'This is the dream esthetic that I picture my art going into'

Self-taught Calgary artist Shawni Tolman draws on her construction experience to create art for the 2024 Stampede Rotary Dream Home.

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Emerging Calgary artist Shawni Tolman has been selected as the 2024 Stampede Rotary Dream Home artist, offering this multi-faceted self-taught creative an exclusive platform from which to showcase her work throughout the 2024 Calgary Stampede.

“Shawni’s unique artistic style expressed through her personal mud recipe, truly resonated with our selection committee,” says Julie Punter, show home selections and presentation manager for Homes by Avi. “Her work beautifully complements the theme of the 2024 Dream Home, making her a perfect choice.”

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This year’s Dream Home is slated to be the best yet, with a theme that reflects living a slower, healthier and more connected way of life. Designed with calm, serene and floral elements, the dream home is described by Punter as a “spa-inspired home and a natural luxury retreat.”

“We just really wanted to capture that essence of coming home and feeling peaceful and having amenities that coincide.”

She says that entries for the coveted Dream Home artist position hit record numbers this year — more than 60 entries were received, which were then narrowed down to six finalists.

“What really stood out with Shawni was her ability to morph into so many different styles. She uses lots of texture and layers and we really like the grittiness. We wanted this home to feel more moody and she was a perfect fit,” says Punter.

As for Tolman, she is thrilled.

“I’m so honoured that I was chosen to be a part of this,” she says, noting that she already sketched out her pieces. There will be just over 30 adorning the walls of the Dream Home and all of them will be for sale to the public. “Once I saw the mood board for the home, I was like, ‘Oh, this is my exact style. This is the dream esthetic that I picture my art going into. I just jumped in with both feet,’” she says.

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Tolman’s success has come on fast and furiously. She began experimenting in the visual arts during the pandemic, when she was laid off from her job, which was client-focused. What began as one piece for her personal pleasure and to show case in her home has blossomed into a full-time career.

“I thought I don’t really know how to paint, but I do know mud. I worked summers while I was in school as a construction worker, a drywaller, a mudder and paperer, so I picked up a putty knife and applied some cement to canvas and loved it,” she says. She posted the finished piece online and immediately received eight commissions.

“It’s just snow-balled from there and I’ve been working full-time ever since,” she says.

Her esthetic has grown, using a unique textural approach to painting — she builds her own canvases and has created her own processes.

“Creativity is such freedom,” she says. “I’ve thought about going to school for art, but I’m really enjoying the vulnerability of not having any rules or restrictions. It all just feels very intuitive.”

She credits her artistic inspirations to her childhood and, in particular, experiences in nature with her father, who is a renowned archeologist.

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“I spent a lot of time with my hands in the dirt, feeling the textures of our earth and just really admiring the beauty of the rugged aspects of nature,” she says, noting that she spent time with her father at St. Mary Reservoir in Southern Alberta where he discovered the best preserved woolly mammoth footprints in the world.

She’s also a musician with a degree in music composition and says that the elements of music also inspire her work.

“Right now, my paintings are my audience and I sing to them all the time,” she says with a laugh.

Although many of the details of the dream home are under wraps until its unveiling at the 2024 Calgary Stampede, which runs from July 5 to 14, Punter shares that the custom-designed two-storey, 2,456-square-foot home will be a show stopper.

“It’s a great plan with a vaulted living room and a Juliet balcony overlooking it,” she says.  Soft neutral colours, plenty of stone and wood, creamy white walls with hits of black used in the casings, doors and window trim, along with a top-of-the-line kitchen with open shelving, luxury Italian appliances and even a kombucha machine are just some of the delightful details. But, it’s the master ensuite that may draw the greatest gasps — it’s the spa-like sweet-spot of the home with both a fireplace and a sauna.

Tolman’s collection of paintings will be on display in the Stampede Rotary Dream Home throughout the Calgary Stampede. A small collection of her work will also be exhibited in the Calgary Stampede’s Western Showcase.

The artist project is a partnership between Homes by Avi, Gibson Fine Art, the Stampede Lotteries and the Rotary Club of Calgary at Stampede Park. More than 100,000 people are expected to tour this year’s home. Post-Stampede, the home will be moved to the community of Rangeview by Genstar in Calgary’s southeast. The home is valued at $1.38 million.

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