Gallery to honour pioneer mother’s legacy

Archie Shaver, 96, financed the Jean Shaver Art Gallery in memory of his late mother in Ogema, Sask. Photo by Heidi Atter.

“That’s me there, miserable little character, eh?” Archie Shaver says with a smile, pointing at a photograph of himself and his four brothers when they were younger. He motions to a photograph of his mother riding a horse. “And mom, she traded a picture of a herd of horses for that saddle horse.”

The photograph of his mother, Jean Shaver, was taken over a century ago in the early 1900s. Archie Shaver, now 96 and wearing his favorite white cowboy hat, looks around at the small building that is the Jean Shaver Art Gallery in Ogema.

Archie smiles at a painting of a settler camp. A man on a bucking horse is going through the breakfast cooking area. “The cook wouldn’t be very happy,” Archie says with a laugh.

Archie Shaver was born in 1921 in the Bengough area. He is one of five sons of artist Jean Shaver, who was born in 1887 in North Dakota.

“She just loved painting,” Archie says. “When she was younger there, they had to herd their animals all the time. So she’d take a sketch pad along and if there’s a coyote or a duck she’d draw it just the way she seen it.”

Jean’s love of art continued when she became a mother. “Every time I come in, I had to start looking at her paintings,” remembers Archie. “Sometime we’d come in for dinner and she’d have paints all over the table there and she’d say, ‘Oh, is it dinner time already?’” Archie smiles. “She’d really get carried away.”

“She was beautiful. She had natural black, curly hair and her eyes were just absolutely gorgeous. They were kinda a purple-blue,” he remembers fondly. “Everybody just loved her.”

In 1971, Jean Shaver passed away. She was in Regina for a gallbladder operation and no one realized she was allergic to the post-operation medication. Jean became very sick, the staff gave her another dose, “and that was the end of it.”

“It didn’t really hit me,” Archie says, remembering the day of her passing. “Then [that] night I was checking the cattle at two o’clock in the morning and all of a sudden it hit me and I couldn’t stop crying.”

Jean passed away before her artwork became well-known, although one of her clay “models” is in the Assiniboia Art Gallery. Now, Archie wants to share his mother’s art with others. “I built the gallery so [people] can see mom’s paintings and models. Otherwise, nobody really knew about them and it’s always kinda bothered me that no one knew that she was such an artist.”

Archie financed the building of the gallery in the summer and fall of 2016. He was 95 at the time. “I’ve always wanted to get this done,” he says. It opened in Ogema and immediately started bringing in visitors. “There’s been 1,300 people come through here,” Archie says.

The Ogema Community Development Officer, Tanya Leonard says, “It was a welcome addition to the museum.”

“We have lots of tourists passing through here, so it’s definitely a good place to have it where the paintings will get noticed.” Leonard adds, “I think it’s fantastic. I think the building is very well-suited.”

“Most people when they come in the door, they just stand there and stare,” Archie says. He opens the guest book and points to two entries, “There’s one in here from the Northwest Territories. Then the next one here, he’s from South America. Kinda far apart,” he chuckles.

The gallery holds artwork and “models” that date back almost a century. Archie looks at his favorite painting–a scene from the Big Muddy depicting riders pausing to have a smoke with a coyote hidden in the background. “Lady down in Weyburn there, she said ‘Oh the Grand Canyon,’ and I said, ‘No, the Big Muddy,’” he laughs.

As he locks up the gallery to head home, Archie pauses and looks in. He says he knows he’s getting up there in age and has plans in place for his grandchildren to take over when he passes. “I’m sure happy to get it done–the one thing I’ve always wanted to do,” he smiles. “I’m going to die a happy guy.”

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