The Labradoria Mural is complete. The immense art piece was unveiled this summer but, this Sunday, all of the young artists who contributed to the project will finally come together to celebrate their achievement.
The mural hangs at the Lawrence O'Brien Arts Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and includes 54 clay tiles, each 15" x 19'' in size. None of them are light in weight.
Each of the tiles shows an image under the theme "Labradoria," an image which spoke to the young people who created them as their answer to the question, "What do you think of when you think of Labrador?"
The completed mural began with a few tiles in November of 2006, shaped during the Labrador Creative Arts Festival in Goose Bay.
The process of working with clay was introduced to the youth by festival guest artist Lynda Faulks. It was picked up by festival co-ordinator and art teacher Dorrie Brown.
Brown spoke to The Telegram recently by phone.
"(The students) were all asking, 'so what's going to happen to these after Linda goes?'"
In answer, in 2007, Brown flew to British Columbia, staying at the home of Faulks to learn more, including "antiquing techniques" for finishing the mural panels and how to install finished panels in a larger mural project.
Overcoming the obstacles
The festival work led to only a small collection of tiles, however. There was still plenty of clay available from the project (It was easier to ship clay for 80 tiles than 20).
And so, Brown set out to offer young people in communities around Labrador their own chance at forming a Labradoria tile.
In Labrador, inclusion is no small feat.
"There were so many details in this project," Brown said, who highlighted the distance between participants as one of the largest.
From Nain to Cartwright, Mud Lake to Rigolet, Brown made the runs back and forth from the far-reaching communities to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
There were many transportation considerations, flying into Nain one day, making her way by boat to Mud Lake the next.
"While I was gone to the next community, Herb (her husband) would check the clay," Brown said. "After they dry for about a week you have to groove them in the back so they don't warp."
Brown then had a small kiln to fire and finish the tiles. The kiln was owned by Viola Hodder, who ran a ceramics workshop.
Hodder provided one of the first reactions to the art that was then taking shape.
"Her mouth just dropped," Brown said proudly. "She said 'the kids made this? Freehand?'"
"I expected nothing but the top from these kids, because I knew they were capable," said Brown.
"(But) all of us were surprised, I think, by the size of these things and to see what the kids were able to render."
As the project progressed and Brown became a traveling connector of the young artists in the
far-reaching Labrador communities, the next major item to arise was cost.
"It was $400 (freight cost) just for the clay alone on one trip to Nain," said the art teacher, adding the cost was significantly reduced by the airlines in an effort to help her and young artists complete the project.
In addition, "the Labrador Creative Arts Festival underwrote this project," said Brown, who fundraised to cover costs when she could.
By the end of the project, a series of benefactors had stepped in to help cover the $33,000 in bills. Contributors included Voisey's Bay Nickel (now Vale Inco), Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Labrador Airways, Provincial Airlines, Labrador School Board, Makkovimiut Trust, Happy Valley-Goose Bay Rotary, the Zippie Ikkiatsiak Award and the provincial government.
Some $5,000 was provided by the province for the framing of the tiles, Brown said.
"That's why we're bringing this whole thing together now to launch it," she said.
"I want (the young artists) to understand that somebody has provided the money for this, to make this possible."
The meeting is being made possible by the province, as it provided over $16,000 "to travel the kids back - so they can now take the trip in to be part of this," Brown said.
A book, a final chapter
The gathering Sunday will also mark the launch of a new book, "Uncommon Clay: The Labradoria Mural," based on the piece.
The text tells the story of the mural and its creators, providing a context for the art and a snapshot of Labrador through the eyes of its youth.
The text was written by the artists, with stories of families, cabins, hunts and heritage, but collected and edited by mural project leader Brown.
It is being released by Creative Publishing.
"Each one of those tiles has a story - each one of those tiles has several stories," Brown said.
"Once viewers know the stories behind them, they have that much more meaning."
The book is dedicated to the memory of Kitora Boase of Hopedale, who created a tile of codfish titled "Rich Waters."
"Just because she's not here anymore, and she should be," Brown said, noting Boase's death following her tile creation.
"This is her legacy. Her tile on that wall has been a contribution and will be there forever."
"I'm really, really glad we did the book. It's a way that people can walk away with some of it," Brown said. "I hope they can understand a bit more about Labrador."
The text also includes several pages of translations of student statements into Inuktitut. According to publishers, it is to be made available at bookstores provincewide.