For 28 years, Marlena Wyman (pictured above) worked at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) as the Audio/Visual Archivist. In 2010, she decided to take on an exciting new adventure by leaving the PAA and further pursuing her passion for art and history. More than five years later, Marlena’s journey has come full circle as she prepares to unveil her new art exhibit, Illuminating the Diary of Alda Dale Randall, at the PAA on Feb.10.
Marlena’s exhibit showcases her creative vision that was inspired by the 1920 diary of Alberta homesteader Alda Dale Randall. Written almost 100 years ago, Randall’s diary is a remarkably detailed account of one year (1920) on the family’s homestead near High Prairie, Alberta. Randall’s descriptions of day to day life are revealing of the physical challenges and of the rawness of emotions that balanced precariously between hope and despair.
In her former work as an archivist, Marlena found that one of the significant gaps in archival collections is that of women’s stories. In particular, the voice of early prairie women is largely excluded from mainstream history.
As an artist, and a third generational prairie woman, Marlena honours the considerable contributions of women, advocating for their rightful place in history, and encouraging women to deposit their own, and their foremothers’ records in archives.
What to expect at the exhibit
The exhibit includes two 3-dimensional mixed media pieces and six monotypes incorporating oil stick, oil pastel, and image transfers of archival photographs and Randall’s handwriting on encaustic and paper. Photographic enlargements of the pages from Randall’s diary that inspired Wyman are exhibited alongside her artworks.
An example of Randall’s excerpts include:
“It had rained for 48 hours and been raining all night when about four o’clock we were awakened by a terrific crash – Guy gave a startled What’s that & jumped into several in[ches] of icy water. He got up and lit the lamp. I heard the spit! spit! of snow on the tent and the light showed the tent sagged about down on our heads – on the other side it was held up by the bread in the dish pan (we had baked 10 big loaves). Guy shook off the snow from the tent & looked out – everything was loaded with a heavy mass of snow – big branches crashing from the golden leaved poplars – little poplars breaking off completely & the tops breaking off of the spruce.
It is 4am and Daddy dressed & went to rescue the little calf in the meadow. He took the lantern & said it sure looked awful – trees were crashing all around – the crash that awakened us was the huge limb of a poplar falling at our tent door.”
Alda Dale Randall diary. Page 121 -122. Sat. Sept 25, 1920
As Marlena notes, “We interpret our memories and identities in part through the filter of stories told and through traces of past lives. A haunting photograph or a handwritten passage in the diary of a long dead stranger can create a profound personal connection.”
Wild exquisite things
Alda Dale Randall often spoke of her hunger for literature. At one point in her diary, she began to write fiction alongside her diary entries.
There was a tenseness in their voices. A suspicion of tremble. She turned to the deep set window and bent over a bowl of north country roses, wild exquisite things, with all the wide open pinkness of the prairie rose combined with sweet briar fragrance.
“I found them on the river bank, near the ford,” He told her. He came close and lifting his hand awkwardly half fearfully touched her hair where it rippled over the temple.
’Jack Galway, I’d marry you if I could you know that. But this Homestead, I’m going to prove it up. I must. Oh if you’d just understand and let me alone!”
Alda Dale Randall diary. Page 191 – 194. 
Randall’s diary was a rich source of inspiration for Wyman and a challenge to limit the passages that she selected for her artworks. Alda Dale Randall’s original handwritten diary (Acc #PR1994.0202) may be requested for viewing in the Provincial Archives of Alberta during regular Reading Room hours.
When to view the exhibit
Illuminating the Diary of Alda Dale Randall exhibit will be available at the Provincial Archives of Alberta from February 2 to August 20, 2016.
Exhibit hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Wednesday’s until 9 p.m.
The Provincial Archives of Alberta is located at 8555 Roper Road, Edmonton, Alberta.
You can view more of Marlena’s work available on her website here.