Our Stories

Everyone has a story. 20120208-TTP-7482

I always wanted to start telling some of our stories. I’ve done genealogy for about 30 years now & know that the story is always more interesting than just the statistics. In 2014 we will be celebrating our 50th anniversary & I know there are all kinds of stories you have that we’d love to hear about. It doesn’t have to be long but once you get started your memories from the Forum Art may remind you of many tales. I hope this gets included in your own family history.

Some ideas to get you started may include: why you decided to take art classes, your own experience as a developing artist, the instructors that influenced you, the routine & the fellow friends, what part it played for your family, your contribution as a patron or buyer, how art has enhanced your home, why you have supported us as a registered charity or just whatever comes to mind. Add photos if you want.

If you only have time for something shorter I can also add a one or two sentence thought for our testimonials. I’ll need your permission to publish whatever you send. It will be posted here & may also be put into our archives. We hope to slowly digitize some of our archives to make these available as well.

We appreciate your contribution to this special project. Thanks for being part of our Forum Family.

Daryl Dumanski  | Executive Director

If you would like to contribute your story, please contact: daryl@forumartcentre.com | Subject Line: “My Story with Forum Art”

Our Beginnings

One of our founders was Nikola Bjelajac. He was from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and had 2 brothers and 2 sisters. He would write to his sister Ljubica ; he sent this letter to her about 1965 as the Forum Art Institute started September 1964.

“My dear Luba,

Letters from now on I am afraid will always be unpredictable. I have started a school,and am becoming the absent-minded professor in reality.

Under no circumstances are you to worry or wonder. It is simply that I must start a new life for myself and in this I am constantly put to the task and until the school is firmly established I will be going in all four directions of the compass.

Enclosed is an article concerning the first year of the school–this year will determine whether or not we remain in existence–it will be a good fight.

I trust all is well with the family and that Vida manages to still go to Walgreen’s for her coffee.

Your brother,



Story by Winnipeg Artist:  Robert  p a s t e r n a k  – from his blog


“Nobody really taught you how to paint.” I say?  “that’s funny I said that”

painting by NAK

Communicative Travel November 1980, 20″ x 20″, acrylic on paper canvas

This is my first painting I did while my brother and I enrolled in painting classes at the Forum Art Institute under the tutelage of Nikola Bjelejac in the old CPR Station building. What a place that was! Everyone was twice our age or older. Some were really old by our perspective and have been painting there for years. But boy could some of these folks paint. And there were all sorts too from smooth surrealism by Dan Gregg (one of my favorites) or the rich impasto scenes or the organic flows from a syringe needle by Vicki McBain. This wasn’t really a place to learn to paint as much as it was a place to hang out to paint. I learnt by watching everyone. Yes the instructor had lessons if you wanted or cared, or you just went on your own pace and Nik was there to question and guide you to a finished work. You could not sign a piece until he said so. That’s funny.

This first painting was made from a first assignment which my brother and I both thought was pretty cool. It consisted of drawing a series of four squares then adding various lines in each one to divide the space. We then chose our favorite, put it aside, then added more lines to the remaining three squares. Then once again choosing our favorite and putting it aside and continuing to add more lines in the two left and so on until you were left with four drawings you liked. Then you colored them going through this same method of pleasing elimination. So by the end you had four colored drawings that you liked. But now, you had to choose one and do a painting of it.

But how do you paint? Nobody showed us. You had to figure it out for yourself. If this first painting was going to be a jumping in the deep end learning experience, then I thought if I was going to learn something I would give myself a challenge and try to think about the various ways that I could possibly do shading with acrylic paint. Earlier on when I was working with graphite, it was really important for me to know how to shade to give objects a 3 dimensional quality, so I wanted to learn to do this with paint. In this one painting I tried three different blending styles. Wet on wet, thinning with water and dry brushing. I liked dry brushing the most and is the method I would mostly use in years to come.


My first Forum Art Show 

by Margaret McCowan

I went to one of the shows of the Forum Art to see a friend’s painting in 1975. I always had a desire to paint and started in the Carling O’Keefe building on Redwood Avenue under Nik’s tutelage. He was a formidable presence at that time, but an excellent teacher in pushing one further along with each painting to broaden one’s artistic experience. I became a Board member and had even more contact with him & found him to be a great booster and mentor for me in his later years. I’m still a member of the Forum Art.

