At Sagebrush Studios Dean Francis captures on canvas the rolling hills, the steeply cut ravines and the river valleys that define the eastern gateway to the Canadian Badlands. His wife, Fran, paints and works in clay.
The couple live near the South Saskatchewan River, 12 miles east of Empress, Alberta, surrounded by the land and wildlife that inspire their art. Over the years they've moved three old churches from neighbouring communities onto their 20 acres of prairie and have transformed them into spectacular galleries and workspace.
To create a wildlife habitat, Dean transplanted hundreds prairie plants around his house and studio. Nowadays, along with some 50 species of trees, the prairie vegetation grows in profusion through what had been empty pasture land. Garden enthusiasts drive for hours to explore the xeriscaped gardens, the walkways and water features that surround the "Church Galleries".
On the first week-end of June, Sagebrush participates in the Empress community's annual Artisan Open House weekend.
Hundreds of people drive from across the prairies to buy art from the three participating local galleries. Dean and Fran work from the beginning of October to the beginning of May to create a body of work ready for the Open House weekend, then scramble to prepare the gardens for the onslaught of visitors.
Sagebrush Studios is open from May to the end of the September, but occasionally closes when Dean travels to shows like the Calgary Stampede. Phone 1-877-565-2039 to check hours or log on to the Sagebrush Studios website to view their work.
Dean was a country boy who grew up in small town Saskatchewan. He began painting full time in 1978.
He spends hours photographing the landscape and wildlife along the shores of the Red Deer and South Saskatchewan Rivers as reference material for his paintings.
Fran paints and works in clay. Inspired by the colors and textures of the earth, she often embellishes her pots with found objects like leather, antlers, feathers and fossils. Her vessels are decorative and non-functional, unglazed but stained. The works range widely in size, shape, and theme, and
have been described as looking as though they were "from an ancient dig."