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Artist Leaves Sunny Legacy

The following tribute was written by Susan Jones and published in the January 1st edition of the St. Albert Gazette. Since it's too difficult to fully express the feelings felt right now and all that Pat has contributed and received from the St. Albert community this article expresses quite well her legacy.

Most people who knew Pat Wagensveld, or her iconic art, will remember her every time they see a sunflower.

A funeral celebration was held Sunday for Wagensveld, who died Dec. 23 at the age of 71 after a two-year battle with cancer. The St. Albert artist was best known for her very spiritual and emotional abstracts and especially for the way she depicted sunflowers as living beings, as if they had souls along with green leaves.

"She really felt the art. When she talked about her art, she was very spiritual and connected to her subject. She felt great things and she was able to put that on the canvas," said former city councillor Carol Watamaniuk, who recently took over from Wagensveld as president of VASA (the Visual Arts Studio Association of St. Albert).

There were two passionate sides to Wagensveld. Her artistic side compelled her to create paintings that were sometimes sensual and sometimes whimsical. At the same time, Wagensveld felt driven to find an affordable, collective studio where she and fellow artists could work. She spearheaded this 19-year-long initiative, an effort that culminated in June 2012 with the establishment of the Hemingway Centre in the former RCMP headquarters on Sir Winston Churchill Ave. The centre now houses 22 studios.

"She finally found a building – the Hemingway Centre – and it has brought everyone great joy. When I see the artists there now, I know the importance of it. I see the importance of the whole concept. It's a special community and the artists feel so supported," Watamaniuk said.

Wagensveld established two studio gallery co-operatives: first in Grandin mall in 1994 and in 2006 on Perron Street. She founded the not-for-profit Visual Arts Studio Association of St. Albert (VASA).

"She morphed her own business into the non-profit society. She decided to not keep it going as a private business, because she had a vision to have an artist-run centre. She worked towards that vision for more than a decade," said VASA member Cheryl Moskaluk.

A hairdresser by profession, Wagensveld did not begin painting until she was in her mid 40s.

Her husband Harry Wagensveld talked about her journey as an artist.

"We would go to open houses to get decorating ideas. She was cutting hair, which was artistic, but she hadn't tried painting. She saw the art on the wall at the houses and said, 'I can do that!' he recalled, adding that as a birthday gift, he bought her art lessons through the University of Alberta Department of Extension.

It was a beginning, but it wasn't enough for the budding artist. She wanted to get a fine arts degree, which meant she had to upgrade her schooling.

An immigrant from England, Wagensveld had not completed the equivalent of Canadian high school. She registered in the Grant MacEwan Visual Arts program at the same time as she completed her Grade 12 diploma. Next she spent another year studying French in order to meet the University of Alberta admittance requirements.

"She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at age 50," her husband said. "All that time, she was running her business – a hair salon – where she worked 32 hours a week."

Her first artistic love was to paint abstracts. On her own website, Wagensveld explained: "My senses consume it all; even the shadows. There is a lot to see, that engage all. I'm amazed what my mind has taken in when I go into the studio and recall these treasures from the depth of my mind and then how the thoughts come alive on the canvas surface."

In a 1999 Gazette article Wagensveld said that her fascination with sunflowers began after she spent hours in a friend's backyard playhouse so she could watch them grow. Mysteriously, as she communed with the flowers and became one with the garden, the sunflowers took on personalities.

"They spoke to me and got me so emotional. The way they were holding their heads was different and then some of them seemed angelic, as if they had wings," she said then.

Eventually Wagensveld would capture 14 different "sunflower" personalities in a variety of surreal backgrounds, giving the flowers an ethereal quality.

In 2011 Pat Wagensveld was presented with City of St. Albert's Lifetime Achievement Award in the arts. In 2010 she was a recipient of the Volunteer of the Year award from the Arts and Heritage Foundation. On several occasions Wagensveld was accepted to study in art residency programs in Spain and at the University of Saskatchewan.

Her illness of the past two years did not stop her from achieving her goals. She still worked in her hair salon until last year and just days before her death, she was still painting at her studio in the Hemingway Centre.

"She was finishing some work that she had been commissioned to do. She was painting, almost to her last breath. When she got the cancer diagnosis she said then that she had decided she was going to live with it, not just be seen as dying with it," Moskaluk said.

Watamaniuk credited Wagensveld for her art and for her fierce, almost terrier-like ability to hold onto her vision to find a place for all St. Albert artists to work – a place that could also serve as a gallery location that would engage the public in the artistic process.

"Pat Wagensveld connected almost serendipitously with things in life and she had a gift to translate that into her painting. Along with that came this incredible spirit – a driving force – of looking out for other artists," Watamaniuk said.

Left to mourn Pat Wagensveld are her husband Harry Wagensveld and her children Martin (Tanya); Darren (Tracy) and Russell (Belinda); grandchildren: Jeremy, Nicholas, Nathan, Chelsea, Nicole, Kristen, Austin, Wyatt and Bailey; great-grandchildren Grace, Noah, Tayla, Pascal, Brooke and Daxxen.