Faith in the Fields

16 January 2024

“Faith in the Fields: Picturesque Ukrainian Churches of Saskatchewan”
Paintings, drawings and sketches by Fritz Stehwien, compiled by Barbara Stehwien
Published by Landscape Art Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$19.95 ISBN 9781738021901

Fritz Stehwien was a German-born Saskatoon artist (1914-2008) whose life and work continue to be celebrated by many, including his family. The art-filled hardcover Faith in the Fields: Picturesque Ukrainian Churches of Saskatchewan is an archival project produced by Waltraude and Barbara Stehwien, and in its introduction we learn that the book “was inspired by two exhibits held at the Ukrainian Museum of Canada in Saskatoon: Faith in the Fields (1997) and Faith in the Fields II (1999)”.

The beautifully-bound book features page after page of full-bleed, mostly pastel images of the singular churches and landscapes Stehwien encountered in his adopted home on the Canadian prairies. (The lifetime artist was forced to serve as a soldier in Eastern Europe during WW II.)

This art book also commemorates the “resilience” of “European settlers encountering the harsh prairie climate”. This resilience came, in part, due to “their faith and strength,” and memorials to this history are found in the Ukrainian churches—“revered prairie icons”—still scattered across Saskatchewan. While some of these architectural delights are now abandoned, others have become designated heritage sites.

The artist returned to Europe in 1942, attracted especially by “the picturesque onion domes in Belarus and Russia”—architecture commonly replicated in Ukrainian churches on the prairies. Russia’s war on Ukraine in 2022 prompted Stehwien’s family to publish this latest book, which they’ve dedicated “to the resilience of the people of the Ukraine who are once again required to draw on their strengths for survival”.

The pastel, acrylic and charcoal images draw the gaze in and make me contemplate what it may have been like to arrive as a settler on the bare, harsh prairie. Several of the paintings include neighbouring cemeteries, the graves marked with tall Orthodox crosses. The landscapes illustrate the seasons as well, ie: barren winter fields, and spring-filled ponds, as we see in the paintings of the churches in Plainview, Bankend, Fernwood and Theodore. I admire the sunset-strokes behind the Catholic churches Stehwien captured in Bodnari and Yorkton

The book also includes a list of the Ukrainian churches and the year they were built, as well as a map showing their locations in Saskatchewan. I find the grand Ukrainian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral in Saskatoon, where I attended a very traditional wedding decades ago. Across the page there’s St. George Cathedral, also in Saskatoon, with several onion-shaped domes crowning its glory. I’ve also personally admired many of these churches from the highway during my travels across the province, and on page 36 I find All Saints (Orthodox) nestled between golden-leaved trees and spruces in my hometown of Meadow Lake. Certainly I remember this domed beauty, but I don’t recall ever entering its doors, and that’s a pity.

I’m so pleased that the Stehwien family has chosen to honour their father’s art and their cultural heritage in this artistic way. I hope that Faith in the Fields: Picturesque Ukrainian Churches of Saskatchewan finds its way into the hands and hearts of those who will cherish it.


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