Pascal Pelletier (left) and Shawna Gagne posing alongside the salmon portion of the mural they just completed at AD Rundle Middle School. (Eric J. Welsh/ The Progress)

Massive mural brightens a dark space at Chilliwack’s AD Rundle Middle School

Pascal Pelletier and Shawna Gagne completed 80 feet of Indigenous-themed artwork over the weekend.

A dingy grey hallway at AD Rundle Middle School has received a facelift, with two artists completing 80 feet of mural work.

Students arrived Monday morning with smiles on their faces, rushing in to see the finished work of Pascal Pelletier and his wife/assistant Shawna Gagne.

The pair from Vancouver Island started the project last week. They invested around 200 hours into the work, which is themed around Indigenous cultures.

Pelletier was given four 20 foot sections to work with. He framed each of the sections with blue pillars on the left and right containing an Indigenous symbol – one pillar completed Friday portrayed a feather in contemporary colours and the traditional style of the Sto:lo and Salish First Nations peoples, while another depicted the phases of the moon.

The larger sections inside the pillars represented other aspects significant to Indigenous life, painted in vibrant colours.

“We have big, bright yellow walls, which is more in the style of where I come from,” said Pelletier, who originally hails from the Ojibwa Cree First Nation in Eastern Canada. “It’s always bold colours and big patterns outlined with thick, black lines.”

One section features large multi-coloured feathers meant to represent inclusion and the seven sacred teachings of Ojibwe culture – love, respect, honesty, bravery, humility, truth and wisdom.

Another section features salmon.

“Salmon is obviously so important for everybody, and there’s not an adult or kid that I talked to here that didn’t see salmon as a very, very significant element of this mural,” Pelletier. “So in that section, we bring back the bright yellow background and we put three large spawning salmon who have laid their eggs in the bottom of the water.

“The most important thing for me was to have the salmon bigger than the people in this mural.”

Pelletier wanted to get many aspects of Indigenous culture into the murals, everything from weaving to medicine, berries to flowers.

All of the sections are special, but if one rises above the rest, it’s the one that recognizes seven elders, framed by welcoming male and female figures.

“Victoria L’Hirondelle (AD Rundle’s educational assistant – aboriginal) contacted all the bands around here and asked them to submit somebody that they’d like to honour,” Pelletier said. “The majority of them are elders who passed away, but had significant influence in their communities.

“We’ll have those people right in the center of the whole project as a tribute to them.”

As Pelletier and Gagne did their thing last week, they delighted in talking to the students. Pelletier said the kids asked some very good questions.

“The questions they ask are inspiring and they make you think,” he said. “The way they see things, I used to see things that way, but we grow older and we then see things differently.

“The kids ask, ‘What got you started? Why do you do that? What inspires you?’ I’ve been doing this for 25-30 years now and I take these things for granted. I’m not asking every morning why I do this. It’s just part of my life, but to be able to reflect on that and answer their questions, I learn more from them than they do from me.”

Though it was a long project, physically and mentally taxing on both artists, Pelletier said creating such a mural didn’t feel like work.

“I’m very lucky to be able do what I do,” he said with a smile. “I’m glad that we were able to do some of the big patterns and designs during school hours so the kids could see the progress, and talk to us.

“We had some ‘regulars’ who asked a lot questions and were genuinely interested, and everybody agrees on one thing. It has brought light and vibrancy to a space that was dark before.”

For more on Pelletier and Gagne, visit authenticindigenous.com/artists/pascal-a-pelletier

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