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Just trying to make an impact...

Mural and cups at the Wynyard Composite High School

As a teacher, I did four Artist in Schools grants over the years. This year I was one of the artists for the Artists in Schools grant from Sk Arts at Wynyard Elementary School and Wynyard Composite High School with Kevin Pee-Ace. As an artist I feel this project maybe the most impact for myself. This blog post will focus on this project and the part of my business that is TEACH.

This project came to be from a few shoulder taps in the fall of 2022. All the teachers in Horizon School Division spent time focusing on Personal Land Acknowledgement and my former colleagues shared their learning with me. I have always had a passion for First Nation education and the path to reconciliation as a former history teacher. As September 30, 2022, was getting closer I was reflecting on how I could do something to make an impact as an artist and a non aboriginal person. I flirted with the idea of creating functional pottery pieces that shared facts on the side of them to get people thinking. It didn't seem to fit. More time went by and near the end of October, as I was reflecting on taking the mural on the side of my highway store and putting it on my pottery the idea came to life. I reached out to former colleagues at the Wynyard Elementary School to see if they wanted to do something along the lines of a personal land acknowledgment project. And the answer was YES!

When I have applied for Artist in Schools grants in the past the projects have always been huge, so I had to design this project to be huge in impact and design. I reached out to Kevin Pee-Ace and he was totally in for creating a mural that we would then transfer onto handmade pottery cups. One mural...nah lets get both schools involved and make two murals and lots of cups. The plan was to involve students from grade 1,3,5,and 7 (WCHS) to do the project. As we started planning after receiving the grant we realized that all students from K-7 needed to be involved and that together the conversation of land acknowledgement could happen.

In March 2023, Kevin Pee-Ace visited with all the students and discussed ideas and empowered the students to create drawings, words, sentences of ideas that would work on the mural. Elder William Strongarm from Touchwood and Area Tribal Council also came and visited the schools to talk about land acknowledgement and share his wisdom with the students. Kevin went through all the ideas the students and staff shared with him to design two incredible 8' x 8' murals for each school. The students worked with Kevin and painted and added more ideas and painted. Kevin did the final touches with the black outline that is very much his style. By May the murals were done waiting for me to do my thing with clay.

In May 2023, I took pictures of the murals and turned them back into the black and white line drawings for the next process. For the elementary school I silkscreened the images onto newsprint. The students then picked one of the 8 sections for their cups. They painted on the newsprint with underglaze. We set up in a central location in the school and classes worked together with their reading buddies. The grade 7s at the highschool had the ability to choose whatever section of the mural they wanted to put onto their cups and used underglaze to paint their image chosen onto the newsprint. I showed the students how to make clay cups using a tin can as the mold for wrapping the clay around the can. We then transfered the images onto the cup with water and rubbing the image. One grade one student described it as a tattoo we put on the cups. All the 300 plus cups were brought back to my studio and I fired and glazed them all.

Students matching their cups to the mural at Wynyard Composite High School

On June 21, 2023 the reveal of the mural and the cups happened. It started at 9am at the highschool where the grade 7s presented the mural and project to the student body. They all took their cups and matched it up to the mural. Watching that was pretty cool. The mural will be the community reminder of land acknowledgment work and the cups will be the individual reminder to everyone as they carry the cups through their life. At 1:00 at the elementary school the program included the Horizon School Divsion board memeber Dana Stefanson, Artist Kevin Pee-Ace and guests of Elder Erllon Kinistino and his partner dancing and singing. Every student got their cup and you will see in the pictures of us all standing with the elementary school mural.

I know for years to come the murals will stand in testament to the work done at the schools in Wynyard. It truly is the beginning of the process of reconciliation in this community and I am proud to have been a part of it.

Wynyard Elementary School and all the students from Kindergarten to grade seven!

It just takes a wee shoulder tap and listening to it and taking the risk to try! I will keep listening to the shoulder taps and taking risks as an artist!

Marea Olafson

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