Martin Penfold, farmer artist of Manson

Storyteller shares heritage

Martin Penfold’s bold and colourful canvases hang in Arts Mosaic’s gallery in Virden’s CPR Historic Centre for the month of January.

Last Friday evening, Jan. 4, a reception for the artist was abuzz with friends, family members and fellow artists, some travelling from Hamiota and Brandon.

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Mid-West Arts Council (Hamiota) director Joan Trott admires the story quality of his pieces.

“He does an excellent job of representing where he has come from,” said Trott, pointing out the rancher driving his cattle amid swirling snow, “Weathering the Storm”.

Next, farm buildings of a century ago are set in a sea of blooming canola. “Beautiful colours, beautiful light,” noted Trott, also an artist.

Brandon artist Linda Tame operates a downtown Rosser Ave. gallery, Artist Heart Gallery, where she has featured Penfold art. She was excited to visit the Virden gallery.

“The first thing that catches my eye is the canola, because it’s so bright.” Tame adds, “But I love the texture. I feel like I’m swimming in it. He’s raised the horizon, it makes you become a part of [the canola] before anything else.”

Members of the Virden Art Club, of which Penfold is a member, included Myrna Gray. “Amazing work,” she remarked.

Talent unfolds

Father, grandfather, sheep farmer and artist, Penfold came from England to Canada in 1975, 43 years ago. He had painted as a teenager but when he began farming in England, there was no time for art.

In Canada he first worked on a farm for three years before farming on his own. “Again, really, I didn’t get to paint much.”

Although a large canvas of sail boats and another mountain scene tell tales of travel beyond farm life, the shepherd’s life, the agrarian life is often reflected on his canvases.

“I sold my sheep last year, after having them for 51 years. This was one of my first years without a lambing.” So when March came around he said to himself, ‘I’m going to paint the start of lambing.’

A stone fence-line fades into the distance, a scene from the Old Country, the last place Penfold worked in the UK, “right on the Scottish border. The snow’s on the hills.”

Asked about his evolution as an artist he simply said, “You know, acrylics is very forgiving… if you’re very interested in something, which I am about the countryside, you look at it a lot and somehow or other you are able to express that onto canvas. I never did a sheep before, but working with them my whole life, it came together.”

The Manson area farmer still has livestock - 28 cows - and a dog.

One daughter lives in B.C. but nearby family, including daughters Ceri Johnson and Bethan Baer and grandson Luke Baer attended the artist’s reception. At 13, Luke is also very interested in art.  

His daughters grew up knowing their dad was artistic, “because, scrolled up in a corner would be some of his sketches,” said Baer.

She and son Luke admit to “playing around with abstract art.” Luke grins and terms their work “pour, over pour.” Baer says, “We don’t do this,” gesturing broadly to her father’s display.

While family members have inherited some of Penfold’s artistic bent, it was a gift certificate from family that got him painting just three years ago. “One of my daughters gave me a voucher for [an arts/craft supply store in Brandon]. I bought a canvas and some paints.”

Moving through the gallery, Penfold takes up a painting with a team of chore horses.

He explains, “When the kids were growing up, I used to do chores with a horse. Around Christmas Day we were going to chores down in that barn there,” he points it out in the painting.

That canvas was first done in pencil. “I find my lines and I go around with a black pen.” The pencil was erased leaving just the pen before colourful pastels were added. From that canvas he produced Christmas cards.

In the gallery, originals and embellished prints (with brushwork added) are for sale, some already sold.

Adventure ahead

Penfold is planning a series of art lessons for Southeast College in Moosomin. He will start at the end of January with classes open for enrollment.

“To start with I want to do an introduction to acrylics with landscape. Then do a water colour, introductory. Then do one in pen and pastel.

“It would be great if a group formed, of artists in the area,” he adds, explaining the value of discussion and having accountability for assignments.

Storyteller writes what he knows

An agriculturalist at heart, Penfold is also a writer. He came to Canada some 49 years ago as a single fellow. He had been working as a contract shepherd in the UK for most of the year prior.

The painting of spring lambing, done in the spring of 2018, displayed in the Historic Centre gallery has a story that goes with it.  “I painted that… more than fifty years since I lambed out my first flock of ewes… on my father’s farm in Sussex. I was 14 years old at the time.”

The story he wrote about lambing, along with other Penfold writings, can be found in Heritage Breeds Canada magazine. Here is an excerpt:


By Martin Penfold

In 1975, I began the first week of January, helping to lamb out a thousand ewes in Devon, in the south of England. I had the night shift from six in the evening to eight the next morning, seven-days-a-week.

All the ewes were lambed inside on this farm, and remained in large sheds until a few days. It was my responsibility to ensure that each ewe and her new arrivals had a successful start together.

Each of these lambing positions lasted for six weeks and so in mid-February I had moved on to a flock in Gloucestershire, where spring came just a little bit later. It was during these early months that an advertisement came out in the weekly farming magazine for a six-month position working on a cattle and grain farm in Saskatchewan.

The position was to begin in mid-May, an ideal time because my final lambing position was to take me to the Scottish Borders the first week of April and would last until the middle of May.

I remember the advert. “Farm help wanted for six months on a grain and cattle farm in Saskatchewan. Clark Lewis, Wawota, Saskatchewan, Canada.”

In Britain, postal addresses had many lines.  The person’s name, farm name, the lane, the village, near some town, the county, etc.

So as I sent off my reply to Mr. Lewis, I really had little hope of hearing back from him. I just figured that he had left out half of his address. Clark Lewis, Wawota, Sask. Canada! There had to be more to it than that.

But I did hear back and was offered the position. I was told it would pay $200 a month but I wouldn’t be expected to work on Sundays. That I would live on the farm with Clark and Anne, and that my board and lodging were included.

On May 15, I drove south from the Scottish Borders and parked up my car. A few days later, on May 17, I left Britain for a new life in Canada.


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