A new painting created by a local Syilx (Okanagan) artist is offering a bright repose, while recognizing the health needs of aboriginal people in the community.
Star Blanket of Life, painted by David Wilson, was unveiled at the entrance to Polson Tower at Vernon Jubilee Hospital Tuesday in a ceremony attended by hospital and B.C. Interior Health Authority personnel as well as members of the Okanagan Indian Band.
Wilson’s painting is one of three artworks created by aboriginal artists commissioned by the health authority to be displayed at Vernon Jubilee, Kelowna General and Penticton Regional hospitals, respectively.
“This speaks to reconciliation and art is one of the best means to express those views,” said OIB chief Byron Louis, speaking before the crowd after a prayer by local elder Victor Antoine and a drumming ceremonial song. “We are honoured to have David’s work represented at the hospital.”
The art commission was born from a historic agreement signed in June, 2012 between the health authority and the Okanagan Nation Alliance to represent a commitment from both organizations to work closely together to ensure more equitable and accessible health care services for the Syilx nation and other aboriginal members, said Richard Harding, health services administrator for the North Okanagan.
“We acknowledge that VJH is located on traditional Okanagan Nation territory,” said Harding. “We want to improve competent health care for aboriginal peoples and recognize the work that still needs to be done and that all people will be welcome at the hospital.”
Wilson dedicated his painting to his late nephew, who is represented in the piece by a black bear holding a ceremonial drum, which he says also represents his Syilx community.
“It’s my message, born out of sorrow as a year ago my nephew passed away,” he said. “I was asked to paint his headstone. I had no words. All I could do was paint a picture and deliver a message… I also want to dedicate this to those visiting the hospital to remember that life is continual.”
Influenced by a book of pictographs in the B.C. Interior by John Corner, Wilson’s painting – done in bright acrylics – is rife with imagery and symbolism.
Besides some of the pictographs gleaned from the book, the painting shows a tree laden with eagle feathers, which Wilson says represents leaving worries to blow in the wind. A Steller’s jay (known as little eagle because of its call) represents the winter dance, which is part of Syilx ceremonies, while an owl, whose face is in the shape of a heart, is a messenger of love.
“The woman touching a caterpillar means change and rebirth,” said Wilson. “The bald eagle rising is meant to represent our spirit when we are alive and when we pass, it is changed into the stars in a continual circle.”
Star Blanket of Life is not the only painting of Wilson’s displayed in VJH’s Polson Tower. Two of his paintings, representing the four seasons, were commissioned in 2011 when the tower officially opened and now serve as the donors’ wall.
The winner of the 2012 B.C. Achievement Awards in Aboriginal Art, Wilson’s paintings can also be found in the lobby at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre at the Vernon school board office, in various Vernon district schools, and at Headbones Gallery in Vernon.
His next project is a mural he and students at Coldstream Elementary created at the school.