I am a frequent driver of Highway 22, but it took me several trips to turn onto Main Street Esterhazy to check it out. Imagine my delight to spot an art gallery – Jocelyn’s Fine Art Gallery – on Main Street. A large, airy space with good light, Jocelyn’s gallery features her own art, art and pottery by local and guest artists, a place for art classes, and a selection of art materials. I soon made a point of stopping in at Jocelyn’s Art Gallery every time I drove Highway 22. (For those who don’t believe that art can stimulate economic activity, I have now purchased items from at least 5 other Esterhazy businesses!) I enjoyed seeing the new art as it came in, and I was curious about the dynamic woman behind all of this – Jocelyn Duchek. It is no small thing to keep an art gallery going in a place the size of Esterhazy (pop 3000). I wanted to learn more about this vital, friendly woman who is also a gifted artist, teacher and entrepreneur.
As a small girl, Jocelyn Duchek loved to sketch. She was very young when her dad asked her to draw a moose for a hunting buddy of his. Her dad gave his friend Jocelyn’s moose drawing (regretting that later) and Jocelyn remembers that he bragged about that moose picture for the remainder of his days. Both her parents supported her love of drawing but there were not many opportunities for her to learn more. She wanted to try painting but she had no idea where or how to begin. As a teen, she continued to draw a lot and attended Fort San Summer School for the Arts. It was a fabulous experience for her but there was no real instruction. “Be free, be loose,” she was told. Jocelyn felt lost and wanted more in the way of guidance.
By the time Jocelyn Duchek was 24, she was married with three young children and little time for art. But creativity will find its outlet. Jocelyn poured her energy into sewing (which was practical as well), into creating dough art, crafting porcelain dolls, and working with ceramics. She spent 7 years helping with her sister’s leather business sewing mukluks and purses. Eventually, Jocelyn returned to school which led to a career working with children with disAbilities , coordinating a respite program for their families, and later, working with special needs students in the school system. Jocelyn put her heart and soul into this work but was beginning to feel burned out and tired. After about 10 years of this work, Jocelyn became gravely ill with ulcerative colitis and required a number of surgeries. As she slowly began to heal, she went back to work part time, feeling that while it was time for a change in her focus, she didn’t really know what to do next.
In 2004, a friend invited her to come to art class with Ward Schell. Jocelyn uncharacteristically said yes instantly. Off she went. “It totally opened my eyes. I learned how to start a painting, I learned how do a painting, I learned how to make it look 3-D. I still have this first little grain elevator I painted. I show it to students now. That little grain elevator led to another painting, and another, and so on. I would finish a painting and go “Wow! Did I do that?” I was so very excited about painting. I just could not stop talking about the painting process to everyone I met.”
By 2010, Jocelyn’s enthusiasm caught fire and soon people were asking her to teach painting. She gave up her job, did some renovating in her home and had a small gallery there as well as a place to teach. The first classes were in her former master bedroom. She found that learning to teach was the best possible education – she took classes, she learned about colour theory. She eventually began taking photos of her work step by step, so that she could show people her process. “I just get lost in the zone when I am painting, so until I did that I didn’t really know how to teach what I was doing.” There was a great hunger in Esterhazy for art classes – both for adults and children. Jocelyn’s home became too small and she tried out 2 different locations before moving to her present gallery space in 2014. Throughout it all, her husband Ken was “incredibly supportive.”
Some of Jocelyn Duchek’s art is inspired by the boreal forest of Northern Saskatchewan. Each summer, she and husband Ken, along with friends and family camp at a number of lakes – Armet, Steeprock, Rocky. For Jocelyn, the northern forests are healing and rejuvenating places. “I don’t mind fishing,” says Jocelyn. “But I’d rather be painting!” The men would go fishing and many of the women would paint. She loves to paint abstracts as well using acrylics and alcohol ink. She finds that the different mediums balance one another – the poured paint gives her a sense of freedom and looseness that complements her more representational work.
“I just kept offering what I felt I needed and couldn’t find in Esterhazy, ” says Jocelyn. As well as wanting art classes, Jocelyn wanted a place to display her work. Early in her art career, she applied to a few art galleries and was rejected. Part of her dream today is to offer a place for aspiring local artists to hold their first show. She offers them guidance, encouragement and know-how.
Jocelyn’s Art Gallery continues to evolve, to thrive and to grow. Recently, Jocelyn had a vision that will not leave her alone. “I figure if it won’ t let me go, I better I act on it.” In the new year, she and Ken are going to create a “forest room” – a meditative place in the front of the gallery. When you enter this room, you will know you are somewhere special. She herself began meditating 5 years ago. “I have always been a very busy type of person”, Jocelyn says. “Meditation has calmed me, has slowed me down a bit which I do find also helps inspire my creative side. It is catching on in Esterhazy. People are taking yoga and becoming more aware of the healing possibilities of art as well as meditation.” Jocelyn now has meditation cushions for sale, and will soon be adding Himilayan salt lamps and other like products. “You have to be inventive in a small town. You have to think about what is needed in the town and what will bring people in. It takes running classes, hosting events, selling supplies and other products. You can’t just sell art or you’d be out of business before you start.”
“I am doing what I love best,” says Jocelyn Duchek. “I have no doubt that creating art is 100% healing. For me, painting took me back to a place deep within me, that creative place that I had left far behind.” It is a great gift to all of us that Jocelyn reconnected with that long lost creative well within.