Living in a small town in the prairie lands of Manitoba, nearly two hours from Winnipeg, sculptor Ione Thorkelsson has developed her own unique techniques of casting and her own subject matter — provocative glass skeletal forms that manage to be both organic and other-worldly. In her 2009 work Rex (pictured), a viewer is confronted with the familiar (is it a dinosaur?) and the unexpected (is it a little girl’s skeleton in a skirt?) as the artist plays with scale, form, and iconography to powerful effect. Yesterday it was announced that the Canada Council for the Arts had awarded Thorkelsson its Saidye Bronfman award for excellence in the crafts, which includes a $25,000-prize.
“There’s a lot of inspiration I take from what’s around me,” she said in a video interview on The Canada Council for the Arts website. “Working with the glass is the initiator of the idea, and things come gradually into play more to create an atmosphere than a thought-out idea.”
Mining the ancient history of the wide open landscape all around her, not far from the glacial body of water Lake Agassiz, Thorkelsson’s work seems to reference primordial forms, though the hand of the artist as mediator is always present. Though glass is a primary material, she also works in mixed media. For example, her work Arboreal fragments (2004) blends found wood and glass to poetic effect.
Ione Thorkelsson, Arboreal Fragments, 2004. Cast glass, found wood. H 8 ft. photo: robert barnett
Thorkelsson has taken on the human experience directly in her 2006 exhibition entitled “Ossuary” in which human bones and skulls were presented in ways that revealed the universality and inevitability of death, yet also confronted the individual, personal experience of loss and separation.
The Saidye Bronfman Award is funded from a $1.5 million endowment that was given to the Canada Council for the Arts in 2006 by the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation. As part of the award, the Canadian Museum of Civilization acquires a work by award recipients. Thorkelsson was nominated for the award by Stephen Borys, the director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery.