Rosemary Sloot was shocked when her mother confessed while dying that she had only one life regret. She wished she had never immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands after World War II. Her mother’s bombshell sent Sloot on a journey to redefine the family’s experience, resulting in her poignant immigration series. (Above: Final Farewell, May 1952)
Only a few cherished reminders to hold on to
Sloot’s mother spoke frequently to her children as they grew up in rural southern Ontario about the beautifully carved, solid oak wedding furniture left behind in Holland for the trip to Waterford, where Sloot was born. An entire household, acquired with such effort during and after World War II, was given away or abandoned – the handmade bedspreads, gifts, toys and heirlooms gone. Only a few meager belongings crossed the sea. (Above: Indonesian Tea Tin, acrylic & oil on handmade paper. Below: Waterford, Ontario, Summer of ’52)
Sacrifice, persistence, hope and faith
Except for that oft-told story of belongings left behind, Sloot’s mother did not let on until she reached her death-bed that she regretted the move. Then, at 86, she confessed that the defining experience of her life “had simply been too difficult and far too much had been given up,” Sloot says.
Sloot, a well-known painter and teacher who began her career in Norfolk County, said her mother’s confession left her with her own “unexpected feeling of abandonment in a foreign land.” Her art changed trajectory as she re-defined the family’s story, shedding many tears and alienating relatives.
When my siblings would come into my studio they would get emotional. They found the paintings dark and painful. They thought I was on an unhealthy journey. Now that the project is complete, they are delighted.
Her works reference family records and photos to “speak to common universal themes of loss, uprootedness . . . sacrifice, persistence, hope and faith.” This exquisite image of her mother, interwoven with a white freesia popular in Holland then, depicts a carefree life given up. (Texel, Holland, 1936, below)
What was lost and what was gained
A key theme of the exhibit is loss against gain. Sloot’s eldest sister, named Cornelia, shortened to Lia, must be re-named to something more Canadian. Relatives who are already here insist on it.
-Your name is now Linda, chalk pastel on paper
A number of paintings superimpose letters or documents on images of home, to represent the years of cleaving to memories while becoming Canadians and building lives for children and grandchildren.
-Homesickness, oil on canvas
Many of the works are blurred or softened to make individuals less identifiable and to push the images back in time. The exhibition deals with the post-war emigration of the Dutch to Canada, but it also chronicles experiences common to many waves of immigrants, Sloot says.
Sloot will give an artist’s talk at the official opening of the exhibit on Sunday, May 6.
The Burlington Art Centre website, here
Rosemary Sloot’s website, here
- Images courtesy of the artist, provided by Burlington Art Centre