Michelangelo said of the city, “I have never felt salvation in nature. I love cities above all.”
I was listening to CBC Radio’s Tapestry a few weeks ago. Mary Hynes was speaking with architects, pub-goers and psychologists about the city and its spirituality. The guests spoke about public art and its effect on the populace.
We cannot all afford art pieces in our homes. Our civic leaders, however, can spend some of our tax money beautifying the city with pieces of art.
Whitehorse has a number of murals and statues people can enjoy.
About the same time as the Tapestry program, a friend and I admired the mural on the side of the Lynn Building on Steele Street. We mused about its origins. Who painted it? Who is the fellow in the canoe?
My friend was adamant it was Atlin Lake. I remember standing on the street in Atlin looking across to the mountains on the other side of the lake. The mural surely makes me think of that beautiful spot.
How about the three witches disguised as trees? “Can you see them in the mural?” my friend asked.
So I began my discovery of the mural’s origins. A small ad in the classifieds brought success and soon I was enjoying a pleasant visit with John Russell at Copper Ridge Place.
Russell owned and operated Northwest Signs and Graphics for many years. The Lynn Building mural was one of his artworks, and was the first mural on any public building in Whitehorse. The Lynn Building was built in 1965, and has been leased for many years by the Yukon Government.
In “the olden days” artwork was freehand. Now, of course, signs are created on computers. Russell explained that he would sketch the design and, after approval by the customer, enlarge the sketch to fit the building’s art space.
He shared a great picture of himself, perched on a large scaffolding, painting the Lynn Building wall.
Russell was born in the north of England and started painting at the age of 15. He showed me his Coach Painting and Sign Writing apprenticeship ticket, issued by Britain’s National Joint Industrial Council for the Motor Vehicle Retail and Repairing Trade, 1955.
You would be surprised how many of the familiar signs around Whitehorse are Russell’s work. In addition to the Lynn Building mural, he painted signs for the Northern Denture Clinic, Irving Collision and Midnight Sun Gifts and Gallery, to name a few.
Russell came to Canada in 1970, when apprentices were needed here, he told me. His first stop was Edmonton, but within six months of immigrating he made his way up to Yukon.
At 71, he is still busy painting. The day I visited, he was creating Christmas cards and banners.
So, you are wondering: is the Lynn Building mural actually Atlin Lake? And do the trees really represent the three witches from Macbeth?
Russell laughed. No, it’s just a lake. And the trees are just trees.
But as for the fellow in the canoe: it may well be Russell himself.
Take some time to discover the public art in Whitehorse. It will feed your soul.