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New beginnings on the Prairies

When artist Ramona Swift-Thiessen moved from the Okanagan to a ranch near Waldheim, Saskatchewan she initially wondered what subject matter she should paint. She was used to the majestic mountain scenery, fast-flowing rivers and picturesque lakes and woodlands of British Columbia. But it wasn’t long before her artist’s eye began to appreciate the beauty all around her here on the vast Prairies.

“Saskatchewan has such a diversity of scenic areas, from the northern forests to the parklands, grain fields and the grasslands farther south. I observed the golden heads of wheat and the intricacies of the kernels of oats — they look like little pearls. I’m also excited to own horses now — I’m often out there sketching and getting to know each of their personalities. And there are barn kittens every spring and of course flowers are everywhere,” she says.

Swift-Thiessen grew up on a farm near Valleyview, Alberta. Her mother was a professional puppeteer, and she had relatives who were photographers and artists, so art was in her genes.

The Okanagan Valley in B.C. where she lived for 15 years prior to moving to Saskatchewan was an ideal location for her. “There are artists, workshops and classes all over the place. That’s what I plugged into there,” she says.

A turning point came when Swift-Thiessen picked up a copy of a wildlife art magazine and noticed Terry Isaac was conducting workshops in Montana. “He’s a wildlife artist who does beautiful detailed realism of songbirds, wild cats and other animals. I’d always been a fan of his work but didn’t know he taught classes. I knew I had to go.”

The week-long workshop gave students plenty of time to not only paint and watch their instructor, but to also learn from other students, many full-time, successful artists.

“I remember feeling like I was way out of my league, but I knew that was where I wanted to belong one day. It motivated me to work hard,” she says.

Two years later she went back for another session and in 2004 held her first public show in Winfield, B.C. “It’s pretty exciting selling work for the first time — when it’s not friends and relatives buying your work, but strangers who think it’s good enough to spend money on,” she said.

Since that first show, Swift-Thiessen has participated in numerous others and sold many paintings, during times in her life when she was struggling with personal issues and an uncertain future. It was the encouragement and validation she needed to continue painting, knowing she was on the right path.

Swift-Thiessen began focusing on the little things in nature and enlarging them, realizing that you need to take a close look to see how intricate and beautiful they are. “I like to make little things spectacular. I want people to see the beauty. If they miss it outdoors, they can enjoy it inside, five times larger than life,” she says.

Swift-Thiessen works primarily in acrylics, and describes her work as realism, but she likes to play with abstract backgrounds occasionally. Her work is vibrant, bright, peaceful and joyful. “I hope it evokes positive moods and makes people smile.”

In the future, she would like to participate in more shows such as the Calgary Stampede and Women Artists of the West, of which she is a member. She also wants to open her farm studio to tours and shows.

As well as in many private collections, Swift-Thiessen’s work is in several health-care facilities in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan; bed and breakfast outlets; and oilfield equipment rental lobbies. Her greatest satisfaction as an artist is when she knows her art is making a difference in the lives of those who purchase it. “I’m very spiritual. I don’t just paint to make a lot of money. It’s bigger than that. When I do what’s meaningful and pour my heart into it, trying to connect with people, I know the rest will take care of itself.”

For more information, visit or call Ramona Swift-Thiessen at (306) 361-7963. †

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