ABOUT THE ARTIST – ELAINE SELL PREFONTAINE
FROM THE PRAIRIES TO THE ROCKIES
GROWING UP ON THE PRAIRIES
I was born on the prairies in the farming and ranching big sky country of southern Saskatchewan, 35 miles north of the Montana border (North of 49), a product of “The Dirty Thirties”. This area is unique geologically as it is one of the four areas in North America unaffected by glaciation. Mine was an interesting childhood exploring the rolling hills and coulees on horseback and collecting petrified wood, fossils and interesting stones, as well as sketching, painting and writing poetry. This area “where the dear and the antelope play” was the true west, and brings back nostalgic memories of growing up there and riding horseback to that “little one room school house on the prairie”. The area is also steeped in important Canadian history. Notably, in 1876 following “The Battle of the Little Big Horn” (“Custer’s Last Stand”), the legendary Leader of the Sioux Nation “Sitting Bull” (Tatanka Yotanka), and his Tribe fled to the Wood Mountain area located 40 miles northwest of where I grew up, “as the crow flies”. He remained on the Canadian side of the border for four years, and today a small band consisting of the remnants of his followers reside in the area on the only Lakota Sioux First Nations Reserve in Saskatchewan.
FROM THE OIL PATCH TO SLATE STONE ART
I spent 37 interesting years in the business world (mostly in the “Oil Patch”, Calgary, Alberta), before I moved to the Columbia Valley of British Columbia. While in the oil patch I worked for: – Whitehall Canadian Oils – Francana Oil & Gas Ltd., which closed doors to go back to Saskatchewan – Supertest Petroleum Ltd., which was bought out by British Petroleum (now Talisman) where I spent many years – San Antonio Explorations which was then bought out by Wellore Energy where I remained till 1992 when I moved to the Columbia Valley. As a secretary in the oil patch I had to, and did, it all — I worked for engineers, geologists, landmen, personnel, lawyers, and accountants — but for the most part I was secretary to petroleum engineers and that is where I had my major petroleum experience. Those were the days! Flowers on my desk and a paid for parking spot. My bosses treated me like family — inviting me home for Christmas and joining me in skiing Banff, Sunshine and Lake Louise. I still exchange Christmas cards and have special friendships with some of the San Antonio Explorations and British Petroleum people. Being the sole supporter of my two children I was fortunate to find long term work with such fine old oil patch companies. I was also blessed in that I had my youth, eternal optimism, a zest for learning and a hard working Saskatchewan farm background with a “never say die” attitude to see me through those many challenging and ultimately rewarding years.
HOME IN THE COLUMBIA VALLEY
The beautiful Columbia Valley, endearingly called “The Valley” is a visual paradise. My home is near picturesque Columbia Lake from whence the mighty Columbia River has its source. It is here that I experience stimulating creative energies and the feeling of belonging On the east side of “The Valley” are the Canadian Rocky Mountains and on the west are the Purcell Mountains. The Purcells boast large populations of big game — bear, big horn sheep, dear, elk, moose and mountain lions. On some evenings one can hear a chorus of coyotes and wolves howling to the moon. So truly, there is much inspiration in this magnificent area —“My Last Stop”. The Columbia Valley is very inspirational. Here the beauty and abundance of the wildlife and my affinity for Purcell Mountain Slate Stone inspired me to combine the two into an art form —- “Slate Stone Art, “the home of modern day petroglyphs and pictographs”. Having a “Free Miners Certificate” I hand pick the slate stone from the Mineral Claims I staked in the Findlay Creek Area of the Purcell Mountains —-“Up the Findlay”, as we locals say
THE SLATE STONE ART PROCESS
“Slate Stone Art” is an excellent example of a true cottage industry as I do everything myself. As a registered prospector holding a BC Free Miner’s Certificate (FMC) , in the late 1980’s I staked, and still maintain, mineral claims in the Purcell Mountains (½ hour drive from home) where I select and hand pick the slate stone. I then take the slate home to split and clean each selected piece and drill holes for hanging. Next comes the creative process to bring out that “special creature” waiting there. This is done by individual and/or combined processes of engraving, relief sculpture and oil. I also engrave the reverse side with Title, Latin name if applicable, my name and signature, creation date and Fairmont BC Canada. The surface is lastly sprayed with preservative, when required, and the piece is hung with matching leather lacing. After this I take pictures of each piece with my digital camera and/or scanner to make individual business cards, studio portfolio pictures, art records, and website images. The new Slate Stone Art pieces are then displayed in my cottage studio.
MY OWN DOMAIN
Finally and happily appropriate pieces are inserted into my first website which I created from scratch and maintain in it’s entirety. I was fortunately able to register a domain, www.slatestoneart.ca, which displays both my Business Name and Country…..Canada (.ca) of course. More precisely beautiful British Columbia, Canada. As my brother “Montana” wrote: “Beautiful British Columbia Skies of red and blue Beautiful British Columbia I am coming home to you.” In 2014 I opened my second website, www.slatestoneart.net, using WordPress to make use of the many gallery functions to showcase my photography.
