Jessica Grant had an incredibly successful run with her debut novel, having won the Winterset Award, the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, the Downhome Fiction Award, the Ontario Library Association Evergreen Award and the National Post’s Canada Also Reads competition,.
But she says being called an artist is the best praise she could ever be bestowed.
Grant was presented with the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council’s 2010 Artist of the Year Award during the council’s annual awards gala at MUN’s Reid Theatre in St. John’s Saturday night.
Grant’s novel “Come, Thou Tortoise,” in addition to winning awards, was named a Globe and Mail Best Book for 2009, and has been published in the U.K., Germany and The Netherlands, and the film rights have been optioned by Pope Productions of St. John’s.
“I’ve been very lucky with this book,” Grant said after the awards show. “To be called an artist is really such an honour because it’s not a word that, as a writer, I tend to apply to myself. First of all, to be called an artist and then to be called artist of the year in a province that has so many amazing artists means a tremendous amount to me. I really can’t think of anything that’s been a greater honour.”
This was the arts council’s 26th annual awards gala, at which it presented six awards, honouring the accomplishments of Newfoundland and Labrador artists in a variety of disciplines. Nominations for the awards are submitted by the local arts community, organizations and the public, and council members voted by secret ballot to select the finalists and winners.
Hosted by comedienne Amy House, who also performed a one-person skit at the beginning of the gala, this year’s event including performances by dancer Sarah Joy Stoker, actor Frank Holden, the 5 Plays in 5 Minutes Ensemble, and house band The Dardanelles, on a stage set to look like a colourful downtown St. John’s neighbourhood.
The Arts in Education Award, recognizing an artist who has made an outstanding contribution to arts in education in this province over a period of years, went to Patricia Gregory and Charlotte Jones of Learning Through the Arts Western Newfoundland and Labrador, while the Patron of the Arts Award, which recognizes a person, business or organization that has demonstrated a commitment to the arts, went to Statoil Canada.
The Rogers Arts Achievement Award, recognizing a practising artist who has made an outstanding contribution to the province’s cultural life over a number of years, was presented to Marie Sharpe, who, until her retirement last Friday, has been the costume designer and wardrobe manager at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s since 1974.
Self-taught sculptor/carver Billy Gauthier from North West River was presented with the CBC Emerging Artist Award, beating out filmmaker Jordan Canning of St. John’s and visual artist Jordan Bennett of Corner Brook.
“I’m completely overwhelmed,” Gauthier said afterwards. “When I was first nominated, I was a little more confident. Then I went online and read Jordan Canning’s and Jordan Bennett’s bios, and I realized what I was up against, and I got quite nervous. I really didn’t expect this.”
Gauthier, whose favourite subjects include human faces and traditional Inuit life with a contemporary twist, has shown and sold his work at Birches Gallery in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the Edgewater Gallery in New Brunswick, and the Spirit Wrester Gallery in Vancouver, where, last year, his first solo exhibition sold out within hours. Gauthier’s work has been presented to dignitaries including French President Jacques Chirac.
Gauthier said after winning the award, he feels inspired to create new work.
“I think I’m probably going to go back and do things a little more often, probably producing better pieces of work,” he said. “I think a confident artist would obviously produce better work, and something like this is a real confidence booster,” he said.
Hall of Honour
Two Hall of Honour awards were also presented during the ceremony, recognizing individuals and organizations that have made a distinguished lifetime contribution to the cultural life of Newfoundland and Labrador. One went to the Labrador Creative Arts Festival, a celebration of arts created by and for Labradorians, and the other was presented posthumously to Roberta (Robbie) Thomas, a passionate supporter of the arts, who died last December after a battle with cancer.
Thomas was a painter, dancer, advocate, administrator, board member and volunteer, who, after retiring from MUN’s Maritime History Archive, worked with arts organizations like Neighbouhood Dance Works, Eastern Edge Gallery, the Folk Arts Festival and the Resource Centre for the Arts. Two of Thomas’ sons, Danny and Louis, accepted the award on their mother’s behalf.
“This means a lot to me, because it would have meant a lot to my mom,” Louis told members of the media after the show. “Our family, myself and my two brothers, are very proud of what Mom achieved here in the last eight to 10 years, when she started really digging into the LSPU hall and Neighbourhood Dance, and her contribution was very far-reaching. She had a huge impact on the community.”
Just how big of an impact Thomas had was clear in January, when the family held a celebration of her life in St. John’s, which was attended by hundreds.
“In a way I was surprised,” Louis said of the event. “It’s like you always see these little pieces and you don’t often get a chance to stand back and see the full picture. I think the celebration of life and her receiving this award kind of brings all that together, and you realize the magnitude of the impact she had.”
All winners apart from the Hall of Honour inductees — who were each presented with a framed certificate — were given a porcelain lantern created by potter and ceramic artist Isabella St. John, designed, she said, to signify that the award recipients are the light-bearers of the province’s artistic community. Grant, Gauthier, Sharpe and Gregory/Jones were also given a $2,000 cash prize.