Vernal Bogren Swift: Stories and Dreams from the Prairies
Vernal Bogren Swift, A Few Dreamed of Flying, 2021, wax resist with natural dyes and tannins on cotton paper. Photo: Rolf Bettner.

Vernal Bogren Swift: Stories and Dreams from the Prairies

Haida Gwaii Museum at Kay Llnagaay, Skidegate, BC - To Dec 20

by Michael Turner

Born in Warsaw, Missouri, in 1940, Vernal Bogren Swift holds an MFA in textiles from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan and has works in collections that include the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Textile Museum in Washington, DC. Her current exhibition comprises 13 of her batiks on loan from the collection of the North Dakota Museum of Art, in addition to five new works on paper.

In the early 2000s, Bogren Swift and her husband, Eric, immigrated to Canada to live at Daajing Giids on Haida Gwaii, “a few blocks from the edge,” according to the museum’s artist profile, “where moon and tide mark time.” To provide herself with a stable income, Bogren Swift trained as a nurse and a commercial fisheries technician, a commitment she made and “presumes to offer" as advice to those seeking a life in art: “prioritize actions that intentionally support the creative life. Give your money and effort to it without assurance of success.”

Though Bogren Swift’s natural dyed, wax resist paper works dazzle at the level of colour, line and form, it is their two-part titles – a short upper-case title, followed by a longer title in lower case – that not so much focus our eyes but widen them. In one of these works, a golden bulb is set against an orange field; a human figure is contained within the bulb and a second figure either entering or exiting it. The title reads: FULLY ASLEEP, she leaves her bed to explore the night. But truth is that she goes nowhere beyond her imagination, nested nicely in her head on the pillow (2021).

To learn more about this remarkable artist and thinker, see Benson Hilgemann’s 2019 video

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