La Plonge artist paints her love of nature

Viola Woodhouse in her cottage at Lac La Plonge. The landscape painter, who immigrated from the Czech Republic, tries to show the link between humans and nature in her works. She was exposed to nature from a young age by her grandmother, an early environmentalist.

By Mac Christie
Her journey began when she was only five years old.

Viola Woodhouse would travel to the forest in her native Czech Republic, with her mother, sister and grandmother, and spend a day relaxing and living in the wild.

She would gather wild herbs and mushrooms with her grandmother, an early environmentalist.

“She was already concerned with the destruction of nature at that time,” Woodhouse said. “She said, ‘When you spend a whole day in the forest, when you leave, it should look like no one was there.’”

These trips were the beginning of her love of nature.

The 65-year-old Woodhouse, who immigrated to Canada in 1968, is a professor of philosophy at St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. And when the school year is over, she and her husband Howard, another professor at the university, travel to the cottage at Lac La Plonge, near Beauval.

It’s here she can indulge in her two pleasures – art and nature.

Woodhouse has been painting her whole life, she said, but as a professional, her studies took off in 1982. She studied at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario under Paterson Ewen, a famous Canadian abstract and environmental painter.

“He inspired me,” said Woodhouse, “because he loved nature and I love nature.”

She also gets her love of doing large works from Ewen, who she said was known for working with huge canvases.

Woodhouse now paints landscapes, but also went through a phase of painting in abstract. Even then her work was focused on nature.

Woodhouse noted that there is a link between humans and nature, which she thinks people forget in today’s world.

“I’m trying to express that link,” she said of her art. “To me it’s almost like opening the window – allowing people to see the same thing in a different way.”

Woodhouse added she likes to paint around Lac La Plonge, because she can find solitude in the area, and even collect mushrooms if she pleases.

“I still collect mushrooms, but I don’t teach people to collect mushrooms,” she said. “It can be very dangerous, but my mushrooms are 100 per cent safe – my husband is still alive.”

She’s also drawn to the people in the area, who she said are very down to earth and lack pretense. “After all these years, I feel like I’m part of the community and people know me,” she said.

Woodhouse has also taught art, often to area children and said there is a lot of artistic talent in the region.

“There are people who are tremendously talented,” she said. “But they never have the opportunity.”

But although she’s still interested in teaching children, she doesn’t have any pupils.

“They’ve all grown up on me,” she said with a laugh. “If there are children, I’ll paint with them.”

When she teaches children, she tries to pass on her love of nature, and have them experiment.

“I tell them to do anything they see in front of them,” she said. “You can do a purple sky, a yellow tree. Do what you feel.”

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