Part of the on-going project Back To The Land
Having only spent less than a week on the road, I am still in awe of the endless skies and rolling hills that meet the horizon in the province of Saskatchewan. It’s wave like grasslands and wheat fields dance in the wind reminding me of coral reefs swaying in unison among the ocean currents that bring them to life. When venturing off any major highway or road, you can find this authentic quiet that is true to the Canadian prairies among its natural beauty and vast landscapes.
With Canada's authentic landscapes comes authentic residents. One resident that comes to mind is self-taught artist Neil Jones. I met Neil in the Val Marie campground during my stay while photographing John Reynolds family honey farm. On one afternoon when I was not shooting other residents of Val Marie, I noticed a couple pulled into the campground towing a beautiful Boler camper; imagine Dr Seuss and Ikea get together, drink way to many beers and decide to break into the RV market. After a few days I made my way over to my campground neighbours to introduce myself. Neil and Jan had two lovely dogs and immediately we started chatting about where each of us were from exchanging stories and reasons for visiting Val Marie. Both Neil and Jan were so kind and I was curious about their Boler camper, so I asked if they could give me a quick tour. Both laughing at my curiosity, they opened the door and I was shocked on how much room this fibreglass pod could hold. There was a double bed, room for a fridge, it had a stove, and more than enough storage for a never-ending road trip. Plus it was under 500lbs, enough for a Scandinavian athlete to pull on his 10 speed bicycle.
Within the first hour of our conversation, Neil and Jan had already offered an open invitation to visit the two of them at their home in Rockglen, Saskatchewan with the possibility of introducing me to other individuals they knew who might be willing to share their story for the Back To The Land project. I told Neil and Jan coincidentally my plans were to keep driving east in hopes of finding more towns along the way and that a short visit in Rockglen would be wonderful. Through-out the week we managed to hang out a few more times and right before they were leaving Val Marie for good, I asked Neil if he would be willing to sit for a portrait and without hesitation Neil happily said yes. I took 20 minutes of Neils time, set up a couple of lights and took a few photographs. It turns out Neil is from Saskatchewan and from Welsh decent. I asked Neil to describe his work and he said "My work brings history to the canvas focusing on first nations, their life as great people and the land they call home". Neil loves the natural world and does so by portraying it as best he can while working in Oil paint to accomplish this. To see more of Neil Jones incredible art work please visit his website by clicking here.
Once I have finished taking a bunch of frames, Neil and I exchanged contact info and Jan made it quite clear that if and when I was in Rockglen to give them a call. The story however does not end here. After I finished spending 9 days in Val Marie I did manage to make my way East and took Jan and Neil up on their invitation to stay in Rockglen. Fast forward one week and I was on the front steps of Neil and Jan's home. Rockglen itself is a beautiful little town with one main street surrounded by gorgeous prairie landscapes filled with coulees and rolling hills that create the perfect backdrop for Neil's work and inspiration. It was also great to see where the two of them lived, including Neil's gallery and studio which occupies the front foyer of their home where Neil paints and exhibits his work to the public. They also host bands from across the country using their home as a venue for live music, where people come from surrounding small towns and communities to see various musicians play in their living room as most music venues in small towns tend to be at the local hotel's, pubs, or nothing at all. Neil and Jan also invited me to have dinner with one of their friends Leary Mulvena who owned a ranch in the middle of no-where where one evening we had a steak dinner, went for a drive through some of the back roads and ended the evening with a scramble up to a look out where you could see the Montana border followed by a beautiful sunset. It was a great day filled with new friends and a side of Canada I can not wait to return too.
Unfortunately I was not able to find anyone else to photograph in Rockglen, Saskatchewan, however Neil mentioned a gentleman who owned a convenience store in a small remote town called Big Beaver, Saskatchewan... I know what your thinking and I still laugh out loud knowing there is a town called "Big Beaver".
I will leave it at that, I hope you enjoy the photographs, and stay tuned for more stories from both Val Marie and Big Beaver, Saskatchewan.
-If you know of someone who has led an interesting life and lives in a small or remote town (Under 500) somewhere... or anywhere in Canada, feel free to send me an email and let me know.
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