Visually Speaking: Artist Dawn Oman

Anna Horsnell

A large decommissioned church looms large on the corner of Granville and Washington Streets in Bridgetown. Within this cavernous space of polished wood and stained-glass windows lies the wondrous home, studio, gallery, and shop of artist Dawn Oman. This is a place of joyous colour and positive energy begging to be explored.

In Oman’s own words, her artwork is “whimsical and colourful, immediately recognizable from the subject matter.” She loves spontaneity and never knows what she will create next until inspiration strikes. What begins as an original painting on paper or canvas may spill happily on to her hand-painted tiles, ceramics, and furniture. And that is just the beginning. Oman has a long-standing relationship as a licensed artist with a multitude of companies such as Canadian Art Prints and Kanata Blankets. Her designs grace a line of giftware, from prints, cards, and calendars to umbrellas, blankets, scarves, jewellery, making her art easily accessible in stores worldwide as well as her shop.

Oman was born in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories and is of First Nations heritage. She knew she wanted to be an artist from the age of five and simply followed an insatiable appetite to learn all she could from drawing, knitting, and embroidery, hungry for all things creative. She was always drawn to colour, even learning how to spin and dye wool to that end, but her design work began with pen and ink drawings, until she discovered acrylic paint. The world of colour opened before her. She started doing large craft shows where her talent was quickly recognized, opening doors to ever-increasing opportunities. As she explains, she didn’t chase this career. She simply did the work and the world of art found her.

Over the years Oman’s designs have been selected for important commissions, including Canada North Airlines, the Royal Canadian Mint, the Canadian Consul General, UNICEF, and Coca-Cola. Most recently, her work was chosen for the Journey to the Arctic installation in the Shanghai IAPM mall including two large sculptured polar bears specifically painted with her design. The bears will be coming home to Canada eventually and hopefully will take up residence in Bridgetown.

The gallery and shop are full of Oman’s trademark designs influenced certainly by the North, but with her own personal approach expanding into floral patterns and now impressions of Nova Scotia. There are her famous polar bears and beluga whales as well as cats, fish, and golden rabbits. There are northern lights and healing women, but there are also lighthouses and dories. No matter the subject, past, present, or future, Oman’s brushstroke is evident in her playful approach to life.

The Bridgetown church is undergoing extensive renovations, which miraculously do not interfere with the gallery or shop. Bright red vertical siding trimmed with Oman’s colourful artwork will no doubt create a new landmark for the town. The transformation also includes space for vacation accommodation, and a concert venue with incredible acoustics. For full details on the artist and her work, upcoming events, and more, visit dawnomanart.com or email dawnoman@gmail.com.