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Remai Modern presents retrospective of work by late Saskatchewan photographer Thelma Pepper

For immediate release — February 9, 2021

SASKATOON, CANADA — The works of Thelma Pepper, the beloved Saskatchewan photographer known for her black and white photographs of the Prairies and its people, are the focus of a new exhibition at Remai Modern.

Thelma Pepper: Ordinary Women. A Retrospective is a collaboration between Remai Modern and the University of Saskatchewan Art Galleries and Collection (U of S), including works from both the museum’s and the university’s collections. This project is the first such collaboration between the U of S and Remai Modern, two organizations that signed a memorandum of understanding in 2017 to collaborate in areas of complementary strength and mission. 

Pepper, who died in December 2020 at age 100, documented the lives of Prairie women and men, putting their experiences and resilience into focus. Connecting through shared stories, Pepper illuminated the critical roles women held within their seemingly ordinary, everyday environments. Her photographs exemplify compassion, dignity and intimacy, a result of her deep curiosity and warmth. 

“Thelma was a vibrant spirit, who seemed to gravitate to people whose stories were often overlooked. Although we are very sad she won’t be there to see the exhibition, her artistic voice resonates powerfully through all of her work and we are honoured to highlight her impact as a photographer,” said Sandra Fraser, Remai Modern Curator (Collections).

“This important and timely retrospective explores Pepper’s prolific career as an artist and feminist. Our co-curation focuses on the critical impact of Pepper’s photography and interviews that documented the histories, ideas and stories of everyday prairie women,” said Leah Taylor, Curator (University of Saskatchewan), who co-curated the exhibition alongside Fraser. “Her work illuminates the unique identities of primarily aging women, who had lived their lives with resilience and grace in the face of adversity and repression.” 

The exhibition includes Pepper’s three bodies of work, all comprised of silver gelatin prints printed in her home darkroom. Decades of Voices combines photographs and recorded interviews of women, all over the age of 85. The Spaces of Belonging series began as an exploration of the towns along Highway 41 that were slowly disappearing or already gone. Untie the Spirit highlights the dynamic lives of the people living at the Sherbrooke Community Centre, a long-term care facility in Saskatoon. 

Ordinary Women. A Retrospective places Pepper’s work in context alongside several other women photographers—Rosalie Favell, Mattie Gunterman, Dorothea Lange, Frances Robson and Sandra Semchuk—offering intimate and critical insights into Pepper’s work. Their work contextualizes and foregrounds the perspectives of women, as artists and as subjects, providing a larger frame in which to consider Pepper’s work beyond its value as an historical record.

Thelma Pepper: Ordinary Women. A Retrospective runs from February 13 to August 15, 2021 in Remai Modern’s Collection Galleries. Remai Modern would like acknowledge the support of the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation.

 About Thelma Pepper 

Thelma Pepper (1920-2020) was a Saskatoon-based artist, who was born in Nova Scotia, where she was introduced to photography by her grandfather and father. Pepper studied biology at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, completing a Bachelor of Science and later, a Master of Science at McGill University, Montreal. Having moved to Saskatoon in 1947, it was not until after her four children were grown that she began her own photographic work.  

Pepper was active with The Photographer’s Gallery, an artist-run exhibition and resource centre dedicated to photography as an artistic practice. At the age of 69, she had her first solo exhibition in 1990, entitled Decades of Voices: Saskatchewan Pioneer Women, which went on to travel across Canada and to Scotland. 

Pepper was the subject of a National Film Board of Canada production, A Year at Sherbrooke in 2009, and was the recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Award—Lifetime Achievement (2014) and the Saskatchewan Order of Merit (2018). The exhibition coincides with the publication of Pepper’s biography, written by Amy Jo Ehman and published by MacIntrye Purcell.

About Remai Modern

Remai Modern is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Traditional Homeland of the Métis. We pay our respects to First Nations and Métis ancestors and reaffirm our relationship with one another.

Remai Modern is a new museum of modern and contemporary art in Saskatoon. The museum is committed to affirming the powerful role that art and artists play in questioning, interpreting and defining the modern era.

Open since October 2017, Remai Modern is the largest contemporary art museum in western Canada and houses a collection of more than 8,000 works, including the world’s foremost collection of Picasso linocut prints.

Remai Modern would like to acknowledge the contributions of the Frank & Ellen Remai Foundation, the Canada Council for the Arts, SaskCulture through the Sask Lotteries Fund, SaskArts and the City of Saskatoon.

The museum would also like to thank the University of Saskatchewan Art Galleries and Collection for its ongoing collaboration and support.

For additional information contact:

Stephanie McKay, Communications Manager