Faces of the Interlake

A trip out to Gimli is always worthwhile—even in the winter—when instead of sailboats, it’s ice-fishing huts that dot the expansive lake. My purpose this time around was not to cross-country ski, check out potential summer homes, eat pickerel, or do the Artists' Wave. 

This time I was visiting the New Iceland Heritage Museum to see the work of Julia Penny. Penny’s an artist I stopped to visit last June while on the WAVE Artists' studio tour. Her Canada150 project—composed of immigrant portraits—is currently on display at the museum. Her project included a drawing of my mother, who came to Canada in 1953. 

My parents' connection to the area is a recreational one. They had a cottage north of Gimli. My dad loved fishing and he loved the lake. Maybe it reminded him of his home on the North Sea.

Many of the Penny's portraits feature immigrants going back to the turn of the century. Homesteaders, not cottage-owners. Some are as recent as the 1980s. Each portrait includes a brief story—a touching testament to the adventurous spirit of our ancestors. Manitoba’s Interlake included many settlers from Iceland, Poland, Ukraine and Great Britain. 

Penny’s pencil drawings highlight the cracks and crevices of character that the faces reveal. Each of these one hundred and fifty portraits represent stories of lives lived. Each is like a book or maybe, like a stone.—like one of the countless rocks eroded by time, waves and wind—along the lakes of the Interlake.

I wonder if these portraits will ever grace the pages of a book? After all, a picture tells a thousand words.

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