A massive new mural at G.W. Graham Secondary School is being completed by local artist Davis Graham, aka Pencil Fingerz.
The mural is on the southeast exterior wall. It shows a grizzly bear dipping a giant paw into a river while a salmon leaps from the water.
Both figures are done in Indigenous art style.
Ramona Baldwin, an Indigenous support worker/education assistant at G.W. Graham, said a project like this has been on the radar for a while, and the idea started to gain momentum last year.
“We’ve always wanted to do a large scale mural that signifies the area and the Tzeachten First Nations territory that the school is on, and probably the river and the backdrop of the woods is the best representation of that,” Baldwin said. “We also wanted to incorporate Stó:lō, which means ‘People of the River.’”
Baldwin said the mural represents a lot of things, including a sense of community and a “profound respect for Indigenous people within the territory.”
“And the Indigenized grizzly represents the school Indigenizing the curriculum,” Baldwin added.
Graham said he was humbled to be asked to do the project. He has been reading books containing B.C. Stó:lō art since he was a kid, but he was always hesitant to do Stó:lō art himself for fear of getting something wrong.
The grizzly bear was designed by Stó:lō artist and Tzeachten First Nation member Fred Jackson. Graham planned everything else about a year ago, drawing on his own background as someone with Stó:lō ancestry.
“I didn’t want it to be too busy, but I also didn’t want it to be too simple,” Graham explained. “I wanted to infuse some Bob Ross-style painting into the simplicity of the Stó:lō art, and then add elements of realism over top, like the clouds coming in front and the water splashing.
“A lot of art is one or the other, it’s either super simple or extremely complex. With Indigenous art, it can be simple but tell such deep, powerful and meaningful stories and I love that about it.”
On the day that Graham talked to The Progress the mural was not yet complete. He had left room above the blue sky where he intended to incorporate the sort of diamond-like pattern often seen on Indigenous honour blankets.
“Any Indigenous person seeing that design would know what it is,” Baldwin added. “That is something that is given to someone on an honour blanket to represent appreciation and honour for the work that they’ve done.”
Baldwin hopes everyone who sees the completed mural has some sort of takeaway.
For Indigenous students at G.W. Graham, she hopes there’s a sense of pride and connection.
“With their heritage, I hope they see the symbolism and feel it’s a good representation of them and their family and their territory,” Baldwin said. “For non-Indigenous students, I would hope they feel a sense of inclusion and awareness, gaining more knowledge of the Indigenous communities in Chilliwack.”
For Graham, the hope is that Indigenous people who view the mural will see the care he put into the work.
“It’s something I don’t want to tread lightly with,” he said. “I want to do it justice. I want Indigenous people who look at it to say, ‘Right on. He did a good job.’”