The Wetaskiwin of Saskatchewan

Royal Red Gallery
November 2006

This is a series of drawings in ink, coloured pencil, and acrylic paint on wood and found objects.

I am fascinated by the utilitarian buildings of North America; structures that reject the title of architecture as too conceited, and whose forms instead derived from the intended use of the end product and the simple abilities of the materials at hand.

This series was inspired by the shacks and huts of the prairies – the info shacks, Quonset huts, ice cream stands, fruit stands, gas stations, strip malls and other buildings visible, knowable, and totally digestible through the window of a moving car. Though these buildings are humble, they indeed have a visual language of their own. One finds them instantly recognizable, partly (for some) because of the modular design that keeps some of them so cheap and easy to build, and partly (for others) because the instantly recognizable shape works in their favour so passersby need not look to hard for the roadside service they desire.

They say Watrous is the Wetaskiwin of Saskatchewan. This phrase makes me giggle, because I know what it means, but I also know that it is nonsensical to most people; it is a phrase with extremely limited use as a slogan. To me, it evokes an image of the prairies of my childhood, of driving great distances past utilitarian structures to get a better deal on your next trade-in. The slogan attracts me because I feel as though it was written for me; there are few enough people with ties to both small-town Saskatchewan and small-town Alberta that I feel like I’m in on a secret message, instead of the receiving end of the sales slogan I know it to be. It makes me feel like info shacks do, and so I’ve made these drawings as the buildings would have been made – some with found objects, some with raw materials, and all with utilitarian tools designed to get the job done.

Each drawing was inspired by a building seen on my drives in and around Saskatchewan, through Alberta, and also the Midwestern states. Drawn from memory, they are not portraits so much as types.

(Wetaskiwin and Watrous are both the self-proclaimed “auto mile” of their respective province, enticing people to drive hundreds of miles to get a better deal where the overhead is lower, away from big city frills like fancy buildings and big fancy advertising. Wetaskiwin’s dealerships have actually spent millions of dollars over the past 3 decades on ads which do not mention any specific brand of auto or dealer, but simply pound home the message that “Cars cost less in Wetaskiwin.” Watrous attempts to capitalize on the decades-old ad campaign by simply equating themselves to Wetaskiwin. I have never seen an ad for Watrous’ auto mile, but I do know that cars cost less in Watrous.)