This year’s Visitor & Activities Guide celebrates the talented local artists who have found inspiration in this beautiful community. From music to visual and performing arts, Okotoks sparks the imagination for those who create and those who appreciate. Explore the diversity of talent here!
Brettyn Rose is an Okotoks-based singer-songwriter, who has been involved with music since she was five. Rose is a musical powerhouse with a folk meets pop sound. Rose also plays piano and guitar, and has sung at events and hockey games across Calgary and throughout the Foothills. Though still learning, Brettyn Rose has a debut cd out, writes her own songs, and belts them out with a powerful, soulful voice.
"I started writing at 13, and from that moment on, I knew that this is what I love," she explains. "Song writing is storytelling and emotions. I feel you can make such a connection with someone through music. I have an album out that I released in 2016 called Walking with No Shoes."
These days, Rose is writing and preparing to record her second album. "I'm super excited for this one, as I'm older and have learned so much since my first album. I have a great mentor with whom I'm working, and I just can't wait for everyone to hear it."
Inspiration for the young singer-songwriter comes from the every day. "I know that through music you can connect with people who are feeling the same thing," she says. "I love how I might write a song and it means something to me, but someone else hears the song and they feel something totally different - yet we hear the same song. Music is truly the universal language among people."
Rose wrote her first song at 13. She explained, "My mom and I were out and I said, “I need to get home, I think I have a song”. That first song, Shipwreck, is on my album."
She says a fellow musician heard her song and he said it reminded him of a hard time he had in his life. "That is why I love to write music, as I know it will connect with someone; that is the motivation for me. Writing songs is like a big journal of my life that I will always have."
Proud to be from the Okotoks area, Brettyn Rose says the best part of living near town is the people and the community. While she's fast making a name for herself across the foothills, Calgary and Western Canada, the Okotoks community has been ever supportive. "The people have been so kind in giving me opportunities and providing support," Rose said. "When you sing for people and they sing along with you or are moved by your performance, I can’t ask for anything else as a musician - that’s the sweet moment of connection."
As part of what makes Okotoks' art scene so fabulous, Brettyn Rose feels she is part of something special. There's always something going on - there are so many wonderful arts and culture events each year - visitors to town will most likely see the young singer on stage making connections with her audiences. "I love singing at any community event such as schools, sports teams, festivals, etc.," Rose explains. "Okotoks has so much to offer for events and entertainment. You get to see some of the same faces around town and soon you all feel like good friends."
For more information about Brettyn Rose, check out brettynrose.com or follow her on social media @brettynrosemusic for her next performance date.
Janifer Calvez captures magical moments; images inspired by time spent outside and the natural beauty where the prairie meets the mountains.
“I enjoy capturing images that are inspired by the natural images and colours that are around us every day,” she explains. “I paint mainly in acrylics, sometimes watercolour, and my paintings are impressions of the places that I've seen. I use vibrant colours and a bit of whimsy to capture a feeling or a moment in time.”
Calvez, who has lived in Okotoks for almost 18 years, grew up in Pincher Creek. Both places feature in her paintings. She was introduced to art by a neighbour when she was young but didn’t take it up until later in life. “After I became a medical laboratory technologist, which is a very linear and controlled line of work, I then started taking evening classes and re-discovered my love for water-colour and painting,” she says.
Calvez’s day job sees her teaching at SAIT in the medical laboratory technologist program, so by day she may be scientific and controlled. But, her art allows her to have a creative outlet.
Calvez says she is inspired to create art to capture the beauty she sees around her. She started out painting her dogs, then her kids when they were little, and then the gorgeous scenery of the Alberta mountains, foothills and prairies. “I take a million photographs on my travels, so I work with those references and what's in my head,” she says. “A painting may percolate in my head for years before I can get it down on canvas. Life is busy, so I don't have the time I would like to paint, but I manage to keep creating when I can.”
“Most of it is still in my head waiting to be painted though,” she jokes.
Okotoks, Calvez says, is a fantastic community with great pathways, awesome little coffee shops & boutique shops downtown, and friendly people. “The OAG is a great gallery to see a mix of local art as well as artists from all over Canada,” she says. “The acoustics at RPAC are fantastic, so a great venue for music and theatre. It's exciting that there is theatre, music, film, markets and festivals, art openings, to attend and enjoy.”
