Selfie with Elsie

I discovered the tag on the back wall of my wood shop a number of weeks ago, a spray painted mark, possibly part of the vast collection executed by one of two taggers that have made the news in Fort McMurray.

"That's been there a long time," pointed out Ben, who frequents the back alley much more often than I do.

I honestly don't remember where the inspiration came from, but I decided that weekend to paint a mural on this spot, a great way to mitigate the damage, and turn a negative into a positive.  First sweeping off the surface of cobwebs and dust, I applied a base coat of paint creating a "canvas" and a grid, 8-feet high by 5-feet wide.

The choice to paint elder Elsie Yanik quickly followed, using a beautiful portrait captured by photographer Joey Podlubny at the Oil Sands Banquet in 2011.

Wet weather, a job transition and a busy schedule kept me from diving into the project.  I also got a little carried away cleaning up the adjacent area and the neighbour's yard.  In the process though, I got to finally meet the guy next door, and get his blessing for the clean up effort I had embarked upon.

"I work at a desk job and I actually like getting out and cutting grass and such," I said.  "I'm also going to be a painting a mural on the back of the shop wall and want to have things looking nice in case we have visitors."

"You're an artist?" he asked.


"I'm an artist, too," he added, his face lighting up.  "I rarely get to meet other artists."

Allen Butler is a carpenter who many long years ago took courses at Keyano College with art instructors like Tom Flanagan, Rodney Konopaki and Garry Berteig.  He has quietly kept up with his creative journey doing a mix of drawing, sculpting and various other mediums.

"Do you have any stuff here?" I asked.

"I have a few pieces inside.  Come and have a look."

I was absolutely struck by the beauty of his work.  The fact that he had been living and creating right next door blew me away.

Perhaps it was that flash of inspiration, or the beautiful day, but after a morning of cleaning, I grabbed my paint - off tints purchased at Colours by Tiffany on Marshall Street - and began the creative journey.  I packed things away about seven hours later, leaving the finishing touches to the next day.

As I contemplated this project, I had a wild idea that it could be the start of a Hidden Murals Tour, a series of paintings in public -yet not-so-public - places scattered throughout the community in back alleys, behind buildings and unusual spaces.

Sharing the progression on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and seeing the response, I'm thinking I should invite folks to come and take a selfie with Elsie.  What a fun, interactive and celebratory thing to do in honour of an amazing woman who received her honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Alberta on June 11th.

See U of A news article here.  She is 96 years young and still amazing as ever.


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