Story true to philosophy

by Pearl Edwards Van Muijen, Teulon

– published in Letters to the Editor, A8, Winnipeg Free Press, Friday, December 3, 1993

I am writing in response to the November 20 story in the Free Press headlined The master’s touch, about the Forum Art Institute and its Art Director (co-founder) Nikola Bjelajac.

The Free Press correspondent Garth Bucholz should be commended for a long overdue story, written without embellishment, and true to the philosophy of the institute, where “art” is a creative act, rather than a trained skill”.

The importance of this philosophy, taught with generosity and selfless patience, has benefited me personally in the development of my art and career as a graphic artist.

To this day, many years after the Forum Art Institute experience as I call it, Nik and “the community” have instilled in me and numerous other students of art, a sense of confidence and the drive to accomplish.

Above all, my years at the institute have given me the determination to follow my instincts and develop artistic visions into works of art.

I sincerely hope that the Forum will continue to enhance the life of many future students of art.

I encourage those interested benefactors to act now and generously. The Forum Art Institute and Nik Bjelajac are an all too rare a commodity in today’s society.

Winnipeg needs this institution alive and well.

Thank you Mr. Bucholz, and thank you Nik.

Pursuing My Fine Art Studies 12_child1and2

by Thomas Geddes

I am presently studying Fine Art full time in Toronto as a result of my first painting classes at the Forum Art Centre in 2008. I found the atmosphere at the Forum pleasant and uplifting. The folks there were approachable and positive. There were no silly rules or politics, no ego or negative undertones among other long time members and instructors. The atmosphere was always buoyant, people were genuinely interested in their pursuit of the joy of art. Perhaps some day I will teach at the Forum when I return to Winnipeg.

My Art Backgroundgreg lofvendahl

by Greg Lofvendahl

My art background is I’ve always been drawing .
Mom learned about Forum from a fellow that worked at the Stock Yards with her, Stan Stetch. I started when I think I was about 10, at a great old house on Roslyn Rd, was there for 3 years. I don’t remember the first instructor, a big fellow with a bushy black beard. The 2nd guy was named Art, he had 1 leg that was shorter. He taught us about using mixed mediums, I don’t like that style. The 3rd guy was Bill Chody (?). mostly pastels and paper mache. I started to build a giant ant hill that turned into a 4′ kangaroo, goofy kids.
The Forum then moved to Tuxedo, the old Lord Strathcona Barracks,  H-Huts near the School for the Deaf on Grant Ave. More pastels and the introduction to Acrylic paints.
I learned a few things, pastels suck, I hate to do still life’s and acrylic paints are great.

I don’t remember driving myself to Forum, so I must have stopped going in Grade 10. That was the year I met a great inspiration, my Senior High Art Teacher, Jim Macfarlane. He taught me so many great techniques in 3 years. The one I remember best is never be afraid to use anything unorthodox to achieve a look you want. I wanted to get the look of old crumbly plaster and smeared huge sections with thick white paint , then while still tacky, used damp cheese cloth to rub most of the paint off. It looked exactly as I wanted. I used sandpaper to make blue pants look like old blue jeans.

I’ve painted with toothbrushes and screens from old windows and almost anything else that will hold or remove paint. I’ve mixed oil based spray paints and acrylic tube paints to see what happens, usually not good. But doing the backgrounds in oil based sprays works very well if left to dry. I done some small carvings, usually faces. Lots and lots of drawings and a few paintings.

Lately the art is more covers for Seminar Agendas at work or Hallowe’en projects. I find my layouts tend to be very mathematical, too much drafting over the years.

I find I prefer an uncontrolled environment to work in and I’m not really concerned or interested in other people’s opinions while the work is progressing. I can’t work on command, some days I would stare at the painting for hours, deciding if that is how I wanted it to look, and what colour was needed, pick up a brush and make 1 line, sit back and look, clean up the brush and walk away. A few hours or days later go back and have another look, it would either be yes that’s it or no, I don’t think so.

I’ve spent weeks making different drawings until I get the right look, Then assemble them like a puzzle to get the final work. I don’t think I’ve got the right temperament for an Art School anymore. I like to experiment and will look into different techniques, but I’m not interested in learning how someone else lays out, approaches or visualizes their style of art. It is there style not mine. It works for them, not me. I thought about taking classes in water colour for a while, then I tried some on my own and decided I didn’t like the effects I was getting. I use acrylics almost like a water colour in fine washes and lots of layers.