CFDC SELF EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM
I was also an enthusiastic participant in the “Community Futures (CFDC) Self Employment Program”, which provided me with the initial encouragement needed to see my dreams into successful fruition. The word is: “Small Business is Big Business in the Kootenays!
Elaine Sell Prefontaine: Born 6:20 a.m., September 16 Location: 49.167 North Latitude, 105.933 West Longitude In the Astrological Sign of Virgo, in the Chinese Year of the Tiger (Earth+).
The following article, which says it better than I could, touches upon the essence of my work and the creative processes involved.
ELAINE SELL PREFONTAINE – SLATE STONE ART
Written by: Kevin and Andrew of KokOasis – “Home of Kokopelli and His Art Collection”
Published in The “KOKO COURIER NEWSLETTER” – Knoxville, TN, June 2001 Issue
“Elaine Sell Prefontaine can’t remember when she didn’t create art. Growing up on a small farm on the prairies in the forties, Elaine’s family made their own entertainment. There was no library, television or electricity, only the local radio stations. There were no art galleries and no known artists. So Elaine became inspired to make her own art. And inspiration there was! Southern Saskatchewan was home to the legendary “Sitting Bull” country of the true west. There the deer and the antelope played. Elaine rode the hills and coulees on horseback, collecting arrowheads, stones, and petrified wood, while sketching the scenery and wildlife with a pencil. Elaine also wrote poems. At home in her “little house on the prairie” bedroom, Elaine began painting real and imagined scenes with watercolours. Her paints had three primary colours, so she learned to mix everything. The pallet, her Mother’s writing pad.
Decades later Elaine moved to Columbia Valley, Canada, and discovered she could create on slate stone. She wanted her art to be something that would last forever and engraving on stone seemed the key. The problem was that Elaine did not know how to engrave or what tools to use. She tried everything from files to home electric drills, but all to no avail. Then with luck, Elaine ran into a local woodcrafter who created woodcrafted wildlife scenes on mirrors with electric tools. She approached him, with a piece of slate in hand, seeking his advice. Graciously, he tried the tools on the slate and they worked like a charm. Elaine’s Art on Slate Stone was born. She quickly ordered the tools including diamond drill bits, taught herself how to use them and the rest is history.
The engravings, paintings and relief sculptures are truly Canadian and specific to Canada’s beautiful Columbia Valley. The stone is local Purcell Mountain Slate Stone and the art is as unique as the stone it is created on.
Elaine Prefontaine creates her favourite mythological and inspirational friend “Kokopelli” who adds a touch of magic to everything she does. The Mythological concept of petroglyphs especially lends to her Kokopelli creations. When Elaine first engraved Kokopelli, she did not know that he had been engraved and painted on the canyon walls since prehistoric times. She was so happy to find that she had tuned into that universal consciousness. Her story can be found in her website poem “Who is Kokopelli?”
All of that wonderful expression of her universal consciousness is from the influence, Elaine has received from a wide array of people, events and issues. For one, the creatures of nature and living stone are so strong that they have combined into one art form. Additionally, she has a great deal of respect for the impressive and beautiful pre-Columbian and Native North American People. These indigenous peoples created such beautiful pieces of art and functional objects out of the natural elements, clay, wood, shells, gems, plants, etc. Elaine truly appreciates and shares their reverence for nature. And then there is her brother, Mel “Montana” Sell, a mountain man, a poet and a prospector who lived on the mountain where he selected some of the slate stones that Elaine now creates upon. His love of “The Valley” and the stones had a big influence on her.
As for other important aspects of Elaine Sell Prefontaine’s work and the pieces she creates, working with the stone itself is an interesting and creative process. Elaine says, “My art is a true communication of self”. For example, before she does a wildlife creature, Elaine spends time reading and searching the net about its personality and qualities, its strengths and weaknesses, its native totems and spiritual powers, the stories written about it, remembering her own personal encounters and drawing upon that knowledge. There must be this preparatory work to bring her closer to the creatures’ spiritual essence. That ‘essence’ is so important. This method really works for Elaine. With that preliminary work, Elaine can do more than one creation at a time.
But what does Elaine do to relax herself. She has so many interests and does so many things that it is hard to write them in such a short s pace. Canoeing and wildlife viewing and bird watching on “The tranquil beauty that is Columbia Lake” is one of her favorite “all inclusive and relaxing activities”, and it is really very good for her. She always takes the binoculars, camera and some art supplies. Elaine sees eagles, osprey, hawks, loons, ducks, gulls, cranes, swans, crows, and blackbirds. Work never stops even when she is trying to relax. Although, if she can sit still long enough, she can get lost in just sitting and “watching the flowers grow” and listening to the sounds of nature. In addition, to all of that, she also enjoys wildflower gardening, photography, exploring back woods trails and collecting rocks and petrified wood (of course to enhance her collection that continues her expression of art). Elaine enjoys the prospecting especially since she has a Miners Certificate that allows her to stake out Mineral Claims in the Purcell Mountains where she can hand pick her slate stone.”