CELEBRATING WHISTLER’S ARTISTIC HERITAGE
PENNY EDER MARTYN – CELEBRATING WHISTLER’S ARTISTIC HERITAGE -by Michel Beaudry Pique News Magazine
“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.”
She must be insane. Totally off her rocker. But no, she assures me she’s perfectly rational. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about for years,” says artist Penny Eder Martyn about her soon-to-open White Dog Studio Gallery. “And I know the Whistler community is ready for this kind of business.” She laughs. “At least, I hope it is…”
I hope so too. Nestled in the entrepreneurial gumbo that is 21st century Function Junction, Eder Martyn’s Studio Gallery has a brave new vision: to celebrate and promote Whistler-based art and artists. Which, to most knowledgeable observers, is a revolutionary move in itself. And one fraught with financial risk. But don’t bother warning Penny about it. She won’t listen. You see, she’s on a mission to change the way the local art scene is perceived around here.
“Too often in this town,” explains the enthusiastic blonde, “Whistler-based artists have gotten the short end of the promotional stick. It’s almost like we’re insecure about our culture here. Like we need to bring in outsiders’ art to compensate for our lack of standing in the ‘real’ world. But that’s so-o-o-o-o wrong!” She pauses for a breath. Smiles sadly. “There’s so much good art being produced by locals now. So why do our decision-makers still insist on bringing in outsiders to define who we are?”
Good question. And one that many Whistlerites have been scratching their heads about for years. So what’s with the Gallery’s name then? “I’m on my third white dog—all Samoyeds,” she says with a self-conscious shrug. “It’s been a constant in my life. So… when I decided to name the studio after something stable, well, ‘White Dog’ is about the most stable thing in my world these days…”
Indeed. And it fits – particularly if you take the time to get to know this energetic fifty-year-old.
Really. I get to meet a lot of people in my work as an itinerant storyteller. Particularly in Sea-to-Sky country. From the hardcore twentysomethings to the still-charging sixtysomethings, this valley attracts a cart-load of positive-minded folk. But no one I’ve met yet can match Eder Martyn’s zeal for the place. To call her a ‘Whistler booster’ is to wax woefully inadequate. She’s far more than a mere booster. She lives, breathes, sweats, sings, cries and laughs this place every second of every day she spends here.
“This is the most wonderful spot to live in the whole world,” she insists. “The mountains, the snow – the wildness of our surroundings – in my opinion nowhere else even comes close.” See what I mean? This is not someone content to just stand by and watch. She gets involved. A longtime volunteer member of the W/B ski patrol – and a passionate skier from her earliest years – Eder Martyn appears to live the ‘healthy mind in healthy body’ dictum to its fullest.
No surprise then to hear her gallery will have an active component as well. “The White Dog is going to be a working studio,” she tells me proudly. “Each artist whose work I’ll be exhibiting will be expected to spend a few days in the studio – painting or sculpting or creating in whatever artistic medium they choose. And they won’t just be from Whistler — they’ll come from all over Sea-to-Sky country! The goal is to show gallery visitors what the ‘artistic process’ is all about. To highlight the craft in each individual’s work.” She stops. Smiles happily. “But it’s also about making connections,” she concludes. “Lots of connections…”
I’ve grabbed a few sentences from the project’s mission statement. See what you think. “Our studio gallery,” it states, “provides a space where artists and collectors can develop relationships, within a space that is fun and enjoyable. While our emphasis is on emerging talents, we never compromise on the quality and collectability of our art offerings. The gallery combines a commercial venue for emerging artists of high quality to reach an audience, with a studio that provides a glimpse into the processes and techniques of art creation.”
Hmm. A space like that could make for some interesting performance art. Particularly given the free-spirited nature of our local artists. But I digress. Back to Penny’s story.
She grew up in Southern Ontario. But hers was a far cry from the typical, cheek-to-jowl urban lifestyle that most Southern Ontarians enjoy. You see, her parents owned a small ski hill near Barrie called Snow Valley. Scarcely an hour north of Toronto, the Eder’s modest resort was a favourite with young city-bound families intent on getting involved with ski culture. And what it lacked in vertical drop, says Penny, it made up for in ambiance. “My father was an Olympic ski jumper from Austria,” she tells me. “And like so many of his countrymen, he was passionate about skiing. His mission, as far as he saw it, was to turn on as many people to the sport as possible.”
She says she can’t recall not skiing. “I must have started around one-and-a-half. I had the greatest childhood – I remember running home from school in winter intent on just one thing – making it back in time for the last ski run of the day!” She laughs. “And I remember a couple of times where dad kept the lifts open just for me…”
But life wasn’t just about snow and winter. Summers at Snow Valley were just as fulfilling. “We had a wonderful time in the off-season,” she recounts. “The YMCA leased the property for summer camps. We had horses and all sorts of other activities. It was so much fun to be part of a family-owned operation…”
And like all family-owned businesses, Penny was expected to pitch in and help whenever (and wherever) she was needed. “I did it all,” she says. “I taught skiing, served french fries and helped guests with their rental gear. It was definitely different.”
Growing up in resort’s shadow, Penny simply assumed that Snow Valley would remain in the family forever. But by the mid 1980’s, the Eder’s had a difficult decision to make. “My dad was the typical strong-willed, hard-working Austrian,” explains Eder Martyn. “And I was worried that he would never ‘retire’ if I took over the business. And I thought that would be way too hard on his health. So, reluctantly, we decided to sell. I think that was around 1987 or so.”
Meanwhile, Penny had met a young Ontario pilot and fallen for the guy. They were soon married. “He eventually landed a job overseas in Asia,” she says. “So we decided to base ourselves out of Whistler.” She laughs. “And it kind of worked – at least at first.”
The couple settled here in 1991. “I immediately felt like Whistler was my home,” says Penny. “So many of the people I grew up with now live here.” But her connection to the place transcended ski culture. “We live in such an inspiring environment,” she adds. “Whistler is a beautiful, all-encompassing community. It really gets my creative juices flowing.”
The marriage eventually faltered. But Eder Martyn’s love for Whistler only grew. “I’m in for the long term,” she says. “You couldn’t drag me out of here if you tried!”
As a practicing artist herself – her preferred media include ceramics, tiles, and various sculpting material – Penny says Whistler’s untamed environment has always been an inspiration for her. “Like most other Whistler artists,” she explains, “I’m outside as much as possible — windsurfing, mountain biking, skiing, whatever. I get to indulge all my passions. And that gets reflected in my work. So much good stuff comes to me when I’m outdoors being active. I even have a special place on the mountain where I go to get re-focused. Re-energized if you will.”
Which is why, she says, her White Dog Gallery will also be sponsoring regular Plein-Air sessions. “I want to give visitors the chance to get inspired by our surroundings,” she explains. “And what could be more inspiring than sketching and painting outdoors?”
Indeed. And who knows? The White Dog’s launch may even be a sign of changing times at Whistler. “I have this little picture on my wall at home,” concludes Eder Martyn. “It says: ‘Don’t Feed The Fears!’ And I try to remind myself of that every day.”
She pauses. Smiles one last time. “Whistler has such a wonderful story – there’s so much passion here – but it’s in a dormant state right now. These days, we seem to care more about profit than experience.” It’s a state of mind, she maintains, that threatens to unravel the unique fabric of our community. “We need more wag and less bark here. We need to remind ourselves of the magic of this place – why we were all drawn to Whistler originally.” She sighs. “If we can do that,” she says,” the rest will take care of itself.”
Written by Michel Beuadry