I also don’t have a commercial side to my art. I’ve never sold a painting or drawing. I decide the art is for someone else, before I start, then I have no problem giving it away. I put so much into the pieces that it would be like selling a child. I can release the child to be free, but never to be sold.

We love to see the art shows, but we have so little open wall space left, that the picture must really speak to us now if we are going to buy it. We don’t buy art for investment, we buy it because we like to look at it. See you at the next show.

 My Visit to CanadaRober with Barb

by Australian artist Roger Byrt

One of the great pleasures of my year in Winnipeg, 2010, was teaching painting classes at the Forum Art Institute.

I loved driving down Grant Avenue in the dark with snow on the ground and all around for a lot of the time to arrive at Forum Art Institute which was always warm and bright and welcoming.
The classes were rigorous and they were great fun. Everyone arrived on time, they were fully engaged, worked hard and did lovely paintings. Some of the students travelled a long way to attend the classes and they were all really interesting and impressive people and there was a great feeling of camaraderie.
It was really important for me to be active in the community of Winnipeg.
Forum Art Institute was an important part of that and I love keeping in touch with the friends I made there now that I am back in Australia again.

Practicing Artist   by Elizabeth Macdonald


My name is Elizabeth Macdonald and I am a practicing artist of 40 years+. I attended the Institute for four years from 64 on and lovingly remember Mr. Bjelajac and Steve Repa.

I remember the airport hanger studios where our classes were held every Saturday, and traveling by bus from Ft. Garry at such a young age was a delightful part of the experience.

The wonder of visiting established artist’s studios, watching them work and listening to their stories to this day continues to foster the enchantment.

The Forum Art Institute was an integral part of my artistic development and I will be reflecting on that experience in my blog.

The website is a new development for me…hopefully it will be of some interest to you. Apart from that, thank-you for your wonderful contributions and encouragement throughout the years.

Warmest regards – Elizabeth http://elizabethmacdonald.ca/

A Rough Start by Edward Dumanski

Flower gardenDrawing has always been an important hobby of mine growing up although I had never taken classes to increase my skills.

I had taken a class in acrylic painting with Nik Bjelajac but I had to admit defeat & end my affiliation with that medium.

My love of watercolour started with a visit to the art show at the Forum when it was located on Main Street. I was so mesmerized by the beautiful watercolours. I even bought one of Vicki McBain’s which I still admire to this day. I mentioned to my wife that I would like to learn more about this craft. She said, sure, try some of my watercolours I have at home. So, I got to work setting up on the kitchen table, brushes in hand. I worked, I thought, so diligently on a picture. All completed my wife walked by & viewed my work of art. She said, “That’s nice – you need lessons.” So, I packed up & enrolled in watercolour classes at the Forum.

My first teacher Bianca Falavena had us do still lifes. We had to take off our shoes & place them in front of us. I have progressed, I think from my first watercolour, which Bianca said looked like baby shoes, to today, passing through 25 years of watercolour, water soluble oil, drawing & mixed media & about 10 instructors all outstanding in their fields.

It has been a wonderful 25 years of learning & adventure – a journey I treasure now and hope to continue for many years to come – because the journey & learning never ends until we can no longer carry our brush.

Thursday night Acrylics – by Joan Head

Since leaving Forum Art Centre, I continue to paint and have been recently accepted with the Victoria Sketch Club. ( I had to present 6 canvases to the Board of Directors…eeeek..)
When I joined Forum Art Club, David Cooper became my instructor and mentor. I couldn’t wait for Thursday Acrylic class. I developed my artistic skills on canvas through David’s support and brilliant techniques inspiring  me to challenge myself. I would also like to mention Allan, Margaret and Frank for inviting me to paint along with them on Tuesdays. Truly inspirational!!
David's class
Presently I am in the oldest club out west that just celebrated 100 years. One of the first students was Emily Carr…
I paint every Tuesday afternoon from September-April. The present summer program is Plein Air painting or sketching at a new location. I love it!
Forum Art Centre… I will always remember and be thankful….I still remember and think of you all..

This link will bring you to my bio with the Victoria Sketch Club. http://www.victoriasketchclub.ca/JoanHead.html


Allan, Joan, David Cooper – art instructor, Margaret