Standing surrounded by the cold, rugged beauty of the Arctic,
artist Brigitte Schreyer struggled to capture what was before
her with a paintbrush.
Never had she felt as small as she did at that moment;
the vast landscape -- mostly ice-covered ocean and frozen,
barren land -- seemed to stretch forever.
"It's like I was this little needle
in a haystack," explained Schreyer, a Milton-area oil
and watercolour artist. "It's a rough beauty, that's
what it is."
It was on that trip that Schreyer made a
promise to herself. No more than 12 months would pass before
But then life happened. That year stretched
into five, 10, and then 15. Most of her paintings from that
trip were long sold.
Now, 17 years later, Schreyer is finally
about to make good on her promise.
Relaxing at her Lowville home -- which was
built and lived in by famed wildlife artist Robert Bateman
-- Schreyer explained her upcoming adventure. On July 22,
she'll once again travel to the Arctic, taking part with 24
other artists in a monumental project called the Arctic Quest.
During a 12-day voyage aboard a 6,450-tonne
ship, the group will visit remote communities to record their
impressions on canvas, paper and film, as well as distribute
art supplies to stimulate artistic expression in Inuit youth.
Schreyer, a co-founder of the Fine Arts Society
of Milton, said she'll do simple watercolour paintings of
what she sees and take lots of photos. When she returns home,
she'll use the paintings and photos to paint larger, more
"I'm going to close the door behind
my studio and not come out for months," she said.
The voyage will celebrate the 100th anniversary
of explorer Roald Amundsen's first successful navigation through
the Northwest Passage.
"It took him three years (to complete).
It'll take us 10 days," she said, adding, "Everyone
before him perished. We're celebrating his accomplishment."
The artists will voyage through Frobisher
Bay to Baffin Island and then to Greenland, stopping at various
ports and communities via zodiac boats.
The group will have to be ready for anything,
Schreyer said, and that includes the possibility of meeting
up with polar bears. With their team at all times will be
a 'gun bearer'.
When the artists return, the resulting artwork
will make up numerous exhibits -- venues have already been
confirmed in Vancouver, Toronto and the United States -- and
the group will participate in a number of exhibitions, workshops
and lectures. These will coincide with International Polar
Year, taking place from 2007 to 2009.
Standing in her home studio in front of a
large painting of Auyutuq Park on Baffin Island, Schreyer
explained that the Arctic and the prairies hold a similar
fascination for her. "(They're) vast landscapes that
go on forever," she said.
The Arctic Quest project was partly conceived
by Toronto artist Linda Mackey, and launched in January of
2005. The opportunity was presented to Schreyer last year.
It didn't take long for Schreyer, an oil
painter and watercolour artist, to decide this was the opportunity
of a lifetime.
There are several goals of the trip, besides
the obvious. The journey is intended to draw attention to
northern issues such as climate change and the fragile environment.
The group also hopes to bring about the restoration
of a historical building in Pangnirtung, Nunavut for use by
local and visiting artists.
Mark's Work Wearhouse generously agreed to
sponsor Schreyer for the trip, covering all her costs and
outfitting her, as well as providing jackets for the rest
of the team.
Born and raised in Germany, Schreyer immigrated
to Winnipeg in 1960 and moved to Mississauga in 1972. Always
having a passion for the fine arts -- her father was a landscape
painter -- Schreyer began painting seriously in 1972 and started
teaching in 1978.
Schreyer said she's looking forward to being
with so many established artists, because they can all learn
from each other. She's not nervous about the trip, only excited.
"It's a new experience and I'm still young enough to
do it one more time," Schreyer said, adding, "I
should've done it a long time ago."
Stephanie Thiessen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org