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'It’s humbling': Retired N.B. professor shortlisted for prestigious photography award


Thaddeus Holownia already considers himself a winner.

The retired Mount Allison University professor is one of three artists who have been shortlisted for a prestigious national award.

The Scotiabank Photography Award is an annual peer-nominated prize for lens-based art.

The other two nominees are from Montreal.

“It's humbling and it's pretty amazing to be amongst really amazing people,” said Holownia.

His exhibition, Of a feather: An Homage to Gay Hansen, is currently on display at the Owens Art Gallery on campus in Sackville, N.B.

The work is in memory of Hansen, a teacher, mentor and ornithologist who taught at Mount Allison for 39 years.

She was also Holownia’s life partner.

The pair worked and travelled together, the exhibit takes its title from a portfolio of nature-themed photographs the artist created after Hansen’s death in 2021.

“It's based on looking and appreciating beauty and nature and the spirit that Gay lived in terms of teaching others to appreciate those simple things,” said Holownia.

The 75-year-old taught at Mount Allison for 41 years and won awards for teaching and creative achievement before retiring in 2018.

“Teaching is a great opportunity to broaden people's horizons and love for a subject. And if you're in love with that subject, I think it's easy to transfer that to others by example,” said Holownia. “I was very fortunate that Mount A was very supportive of my teaching methods as well as my own professional art career.”

Holownia collaborated on the project with Karen Stentaford, one of his former students and a current assistant professor of photography at the university.

She had a close relationship with Hansen as well.

“It started out as a vision of Thaddeus' as a dedication to Gay and I was really honoured to be brought on board for this exhibition,” said Stentaford. “I really started to think about my relationship with Gay and thinking about her relationship with the environment.”

Eight nominees for the award have been pared down to just three, an amazing accomplishment as far as Stentaford is concerned.

“Making it to the shortlist, it really shows the respect and recognition of his work and legacy,” she said.

While he would like to win, external rewards are not be the end all for Holownia.

“I’ve already won, but if I was to win it would be one more accreditation and learning experience to tell people that, you know you can live in Sackville, New Brunswick, and fly under the radar and have your dedication and hard work be recognized,” said Holownia.

The winner will receive $50,000, a solo exhibition at a photography festival next year and a published book of work that will get worldwide distribution.

Of a feather: An Homage to Gay Hansen, will be on display at Owens Art Gallery at Mount Allison until May 15.

The visual artist will also be launching a new book of photography and poetry with frequent collaborator Harry Thurston.

A book launch that will support the Gay Hansen Scholarship will take place on May 10 at the gallery.

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