Curator's statement

Jan Crawford: Re-labelling an Okanagan Identity
Gallery of South Okanagan, Penticton, BC
June 7 – July 20, 2002

My first experience with the work of Jan Crawford occurred upon my arrival in Penticton in October, 1996 to assume the role of Director/Curator at the Art Gallery of the South Okanagan. At that time Crawford's Red Ladder exhibition was on display. The exhibition included a series of brightly coloured monotypes (the first I had ever encountered) depicting orchard still-life objects and landscape images, as well as a group of ceramic fruit including pears and apples and of course the authentic red ladder, the signature icon of the exhibition.

Roger Boulet, the exhibition's curator points out in his text A little red ladder, and other memories... that Crawford's work "provides a nostalgic recollection of a happy time." For Red Ladder, Crawford drew on her childhood experiences, gathered from the first family trip in their Studebaker to Naramata, to those experiences on the family's mixed orchard on Penticton's West Bench after 1963.

Even as a teenager, Crawford acknowledges she understood the land well. The first winery in Penticton appeared in the Cherry Lane Shopping Centre area in 1976, the year Crawford graduated from Pen High. Crawford believes this was the first shift in the change of the culture and identity of the area. The 1970s image known to most, of the sunny, 'warm & fuzzy' Okanagan as depicted by fellow Pentictonite Sandy Wilson in the film My American Cousin, was not to remain.

Like Wilson's film, Crawford's exhibition, Re-labelling an Okanagan Identity reincarnates some of these earlier themes of nostalgia and memory but pushes the premise for the exhibition one step further, In it, Crawford investigates the region's identity shift from fruit bearing land to wine producing vineyards.

For generations, people of the Okanagan lived their lives according to the rhythms of the orchard: pruning, spraying, picking and then packing. For Crawford, rows of orchard trees, branches bending under the weight of ripe red apples, plump pears and swollen peaches, picking ladders, pails and canning jars have been her familiar and featured icons.

The new wine industry poses new icons and identities to be explored. Crawford's use of the wine label in the exhibition likens itself to the familiar orchard icons. Smaller in scale, these wine labels still speak of the land but present a new vision, one of prosperity, vitality and a new identity. It is this identity which Crawford questions, searches and explores flow will the re-labelling of the land change who we are as a culture?

The culture of the Okanagan during the early and mid part of the twentieth century was identified by the fruit packing industry and the fruit label. These colourful original images taken from fruit crates acted as advertisements, and introduced this region and its produce to the rest of the country. The labels often presented a vision of a productive and vibrant landscape, or a more direct call to action; "Buy Me," to the purchaser. In one series of works in the exhibition these labels are superimposed over life-sized monotypes from original black and white photographs of workers from the 1920s.

In "Culture Preserves", Crawford's use of the canning jar is a more physical and poignant archive of all that has been or is being re-labelled. In the piece, Crawford preserves her own photographs and those of the community in what she hopes will serve as powerful reminder that economic shifts have changed — not just the land but also the people.

Geraldine Parent
Director/Curator, Re-labelling an Okanagan Identity (2002)

2001, monotype, 36 x 24"

Buy Me Canadian Apples
2001, monotype, 48 x 36"

Packing House Workers

The Packing House Men

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