church. Door prizes have been provided by Diane Mackenzie, Judy McKenna and Ann Proteau.