On a cold and crisp winter day, students at Skwo:wech Elementary were slowly drummed into the gymnasium to gather in the round, to share appreciation and questions about a new art piece that’s adding brightness and hope to their school.
This event was a celebration of the new mural by local artist Elinor Atkins (whose traditional name is Miməwqθelət).
The students and guests who gathered came to celebrate the installation of the new mural, and to thank the artist as she shared her reflections on what the piece meant to her.
Given the name of the school, the sturgeon was a central part of the design. It is an animal that represents wisdom of the ancestors … and an animal Elinor has a number of connections to through her mother, through childhood memories with her family, and through her own artistic career (as the illustrator of the book “A magical sturgeon”). But Elinor also spoke to the individual details of the new mural: the use of the Salish eye representing past and future generations, the importance of the river representing her home of Kwantlen, the flowers as symbols of happiness and hope, and the importance of the movement in the fish that speaks to how alive both the art and the land are.
Students from different divisions took turns standing up to share their reflections of the new mural, and the thoughts it evoked for them … they talked about feeling a sense of calm and happiness when looking at it, they imagined hearing bees buzz and a wind through the trees, and they reflected on how the light and positioning of the mural made it feel like a stained glass window that brought the outside world in.
Elinor also patiently took questions from students who were curious about her inspiration, who wanted to know more about her process to get to the final piece and inspired the young creators who questioned how she had landed in her career as an artist.
This piece was commissioned as a continuation of the journey toward reconciliation that we are taking together, and part of our related district-wide efforts to indigenize our spaces. Guided by a committee of school staff, district staff and engaged community members (including Indigenous rightsholders), submissions were received from a number of local artists, each asked to outline how their mural could weave a story of connections between the land, the Fraser River and the sky above … a goal and vision that Elinor so clearly was able to achieve.
We raise our collective hands to thanks to Elinor for all her work and time to create this first piece, in what has become a series of pieces she has honoured us with. The below mural has just been added to the Welcome Centre, with another to come soon within New Westminster Secondary School!
Interested in seeing more work by Elinor Atkins? Follow her on Instagram.
This story has been reproduced with permission from School District 40 (New Westminster). The original posting can be found here.