Madge Lake restores local painter during COVID crush

Madge Lake became a place of refuge and restoration for painter Melanie Morstad as she escaped the crush of Calgary during COVID-19 in the heat of the summer. Morstad has been returning to her family cabin since she was a child but this year meant a little more to her as an artist. 

“It is a wonderful, personal expression for me to be able to paint and be creative. To get lost in what I’m painting,” said Morstad. “I moved my studio to my home, in my dining room, where I am now. I am revisiting places I have traveled to. I have painted a Paris night scene, the beach and surf of Mexico and of course painting Madge lake. It really allows me to escape from my dining room without going places.” 

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Currently quarantined in her Calgary home, Morstad has set up a temporary studio in her dining room. Her son tested positive for COVID-19 and while she and her husband have not tested positive, they are required to remain in their home to prevent further exposure to other community members. The pandemic has prevented Morstad from visiting her studio but throughout the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, it has been her painting that has carried her through.

If she looks towards the next several months, Morstad said that painting is definitely going to be her salvation.

“I was supposed to fly to see my elderly mother on Wednesday. She lives in Regina, and she is isolated. I’m concerned about her. I don’t have school aged children but for anyone who does, or has an elderly relative, it’s really hard them. It’s really hard on everybody.”

“I’m thankful I have my art.”

This year has been one to focus on her painting. She is unable to teach workshops to students and for parts of the year her studio space has been shut down. The studio space is called the Burns Visual Art Society and it is used by 20 artists. It was closed for six weeks during the early stages of the pandemic shutdown. When the studio reopened in Mid-May, Morstad was working from her make-shift home studio so she decided to continue working from home until she found herself back at her childhood refuge, the family cabin at Madge Lake.

“We have had our Madge Lake cabin since 1965. My father is from Kamsack and his dad got the cabin on Ranger Bay in the Kamsack subdivision,” said Morstad. “I believe it was a trade for cows. At that time my grandfather needed a little place to go to catch fish.”

He continued raising his family at the lake and eventually Morstad used it as her summer vacation home.

“It’s been in our family since the 1960s and I’ve been going every summer since I was a little girl.

“I was born and raised in Regina and for a short time lived in Yorkton and Madge Lake was always a place we went for summer holidays as kids.”

Living in Edmonton and eventually Calgary, Morstad took her children out to Madge Lake every summer for a yearly summer vacation.

“What I found for me, I love to sketch and paint when I am there. I hop in my kayak and go to the bigger bay and paint watercolours and sketch kit paint larger paintings based on those little sketchers. Madge Lake has had a very special place in my heart for a long time. It’s a very intimate connection.”

This summer Morstad released a number of paintings inspired by her Madge Lake retreat including, Meditate, Peace, and Storm is Building.

“As an artist looking at the landscape, you are looking at it through a different lens. I try to catch an emotional connection to a place and I always paint a place that I connect with. Madge Lake I love to paint because it has such an emotional quality and I try to show that emotional connection in all of my paintings.”

Colour is really important to Morstad and Madge Lake gave her plenty of inspiration this summer.

“I love to push the boundaries of colour. I use acrylic and watercolours. Perhaps, part of it is having that expression, that personal expression. I am an outgoing, expressive person. I dress colourfully, whether it’s painting or what I wear. It’s wanting to push the boundaries to make more of an emotional connection. Colour is joyful and my paintings are joyful and that’s something that I want to convey. I feel like I am sending out that happy joyful message.”

“The lake became a place of personal restoration and I really had a sense that we didn’t even have to think about COVID because it didn’t even exist, it was like being in a time warp. It wasn’t the same feeling of the pandemic in the city, out at the lake it became a real restorative place to be. Being out in nature, that’s just so healthy. It was a lovely escape and we would have loved to have stayed longer because the weather was so beautiful.

“It was a place to connect with nature. As a result, I connected with my painting. Because I would be paddling in my kayak or swimming in the water, I was connecting with what I saw. When I came back to Calgary I could paint those images, either by memory or from my sketches. Because I was living in the moment at Madge Lake, I could bring it into my studio, in my home.”

Morstad feels that her work does resonate with people and when she is posting her paintings on Instagram or is showing her work, she hears from people that they are almost transported to that location.

“If a painting catches them, they say it transports them to where I was,” says Morstad.

“There’s two places I always like to paddle to on my kayak. One is out into Big Bay and then I paddle to Diver’s Island and I’ll dip into the water there because it’s always a great place to swim. I’ll paddle along the shore line and there’s a little lagoon off of Pelly Bay, it’s very quiet and the loons will be calling and I will paddle around the shore line. I love to hang out and paint because no one is every there. The loons will be calling so I know if I am disturbing them or maybe a boat is coming by. It’s a place for me to escape. When I go to that little lagoon, I am transported away from everything so it truly is a special place.”

Summer at Madge Lake is for some people an opportunity to enjoy the lake from a speed boat or a waterski but for Morstad, her favourite parts are where she can go on and escape.

“I don’t take it for granted that I can go to the lake. I know it’s a special place and I feel very fortunate that I’ve had that in my life for so long. I have had it in my life since I was five years old so that’s a long time.”

Morstad’s paintings of her summer at Madge Lake can be viewed on her website