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Remembering Thelma Pepper Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

17 December 2020

Thelma Pepper, who captured the portraits of her Saskatchewan neighbors for 40 years, passed away earlier this month. She was 100 years old.

"She touched and inspired everyone she met," her son Gordon Pepper said. "She loved talking to people, learning about them, and ultimately, in her own quiet and confident way, making all she met feel better about themselves and their own lives."

She was born in Kingston, Nova Scotia, in 1920. Her grandfather and her father were both amateur photographers but she was interested in science.

She studied biology at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where she received a Bachelor of Science degree. She earned a Master of Science at McGill University in Montreal.

She met her husband Jim in Montreal and after graduation the couple moved to Saskatoon to start a family that eventually included four children.

'Your brain is a bowl of energy.'

Pepper didn't turn to photography until she was 60 in 1980. After her children had grown and gone, she was floundering in depression. Making portraits gave her a purpose again. It took her just six years before her first solo exhibition.

"I think if you find something you love, it's just so exciting," she explained. "You can develop that later in life. Your brain is a bowl of energy. If you activate that creativity, it gives you energy."

Her exhibition Decades of Voices: Saskatchewan Pioneer Women (1990-1993), which incorporated portraits and interviews of pioneer women, toured across Canada.

Untie the Spirit (2009) documented the long-term care facility Sherbrooke Community Centre in Saskatoon. "Where others might see sorrow and despair, Thelma sees the spirit of the person and captures that spirit with her camera." Patricia Roe, a health system public relations official, said. "Thelma tells a person's story through her photographs and through her actions she is helping to create a revolution in the care of our elders."

A full list of her exhibitions is available on her gallery page.

"She was really interested in other people and politics," recalled Amy Jo Ehman, who published a biography Thelma: A Life in Pictures earlier this year. "And your thoughts on the world. She's just such an interesting, knowledgeable and caring person that I just enjoyed spending time with her so much."

Pepper published four photography books and was a strong advocate for arts and culture in Saskatchewan. A book of her portraits, Human Touch: Portraits of Strength, Courage & Dignity was shortlisted for the Book of the Year at the Saskatchewan Book Awards.

She was awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit and the Saskatchewan Arts Board Lifetime Achievement Award.

A celebration of her life will be held next year to coincide with an exhibition of Pepper's work at Remai Modern in Saskatoon.

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