I’d sometimes stare at a blank space on the Sir James Douglas (SJD) building while waiting to pick up my daughter after kindergarten. We were usually excited to see each other, much like the other students at SJD were excited when I’d visit their classrooms over the following years to share my knowledge of Coast Salish art. By the time my daughter was in second grade, I had an idea to create a mural in that blank space. Part of the idea was to allow the students and community to have a personal connection to the mural and the culture behind it.
With permission of SJD, I created a lesson plan that involved the mural project. To encourage connection with the mural I wanted the students to know the subject well through a traditional oral story. I told three Coast Salish stories to the students during multiple classroom visits and incorporated related art projects to the lessons. The students became invested in the project over the following weeks.
Another level of involvement was added by allowing the students to pick the subject matter of the mural. Students voted for the story to which they felt the most connection. The stories were: Smuy, Spaal and the Red Snow, Raven Steals the Light and Sthuqi and Tumus.
After the in-classroom portion of the project was complete, I created a substate on which to paint the mural. I chose a house front as Coast Salish houses were featured in the stories. I built the left side of a Coast Salish house front, containing a visible roof edge and door, from cedar planks. Construction took place at SJD while the students came to vote. I talked more with the students about Coast Salish plank houses, oral traditions and the purpose of the art during their voting visits. They were also encouraged to colour Coast Salish art and ask questions.
After the votes were counted and the result revealed to the school, I was able to start painting. The winning story was Smuy, Spaal and the Red Snow. For the painting process, I put down a white gesso base layer to help the red stand out and then applied layers of colour. The painting was done outside in the beautiful BC spring weather. Painting was finished in May of 2021, and the mural is planned to be installed on the school in the fall of 2021.
Videos of the mural process and winning story will be made available as a part of the unveiling ceremony so the whole community can feel connected to the mural.
Huy’sep’qu (thank you to each and every one) of the students and staff of SJD elementary for being so welcoming and enthusiastic about this project.