10 years ago

Just over a decade ago, I went into the right-of-way behind our house on Demers Drive in Fort McMurray and discovered that someone had tagged our shed.
At the time, it was being used as my carpentry shop. The back area was being used as storage for my election signs. I had just lost an election the fall previous. Before we bought the property, Jim Dorie used it as a music studio. As I looked at the tag, the idea of painting something beautiful to cover it up popped into my head, and for whatever reason, a recent portrait of Metis elder Elsie Yanik taken by photographer Joey Podlubny was the image that appeared.

I had been flirting with what became known as a wild colour colour style using water colours for a couple of years and decided to do something similar on a larger scale using acrylic paints. I went to a local paint store and discovered they had an impressive selection of mis-tints, small cans of a variety of colours that were on sale in a corner. I bought a box full and that became my palette for the mural of Elsie.

Exactly 10 years ago, Elsie came over to our house to see the mural in person. The local media came, too. She was 96 years young at the time. She still had a youthful vibrancy and playfulness that belied her years. 

Else was often the elder who was often tapped to say prayers at major community events. I can still hear her voice resonating in big rooms with well dressed people anticipating a gala fundraiser or community celebration. She kept those prayers in a couple of binders which she allowed me to borrow for a few days. I wanted to scribe some of them into the mural so that visitors could sit on one of the benches I put back there and enjoy a moment of peace and reflection.

The mural took on a life of its own on social media and people started seeking it out and taking their #selfiewithElsie and posting it on Twitter (now X), Instagram and Facebook. Then prime ministerial candidate Justin Trudeau did the same when he was visiting our community. 

This mural was the spark for a midlife shift in focus that grew into a full-time career as an artist. It fuelled the transformation of our little wood shop in the back into Birdsong Studio 1.0, which lead to Birdsong Studio 2.0 in Okotoks, and now Birdsong Studio 3.0 in High River. It was the catalyst for a creative explosion that now includes over 2,300 original paintings that are scattered all over the globe. 


Popular Posts