For visitors who want to see Calvez’s brilliant acrylics and watercolours, check out Okotoks’ newest gallery, Lineham House Galleries, which she owns and operates with fellow local artist Cheryl Taylor. The gallery, located at 33 Elma Street, showcases incredible local Alberta artists.
Jennifer Stables is an Okotoks-based painter, illustrator, sculptor and poet. For Stables, being an artist is a calling, and she has been creating art for as long as she can remember, but it wasn't until 2013 that she began to focus on selling her art. Jenny Dale Designs was born, and Stables began selling her art at craft fairs, markets, stores and galleries, and online at shop.JennyDaleDesigns.com.
Stables creates whimsical paintings and illustrations and writes poetry to accompany them. She also loves sculpting and mixed-media. “My artwork has a nostalgic feel to it and it often features Canadian animals, birds, and scenery,” she says. “My style combines loose, impressionistic painting with layers of soft lines. I usually use a combination of acrylic paint, ink, and collage, but I enjoy experimenting with a variety of materials and I try not to limit myself too much!”
Currently, Stables teaches in schools throughout Alberta as an artist in residence. The experience gives her the chance to explore other mediums, like clay, wire sculpture, paper mâché, and assemblage, fueling her artistic imagination.
Stables, a small-town girl at heart, has lived in Okotoks for four years. She loves the people in town and says the sense of community is strong. And, the Okotoks arts scene is welcoming, vibrant, and fresh. “There are so many talented local artists who are dedicated to serving this community though events, gallery showings, and classes. I'm honoured to be part of the community.”
Stables is a former kindergarten teacher and holds both a B.F.A. in painting and a B.Ed. in early childhood education. “Much of my artwork is intended for children's rooms and I often explore themes of childhood along with memories of my own childhood,” she says.
Stables says she creates art infused with love and joy. As a student in university studying fine arts, there was a strong push to create art that was political and dark, she explains. “That type of art isn't true to who I am,” she says. “I made the decision to create art that brought me joy and celebrated life, love, and childhood. I decided to have fun and play.”
Stables has also illustrated eight books, six of which she also wrote. “To me, picture books are the ultimate art form,” she explains. “They combine my love of poetry, storytelling, and illustration.”
Her latest book, Greenie the Wheat King, which is available in Chapters stores throughout Calgary, tells the story of a wooden grain elevator from her hometown of Burdett, Alberta and it features her poetry and illustrations. “There is so much of myself in that book, but it speaks to the experience of many other people,” she says.
That love of whimsy and connection with youth has brought Stables’ work to galleries across Alberta and to homes across North America. Some of Stables’ artwork is licensed to a company called Oopsy Daisy Fine Art for Kids in California, which distributes artwork to retailers worldwide including Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Amazon and Walmart, among others. Her paintings can be found at the Okotoks Art Gallery and the Lineham House Galleries in Okotoks. Visitors to Okotoks can also follow her on Facebook or Instagram @jennydaledesigns.
“I think people sense the authenticity in my work and that's part of the reason they are drawn to it... I put my heart and soul into what I create, and I love to see people's faces light-up when they see it and read my poetry!”
Okotoks-based Lee Kvern is an award-winning author of short stories and novels.
She has written fiction for the past 30 years, she explains, and has a portfolio of novels, novellas, short stories, magazine articles and book reviews.
Kvern started writing at the age of 30, after her father died, she explained. “His demise made me realize that if I wanted to do something in life, then I’d best be doing it now,” she said. “That’s what propelled me into writing.”
Fiction, Kvern said, is an excellent vehicle in which to further explore the many facets of human nature. “What I love best about fiction is that as a writer I can take real life situations and meld them with another story and get a completely different outcome, often redemptive, which in life is not always the case,” Kvern explained. “I am enormously interested in people and what makes them tick.”
As an avid reader, the transition into writing was a natural one, that gave her stimulation she craved when she was at home, raising two young boys.
