Blind Contour Drawing #41 “Waterhole” 1975 Wynona Mulcaster
Wynona “Nonie” Mulcaster lived her life equally devoted to three pursuits: horses, art, and education. She recalls how her desire to create art was challenged when, in Grade 2, she was caught drawing in class. After her picture was thrown in the garbage, she drew in the playground outside—a seven-year-old rebel. She remembers the indignation she felt throughout her youth at not having the means to develop one of her passions.
Mulcaster was born in Saskatchewan, a province that in the 1930s and 40s was dominated by drought, depression, and war—art education and galleries were almost nonexistent. But Mulcaster was determined, and she convinced her lawyer father to hire an art teacher so that, at age 17, she could learn how to draw a horse. Here, Mulcaster’s passions merged. She had been horseback riding from childhood, and owned her first horse by the time she was 13. Horses feature frequently in the prairie landscape paintings for which she eventually became famous.
But to Mulcaster, the missing piece in Saskatchewan’s two worlds of art and riding was education. She recalls: “I went into art education because I was indignant that after 12 years of schooling … I had never been introduced to art. I only discovered art after leaving the schooling situation.” And, after earning a BA in Art and English from the University of Saskatchewan, she took on multiple teaching jobs—from rural Saskatchewan schoolrooms to the Saskatchewan Teachers’ College to the University of Saskatchewan, where she influenced later painters such as Robert Murray, Otto Rogers, and Allen Sapp.
Meanwhile, Mulcaster developed Saskatchewan’s horseback riding culture, founding the province’s first pony club in 1945, and helping to train several Olympians. These endeavours were a labour of love: she taught all of her riding lessons for free. As a tribute to her influence on Saskatchewan’s equestrian culture, she was inducted into the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame in 1994.
For the last forty years of her life, Mulcaster lived mostly in Mexico, returning to Saskatchewan for summers. Until the end of her life, she rode her horse every morning, and painted for most of the day. Delighted when her audience struggled to determine whether her pieces portrayed the landscapes of Mexico or Saskatchewan, she admits that geography matters less to her than “a gritty feeling of dry struggle.” For Mulcaster, the land and its horses evoke feelings that transcend the specificities of place.
Yet, despite her ambiguous sentiments about geographical exactitude in her paintings, Mulcaster effectively and dramatically transformed Saskatchewan’s artistic, equestrian, and educational landscapes.
Heron, Laura Lee Dale. “German Expressionism and the Child Art Movement in the Career of Wynona Mulcaster.” Master’s Thesis, Concordia University, 1995.
MacPherson, Colleen. “Artist Finds Passion in Land.” Star-Phoenix, 22 June 2005, D2.
“Noted Saskatchewan Artist Wynona Mulcaster Dies in Mexico at Age 101.” GalleriesWest, 7 September 2016. http://www.gallerieswest.ca/news/noted-saskatchewan-artist-wynona-mulcaster-dies-in-mexico-at/
“Prairie Gold: Sports Heroes from Saskatoon.” Saskatoon Public Library, 1983. http://spldatabase.saskatoonlibrary.ca/ics-wpd/exec/icswppro.dll?AC=MENU_QUERY&XC=/ics-wpd/exec/icswppro.dll&TN=LH_SHOWS&SN=pg+PanAmerican+Games&RF=www_PG%20Full%20Record&EF=&DF=&MR=20&RL=0&EL=0&DL=0&NP=255&MF=