Perfect Strangers show pairs New West artists and local citizens

The day Shelley Rothenberger came to sketch my portrait, I wasn't sure what to expect. Like most of the subjects of the New West Artists Perfect Strangers show, I had never sat for a painter before. I was one of 25 New Westminster citizens, chosen to represent a broad cross-section of people, including the mayor, a local historian, and a barista. Each subject was randomly paired with a member of New West Artists, an upstart artist-run group supporting both career artists and emerging talent.

Perfect Strangers Art Show
Perfect Strangers Art Show

The day Shelley Rothenberger came to sketch my portrait, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Like most of the subjects of the New West Artists Perfect Strangers show, I had never sat for a painter before. I was one of 25 New Westminster citizens, chosen to represent a broad cross-section of people, including the mayor, a local historian, and a barista. Each subject was randomly paired with a member of New West Artists, an upstart artist-run group supporting both career artists and emerging talent.

‘My’ artist is a working artist with a studio near New Westminster SkyTrain. Shelley’s work is striking, dark and moody. She told me she gravitates towards edgy subjects: fierce-looking biker-types, toothless hockey players, and abstracted screamers. Needless to say, I, as a soft, suburban blogger and mom of two, am not at all her “type.”

We sat in my sunny dining room while my toddler scampered around the house tucking in her dollies, bringing me ‘presents’ and demanding intermittent cuddles. With only a few hours to work while my son was at preschool, Shelley had to sketch quickly. She had never come to this part of town before, and misjudged the time it would take to bus.

Arriving late put her even further behind. But although she fretted at first about whether she would be able to capture what she needed with so little time, once she started sketching she grew enthusiastic. She encouraged me to get comfortable and as she drew, we talked. She complemented my father-in-law’s oils that hang on our walls, and I told her about how I used to draw and paint and long to do so again (but never seem to find the time). As a teacher of adult continuing education art classes, Shelley pointed out that it’s never too late to start, and shared a few anecdotes about her students. Over coffee and the scratching of Shelley’s charcoal stick on the paper we talked about work/life balance, the joys and struggles of motherhood, life in New Westminster, life lessons we had learned, and lots more in the brief sketching session.

Like all the subjects of this show, I was not permitted to peek at the work in progress. It is Shelley’s choice how she will represent me in her art, so like everyone else, I don’t know whether to expect a straightforward portrait or a bizarre, abstracted representation of myself on canvas. Either way, this has been a wonderful way to create new connections between New Westminster artists and the community at large. I’m looking forward to seeing Shelley’s work at tomorrow’s opening gala for the Perfect Strangers show, along with the work of the other artists involved in this project. The show opens at 6:30pm at River Market, and the paintings, photographs, sculptures and other artworks will remain on display until November 27.

Briana Tomkinson

Briana Tomkinson is a Montreal-based writer and original founder of Tenth to the Fraser. She really likes to write letters by hand.

Briana Tomkinson is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.

2 comments

  1. I can't wait to see mine! I have no idea what its going to look like. This was an amazing art project and I am so honoured to have participated as well.

  2. I drew Rev. Neil Fernyhough, the pastor at St. Barnabas on 5th Ave. It was a real pleasure to draw Neil in the two sessions that we had in his church office. We spoke about life and living and while I ended up with two quite different drawings, I chose the second because of his engaging look towards the viewer.
    I am very happy that Jen and Briana had such good modeling experiences; just goes to show that everyone of us has something to say just by being.

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