And in the years since then, Kvern’s collection of short stories exploring humanity in all of its glory, 7 Ways to Sunday, won the CBC Literary Award, the Western Magazine Award, Hazel Hilles Memorial Short Fiction Prize, and the Howard 'O' Hagan Award. Two of her other books, Afterall and The Matter of Sylvie were nominated for Alberta Book Awards. Kvern’s work has been published in magazines across Canada, produced for CBC Radio, and published online.
“I’ve also been a writer-in-residence, at the WGA Banff Centre in 2018, at the Alexandra Centre for Writers in 2016, and an author-in-residence at the Calgary Public Library in 2015,” Kvern explained.
Kvern has lived in Okotoks with her artist husband Paul Rasporich, since 2002.
“Okotoks is an amazing place to raise kids and live with a strong sense of small town community that I love,” she said.
The town’s size and personable residents make Okotoks ideal. “The fact that you can’t walk down the street without making eye contact and saying hi to at least seven people, that is something you don’t see in a city,” Kvern said. “I love the Sheep River and our schools and pathways, the friendliness of local businesses.”
Lee Kvern’s books can be found at the brilliant Lineham Gallery and excellent Home Ground Coffee in Okotoks. Shelf Life Books and Owl’s Nest Books in Calgary also carry her work. “My books are available for e-readers in most formats,” she said. “My short stories can be found in literary magazines and online. Google my name and you’ll see a whole host of places to find my work.”
For more information, check out www.leekvern.com
Michela Sheedy is dedicated to writing songs that speak from the heart, pouring honesty and grit into lyrics that get straight to the point.
“When I listen to songs, I don't like fluffy lyrics,” she said. “The songs that move me cut deep and hit spots that make you feel things that you don't feel on a day-to-day basis, often times they even make you feel things that you don't want to feel.”
Sheedy’s music has been described as mix between American singer-songwriter Miranda Lambert, as expressive as Amy Winehouse and honest to the bone like country singer Chris Stapleton. This born and raised Okotoks singer describes her sound as the edgier side of country. Her kind of country music, she explains, doesn’t talk about tailgates or daisy dukes. Instead she sings about real stuff and real life. “I am inspired by heartbreak, triumphs, love, joy and all those moments where your body feels every ounce of emotion,” Sheedy explained.
From the time Sheedy was small, she wanted to be a singer. It’s been a promising path for Sheedy, who began singing when she learned to speak, learned guitar at 12, and has burned up stages across the province in the years since then, from Ponoka to the Calgary Stampede. She’s inspired by many artists and genres – from Chris Stapleton’s simple honesty, to the late Amy Winehouse’s expressive soul, rhythm and blues.
“Music has been my faithful companion,” Sheedy said. “It’s always there for me when I need it the most, through the good times and the bad. Music has always been the driving force in my life.”
Sheedy has always called Okotoks home. She feels privileged to have grown up in such a beautiful town where everyone cares about their neighbours. “All of the people in it are wonderful,” she explained. “Everyone cares about Okotoks and it shows.”
“I don't know what it is about Okotoks, must be something in the water,” Sheedy joked, “but we have some of the most talented people in the world living in our community.”
Okotoks is a town that truly cares for nurturing and facilitating art in whatever way possible, Sheedy said. “As a country artist, my favourite thing about Okotoks is the variety of places that you can perform. I got my start when I was 14 by playing Open Mic Nights here in town.”
She still makes open mic appearances when her schedule allows.
If you’re lucky enough to catch one of Sheedy’s performances – check her website michelasheedy.com or social media @michela_sheedy to see where she’s playing next. Otherwise, watch out for her upcoming debut single!
In Okotoks, on any given week there are numerous art shows, concerts, and plays.
A big part of the arts scene is Dewdney Players, the local community theatre group, who stage award-wining plays and musicals. The community theatre group is volunteer-run. Members are actors, directors, make-up and hair artists, and craftsmen who create costumes, sets and props, and run the front of house and backstage.
Nicola Payton helms the Dewdney Players Group Theatre in Okotoks. Payton, an actor and director who has been involved in Dewdney Players since 2007, is currently the group's president. "I have been involved in numerous ways: acting, directing, make-up, props and stage crew because I am passionate about community theatre and Dewdney prides itself on creating high quality productions," she said.
