Celebration 2012 just finished in Juneau this past weekend. It was full of pride, color and fun. But for me it was many times more meaningful this year due to some amazing serendipity and good karma.
My painting “Celebration Drums” was first shown in March at the Canvas, and then again at the Franklin Gallery in June for Celebration. Here is the painting:
On Friday afternoon, the day of the Grand Entrance March, I got a phone call from someone who was interested in the painting. I called him back, and found out that Duane Aucoin, from Teslin had seen the painting. The women in the painting are his aunt Madeline, on the left, and his mother. He was last in Juneau for Celebration 2010, and last year his mother had passed away, and the thought of coming back to Juneau this year without her was hard. He did come, all the way from Teslin, Yukon Territory, Cananda with his fellow dancers. He heard from someone that he should take a look at the painting and he called me. He felt that he was meant to come back to Juneau.
I try to honor the spirit and beauty of people when I paint them. They may not be people I know, but when you spend hours and hours of your time looking at a face, trying to “get” that face, and produce some version of it in paint, you develop a relationship of some kind. As an artist, those people are special to you. They represent human qualities that are meaningful to me. Imagine meeting someone related to a person you have painted and finding out that your painting was able to help remember and honor the life and inspiration of that person.
I was able to meet Duane and some of the Teslin dancers on Sunday, before they danced. While I was talking with them, someone brought a wolf hat over to him. It was instantly recognizable to me, as I had painted a dancer from Celebration 2010 as well. It was Duane! AND I had the painting with me! I was going to put it up in the Franklin Street Gallery to fill the empty space left by Celebration Drummmers, but I had forgotten to put a hanging wire on the back, so I had it in my bag to take back to my studio. I HAD to give it to Duane right then and there. It is a favorite of mine, I like the simplicity of the figure in the space and I LOVE that I could give it to the real dancer.
But wait, there is more! Duane asked me to be at their dance performance because he wanted to say something about the painting. While I was in the audience (with Duane’s entrance bracelet – since they had stopped selling any more entrance tickets) I was struck by the sight and emotions of Centennial Hall filled with the people of this place. The First Nations people, the decendants of those who first settled and claimed this beautiful part of the world. The language, dance, movements, history of survival and development of complex cultures and social structures. Still here in 2012.
Anyway, after a while, the Teslin dancers came on to the stage and Cash Creek Charlie and Gramma Susie gave the best stand-up comedy act I’ve heard. Incredible. Then Duane told about his mom and the painting, and asked me to come up to the stage. I was honored and touched to be included, and felt humbled and shy to be part of a memorial to a strong and vital woman.
I lost my mother at the end of April, and it has been and still is very hard to grasp that loss. It helps in some way to share that feeling of loss with others, and to know that other sons and daughters are going through this process.
Thank you to Duane for calling me and to the people of the Teslin dancers, it was an honor to meet you and be included in your tribute. Gunalchéesh.