The story behind the trials and tribulations of the mural newly installed at the Swift Current Museum is as interesting as the work of art which now graces the side of the building.
The tandem of Stephen Girard and Shon Profit from the Whitemud Clay Studio and Gallery in Eastend are admittedly happy to see their labour of love completed. The nearly 10 metre long mural depicts the intricacies Southwest landscape, while their work on the project provided an equally challenging process.
"We had so many difficulties last year with clay cracking, with the tiles cracking that were not detectable in the first firing of the tiles because they were so micro fine that we couldn't find them without magnifying glasses. And that wouldn't show until the second firing when we put the colouring on," Profit explained.
"We needed several more weeks to figure out what the problem was. Designing new clay bodies is a very complicated state."
"If the truth were known, it was a fluke," Girard admitted with a chuckle, explaining of their eventual solution to fixing the process which had previously broken 400 tiles. Their computer controlled fired one group of tiles from green to final temperature in one firing, not two steps which they had utilized during their previous unsuccessful attempts.
"It was remembering a mistake that we had made along the way and then going back and giving it a try," he said. "We were trying all these other complex things."
Their work on the project dates back to 2010, when the duo were intrigued by the call for entry in the Saskatchewan Craft Council newsletter, as they had been interested in trying to get into architectural ceramics but did not know how to make that break through.
"I read the ad over for it and I went to see Stephen who was at the studio and I said 'oh my goodness'. I said 'this is the job for us!'"
They developed design ideas by going through the museum to match the exterior elements to displays inside the museum.
Their creation utilizes clay dug from pits in the Southwest, including material from Ravenscrag, which boasted the largest clay pit in Western Canada before it was bull dozed in last year.
The original proposal called for work on only a single wall panel, but the artists had a more unique design in mind.
"No matter how Steven and I looked at that wall, we didn't feel that it was large enough to encompass a Saskatchewan horizon. And that's the beauty of Saskatchewan, is that we have a horizontal landscape not a vertical landscape. So we came up with the idea of extending the mural to the front door to try and give you that beautiful wide feeling of open sky and rolling hills."
The entire mural marks a long journey for the artists, but the process was an eye opening one.
"The difficulties with tiles compared to pottery making clay was more enormous than we ever thought possible," Girard said. "It was largely because we kept running into difficulties (with the tiles cracking)."
"We were searching everywhere for the answer for it, and the actual fact it was right in front of our noses. It was a simple solution. It wasn't changing the clay formula, which was what we tried first, the most difficult thing. It was a simple firing technique that we were able to finally overcome the difficulties and get these things to fire right."
They also dedicated a lot of hours into perfecting the right colours for the mural.
"I made hundreds of tests to try to come up with the perfect colours. We have boxes full of the tests to try to find the colours," he said. "It was Shon then who took those tests that I was sort of inventing, and she was playing with them, as artists like to do, and coming up with the colour combinations and things that worked and things that really reminded us of the area that we lived."
"It was an interesting project and that we're ready for something else. We are glad this one's over. It's long overdue."
Profit points out the design of the mural is intended to showcase the landscape that represents the Southwest to passing motorists.
"Then, when people actually came to visit the Museum, they could come up close to it and then the texture is what tells you the story of the land. So we tried to represent a lot of the things that we see on the land...like cattle, or grain, or the animal life, the bird life, the grasses we find here. There's the lilies on there. There's Prairie Coneflower. We tried to encompass a little bit of all of those things."
The installation process took seven full days, as Profit worked with her father and her son to complete the installation of the mural.
After their exhaustive work, the artists are still trying to wrap their heads around the fact that they have completed the task.
"I still need some time," she admitted. "It was so emotional and it took us so long to do it that I'm not even quite there yet believing that it's over. So I think I need some time to be away from it and come back."
"I'm happy with the results. I think anybody here who does something artistically - whether it's writing a book, painting a picture, writing a piece of music - will tell you by the time you're finished that you need to just walk away from it for a while and then come back to it and sort of get to know the piece again. That's how I feel about the mural."
Girard noted that while he kept busy with other projects, he also is still evaluating the project.
"It's hard to give an accurate evaluation when you spend, you know a year, focussed on one thing."
Ironically, after the mural was installed it marked the only time they saw the full project.
"The hard thing was we don't have a studio space big enough to see it," she said. "So we only ever saw this mural in little chunks."
"I rented the Tea Hall in Eastend and rolled out 27 feet of paper and gridded it all off, drew the whole mural inside it, cut it all up into pieces. And we made all these tiles and we would put all these individual squares that were 10 inches onto the pieces of clay, draw it on there, and then fill in all the detail out of our imagination.
Working in blocks of four was the most they saw of the piece at once. "We were always starting a thought, in the middle of a thought, and completing a thought. We never got to see the whole thing."
"When you finally see it all in one piece, that was maybe the most interesting part of it," she said.