Payton said she is inspired by the people who join community theatre, "and say that they haven't done any acting since elementary school and they are shy," she explained. "I love being able to help them overcome that and watch them shine on the stage."
Dewdney Players puts a wide variety of productions on the stage each year, from musicals, to drama and comedies. Last year, the group staged Lafferty's Wake, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Arsenic & Old Lace.
"I love the fact that everyone in the group is determined that the public get to see professional quality productions for a reasonable ticket price," Payton said. "The best thing about acting in this community is when people come up to you in stores or at hockey games and say “thank you so much, we had a fabulous evening, it was such a great show”. That is what really makes me want to keep doing shows."
Payton, who has lived in Okotoks for 11 years, says her favourite thing about the town are the people in town. "Everyone in Dewdney Players is so friendly and the appreciation we get from our audiences just show how nice people are here," she said.
"In Dewdney, we have young actors and backstage people, we have young set designers and students from the composite high school cosmology classes helping with hair and make-up," she said. "The school bands and choirs are amazing and the community is starting to go out to see them which is a huge encouragement for them."
Dewdney Players’ next production is The Lion in Winter, debuting May 11, 2018, and running for three weeks. Details can be found at Dewdneyplayers.com
Paul Rasporich was born to create. The multi-talented artist has lived in Okotoks for 15 years and the town has benefitted ever since. Rasporich draws, paints, sculpts with a particular focus: the human form. "My work has always centered around the human being, figurative, portrait, etc.," he says.
"I have learned recently about myself, that there is nothing I really enjoy more than drawing, painting, sculpting portraits from life. I am most challenged by the human face, and capturing the essence of that person, I think."
Rasporich also inspires and guides students as a visual art teacher at Okotoks' Alberta High School of Fine Arts. "I was born an artist, and the desire to create never leaves," he explains. "I am not a happy person if I am not creating - I teach a lot of high school students who are the same way."
He says he has worked with just about every visual arts medium there is, except carving, and that's on his bucket list.
Galleries across the Foothills carry Rasporich's work, from The Lost American Gallery and Museum in Longview to Lineham Galleries in Okotoks, and the Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond.
Rasporich's next exhibition entitled, 'No Clear Line,' will opens at The Okotoks Art Gallery in June. It is a series of paintings and sculpture that showcases his passion for fishing.
Fishing is Rasporich's other passion, one closely tied with the reason he moved to Okotoks in the first place. Okotoks is central to a number of rivers emanating from the Rocky mountains. The Sheep River passes through town. The Bow River flows nearby, and tributaries connect ravine and coulee and prairie inbetween. It's not hard to see why fishing often features in Rasporich's art. "Fishing makes me as happy as doing art does," he says.
A proud member of Okotoks' art scene, Rasporich says arts in Okotoks is vibrant. "I try to expose my students to as many different media as possible, as I would like to start a Renaissance in Art right here at the Alberta High School of Fine Arts."
Award-winning country singer Tanya Ryan is a bright sound on the Canadian country music circuit. Ryan, who has lived in Okotoks for 10 years, is originally from Saskatoon. The accomplished singer, songwriter, and bass player, who has a classic tone with a modern approach to writing and delivery, is one of the phenomenal acts visitors to Okotoks can see on stage.
She got into music as a university student, Ryan explained. “I had been pursuing a much more logical career - I was taking a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Saskatchewan - and I was really unhappy,” Ryan said. “I was lacking motivation and I wasn’t in any way excited about moving forward or any job opportunities that had been presented to me.”
So, she left Saskatchewan and moved to Okotoks and started to experiment with the idea of pursuing music. “It was a challenging transition for me because I’ve always been a pretty logical and practical person. A career in music is neither of those things!” she said.
Ryan had always loved to sing. As cliché as it may sound, Ryan believes in the adage ‘you don’t choose it, it chooses you.’ A career in music chose her. “I play music because it seems to be the one thing I can’t stop doing,” she said. “It’s a challenging pursuit, but there’s so much to learn and it keeps driving me forward. I believe in learning and challenging yourself, and this industry provides me with many opportunities for both those things.”
Ryan says her favourite thing about Okotoks is the people in town. “The people here are the. Best. People,” she said. “I find this community to be just that, a community. People help each other, there’s a lot of team work. If you need help with something, you’ll find a lot of it here. People are generous and enthusiastic. It’s awesome.”
