Downtown Eastside mural ‘touches a little bit on everybody’

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Painting is the largest public mural in Western Canada

Jes Abeita

Called Through the Eye of the Raven, the mural on the Orwell Hotel on East Hastings was created by a team of artists co-ordinated by noted muralist Richard Tetrault. Photograph by: Wayne Leidenfrost, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun

The largest public mural in Western Canada depicts ravens, canoes, dancers and even a heartbreaking scene of children being sent off to residential schools.

The 7,600-square-foot scene on the wall of a Downtown Eastside hotel celebrates native culture and its history, but it’s also aimed at bringing together natives and non-natives.

“It touches a little bit on everybody, so I think when people look at it they’ll recognize something that comes from their [background],” said artist Jerry Whitehead, co-creative director of the project.

The mural, named Through the Eye of the Raven, was officially named and blessed Thursday morning at a gathering of first nations artists and community members, politicians and onlookers.

It decorates the Orwell Hotel in the 400-block of East Hastings, a provincially owned single room occupancy hotel managed by the Vancouver Native Housing Society

One of the major images on the mural is that of a raven dancer, whose eye beams a ray of light down toward the street below.

Whitehead said including the raven dancer was important because of the place ravens hold in the cultures of many coastal peoples.

The mural also includes images of sweetgrass, a totem pole and two blue serpents. The serpents are part of the creation stories of the Coast Salish.

There is a also an image of a woman weeping as children are depicted going to a residential school, represented by small figures floating out of her hands toward the outline of a building flying a British flag.

A group of eagles, representing healing, fly above the woman, the flag and the school. “Someone mentioned our past history with residential schools and we thought we’d address it in a different way like that,” said Whitehead.

The centre of the mural includes a canoe, a group of dancers and teepees, and a city scene that Whitehead said is important because it’s hoped the mural will become a bright spot for people in the area.

Noted muralist Richard Tetrault, who coordinated the six artists who worked on the mural, said when he began the project in February, it seemed a bit overwhelming.

“It had physical challenge, it had technical challenge and it had artistry that we all had to bring and fuse together,” he said of the process. By the time the team was finishing the mural, it was in the heat of summer and they had learned to work together seamlessly, Tetrault said.

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