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In 2016, artist Shawna Lampi-Legaree set out to create a series of 60 small paintings for her annual show. When she sat down to paint an image of a bird from a photo as one of the 60, she was struck by its eyes.

Shawna Lampi-Legaree, a new senior signature member of the Federation of Canadian Artists, often comes to the Niven Trail to photograph birds.
Natalie Pressman/ NNSL Photo

Throughout her career, Lampi-Legaree, owner of the Yellowknife Dancing Raven Studio, has painted flowers, still life, houses, toys and a range of other subjects, but from that photo came a painting called ‘Impossible Eyes,’ and a new fascination with birding that inspired Lampi-Legaree to paint the winged creatures full time. 

“Once you start to look at (them), it’s like you opened up a secret world. A world that most people walk right past and don’t even notice,” she says. 

Honing her style and creating a series of bird paintings is what helped Lampi-Legaree obtain her newly-awarded senior signature status with the Federation of Canadian Artists (FCA) – a peer reviewed award of recognition. She is the first artist in the NWT to earn the distinction.

The Federation grants two levels of signature status, associate (AFCA) and senior (SFCA). Once awarded, the artist can add the letters next to their name to indicate national credibility. 

Lampi-Legaree’s bird paintings, bottom left, hang in the Federation of Canadian Artists’ gallery in Vancouver, BC.
Photo courtesy of the Canadian Federation of Artists.

While most artists only achieve SFCA status after being an AFCA, Lampi-Legaree learned last week that she went straight to SFCA. It’s a highly unusual decision from the FCA that speaks to the quality of Lampi-Legaree’s work. 

Patrick Meyer says that in the seven years he’s been the FCA’s executive director, he has only seen it happen three times.  

He says that part of the honour in achieving signature status is that the jury is made up of working artists who understand the trials of producing work at that level. 

The FCA is “for artists, by artists,” he says. “It’s grass roots; it’s bottom up; it’s recognizing the quality of another artist. Even though (the FCA) was started in 1941, that’s a very new idea in the art world,” Meyer says, referring to the majority of curator judged competitions that he calls “authority figure driven.”

Lampi-Legaree recalls that she nearly missed the deadline to apply for the status. She wasn’t sure she would be able to complete the paintings up until the day before.

“Honestly, I wasn’t sure. And then all of the sudden, right at the end, it always does this and I’m always surprised, the painting just went ‘Whoop, OK I’m done.’

“Everything happens at the right time,” she says. 

Lampi-Legaree’s success comes after many rejections and failures. She says rejection is always disappointing at first, but then you move on and get back to working on the next project.

“It certainly is exciting when you get in though,” she says.

Although she has now made a career of it, Lampi-Legaree has only been painting since 2012, having worked in quilting before then. In addition to taking classes and sheer practice, Lampi-Legaree credits much of her success as an artist to discipline and patience.

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Natalie Pressman

Natalie is a graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program. She has since held contracts working with an NGO in Vietnam and with Journalists for Human Rights in Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent...

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