The Okotoks arts scene plays a big part of that feeling of community. Ryan said the best part about the arts in Okotoks is that there is so much variety. “We have all sorts of amazingly talented people in this town, seriously,” she said. “Between Dewdney Players, the high school productions, the music and the fine arts, it’s crazy, you can’t get bored here!”
Find Tanya Ryan’s music online – on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play – or on tanyaryan.ca if you’re on the hunt for a cd.
After learning to make violins at the Violin Making School of America in Salt Lake City, restoration work and maintenance on violins naturally followed for Langdon Strings luthier Tyler Langdon. "I started working out of my parents’ garage, while still working a part time job," Langdon explained. "The work is both very hands on and meditative at the same time."
At Langdon Strings on North Railway Street, the focus is on bowed instruments (violin, viola, cello, and bass), also minor maintenance and small repairs on fretted and electric instruments, too. The shop also sells new and restored instruments, instrument accessories, cases, strings, capos, drum sticks and other accessories.
For Langdon, Okotoks’ view of the mountains to the west, the town's walkable pathway system and beautiful places to visit, make it home.
Langdon, who has lived in Okotoks for five years, loves his work and is continually inspired by it. He became hooked on the trade after a visit to the violin making school in Salt Lake City, where he got to see and play some antique violins, including a Stradivarius.
"It's the instruments, their elegant construction and the natural materials they come from," he said. "It's really wonderful to work with similar tools to the ones used 300 years ago, it's really a balance between architecture and art, trying to make or restore something so that it is not just beautiful looking but also musically responsive."
For visitors to Okotoks, Langdon's work can be found in his shop, but he also plays with the Calgary Civic Symphony, the Rocky Mountain Symphony Orchestra. Langdon can also be spotted playing with his family band, The Spokeshaves.
Celebrating the bright and beautiful in the every day, artist Virgini Senden’s paintings are punctuated by bold punches of colour. Senden, who came to Okotoks from the Netherlands 10 years ago, works in acrylics and oils and sees beauty in our surroundings.
A farm girl at heart, Senden loves animals, farming, and the great outdoors. She explained, as a young girl when she wasn't outside (which was often), she'd be found inside drawing or painting, or both. Senden always loved painting and drawing, but she never pursued it professionally until she came to Canada. “I thought the one thing I want to change when I move, is I want to do something with my art,” she explained. “It is my creative outlet when I paint. It’s relaxing. The whole world fades away.”
A self-described cheerful optimist, Senden incorporates joy and happiness into her paintings with bold, bright colours, playing with atmosphere and sense of place in ways that make audiences wish they could step inside her paintings. She describes her style as a graphic realism, exaggerating the lines and brightness of colours to produce paintings that make people smile. Into the future she said she wants to explore figure drawing and portraits, as she is intrigued by what stories faces can tell.
Senden finds inspiration in the great outdoors, in landscapes, in trees, florals and animals, which are often the subjects of her paintings. “I love to be in nature, whether I am hiking or walking my dog,” she said. “I find beauty in the outdoors, it is magnificent here. I cannot go outside without being intrigued by the beauty surrounding us and showing itself in so many different ways.”
There's never any shortage of inspiration. The area around Okotoks has such geographic diversity, all of it beautiful, from the mountains and foothills, to the winding rivers and coulees, to the flat grasslands and prairie.
The small-town atmosphere and the amazing art community is what Senden loves about Okotoks. “Having immersed myself in the art community here, there are lots of people engaged and wanting to make it a really nice place,” she said. “People really try to make visitors aware of the art culture.”
Senden has had her work displayed at the Calgary Stampede Art Gallery, the Leighton Art Centre, at the Art on 9th Gallery in Inglewood, and inside the Okotoks Art Gallery, and also outside, at Art on the Lawn. This spring, from January 15 - May 9, 2018, eight of Senden’s paintings are on display at the Bow Valley Ranche Restaurant at Fish Creek Provincial Park. For more information, and dates of her current exhibits, check out: https://www.virgini-art.com/ or follow Virgini Senden on Instagram @virgini_art or Facebook virginisendenart.