Day 352 - Anne-Marie (1st person I approached)
December 18, 2014 - It’s been a long time since I walked out of my apartment building, and saw someone on my street, that I wanted to approach. Anne-Marie was standing at the corner, looking at her phone. I was drawn to her brightly coloured scarf and jacket. She stepped off the curb just as I approached her, so then I became this fool walking back and forth across the intersection. I told her what I was doing, and asked if she would chat with me, as she walked down the street. I suggested we could sit at a nearby bus-stop to stay out of the drizzle.
“Sure, I’m just heading down here to the mall to grab some wrapping paper,” she said. I asked if I could walk to the mall with her, and Anne-Marie seemed fine with that. I mentioned that her scarf and jacket had caught my attention. She smiled, telling me she’s an artist and likes colour.
“I was born in Smithers (British Columbia). My father was a prospector. He worked panning for gold, and in the mines. We moved all over in those parts, and lived all up and down the Skeena River. My mother was an artist and teacher,” she said. Anne-Marie is the third of seven children, all born within a thirteen year period.
“We’ve always loved one another and got along extremely well. We were our own community," she said.
"The family moved around to accommodate my father’s prospecting and work in the, mines. With my mother being a teacher, there was always a school nearby. The places we lived in were often rural. That meant the schools were sometimes a single classroom,” said Anne-Marie.
“My parents loved the outdoors. My father would go off on long walks, he never took gun and he’d just go out climbing and walking. My mother was the first white woman to teach in the school on the Fort Babine Reserve,” she said, with well-deserved pride.
“Many of the places we lived in were so small, we went to the school our mother was teaching at. She spent time home-schooling us as well, but we attended school regularly.”
“I always knew I wanted to be an artist. From my earliest memories I was drawing and painting. My mother was an artist as well. She was such a wonderful women. We truly cherished her. Her greatest gift was her kindness. My mother came from a well-to-do family in Victoria (Vancouver Island), and was well educated. She left to go to Smithers to teach, and that’s where she met my father,” said Anne-Marie.
“My mother and I were going to be artist’s together. After I graduated from high-school, she went to UBC (University of British Columbia), for summer school. I went along with her, and took some courses there. In the fall I went to UVic (University of Victoria) and started studying to become a teacher. I went there because Victoria is where my mother was from. I was going to become a teacher as tribute to her.”
During Anne-Marie's second year in university, her mother had a stroke.
“She was only forty-five. The youngest in the family was only nine years old. When the Doctor came to tell us she had passed away, that night, I decided I was going to become an artist. And be an artist for both of us,” she told me. Anne-Marie left UVic after completing her second year.
“It just wasn’t for me. I didn’t care for the structure of school. I went back to Smithers to be an artist.”
“My husband and I ended up selling all of our belongings and we bought a canoe. We moved up to the Takla River area. We loaded the canoe with as many supplies as we could fit, and went into the forest for the winter. It was isolated, and we painted and enjoyed the quiet of nature. In the spring, we’d put our paintings into the canoe, go into a nearby town, and sell them. We made enough money to buy more supplies and then we went back into the forest,” said Anne-Marie. For the next twenty-three years, Anne-Marie lived in remote locations in Northern BC, the Yukon and the Arctic.
“We lived in places that were only fly-in and fly-out. There some very remote locations,” she said.
“It was time. After twenty-three years, it was just time to make change in my life. I needed to start integrating with people again. I wanted to change things. My husband, who I’ve known since childhood, he and I moved to a house-boat at Granville Island (Vancouver). It was definitely difficult adjusting. After so many years of living in such remote places, and deep in nature, it took quite a while to adjust. It was very hard,” she said, shaking her head slowly.
In 1986, a friend invited Anne-Marie to take part in a dragon boat race.
“During Expo ’86 (the World’s Fair, held in Vancouver, BC), China had brought four or five traditional Dragon Boats with them, as part of their display. Until that time, there had only ever been men’s dragon boat teams here. My friend and I decided to put together a women’s team. We held a meeting to get things going. I was part of the organization of what would go on to become the Vancouver Dragon Boat Festival." said Anne-Marie.
"We were good too! We qualified for the World Championships. We beat China in a qualifying heat, which completely spooked us, we never expected to beat China, of all teams. We won Silver. And then for the next ten years, we went on to win many, many gold medals,” said Anne-Marie. Early in our chat, she had mentioned that as a child, one of the mining claims the family lived on was called the 'Golden Eagle' site. She told me that there has been a lot of gold in her life.
“It’s the name of my art studio now. I just seem to have always attracted gold,” she said. Now I understood what she meant.
The Dragon Boat team would usually go to Singapore, Hong Kong or Macao to acclimate before racing.
"It was much hotter there and we would practise and get used to the heat. One day, I was heading back to the hotel, in Hong Kong. I think I had been out for a jog, because we had to keep very fit. There was this small circular concrete garden that I noticed, and I went to sit in it. There’s so little space given over to nature in Hong Kong. As I sat in this tiny little garden, I noticed a small blue butterfly. It was resting quite close to me and I watched it for what seemed like a long time. It’s funny, in the middle of Hong Kong, in this massive city of concrete, I was transfixed by this blue butterfly. I decided to listen to the voice of the artist inside me, that was going ‘What about me? What about me?’ I gave up racing and went back to painting again. There comes a point in the life of an artist where all you want to do, is be that artist, and paint,” she said.
In 1999, Anne-Marie starting painting portraits for the Vancouver Law Society’s publication, 'The Advocate.’
“I would do a cover every two months, so six a year. They were commissions, really. But I never wanted to paint just what I saw of a person. I would call the person who was the subject, and make arrangements to meet, and take some photographs of them. I told each person during that phone call, 'When we meet, I want to know, what makes your soul sing.’ There often ensued the most long, drawn out, awkward silence. But I didn’t want to paint the lawyer or the judge. I wanted to paint the person inside, as they saw themselves,” she said.
“I would ask them where their favourite places are. If they liked surfing, then I’d paint them on a surfboard,” she said, chuckling.
“For the last cover that I was going to do, after twelve years of painting these covers, they asked me to do a self-portrait. There was a presentation, and they surprised me. They had prepared a collection of all the covers I had a painted over the twelve years. The covers were assembled together, just as they would put together the magazine. Except they called it ‘The Artist’ and had my portrait on the cover,” Anne-Marie said, her voice soft, and emotional. (*Fact Check - see links below.)
Anne-Marie is retired now, but of course, still painting.
“We have seven sons and twelve grandchildren. Maybe it’s eleven. We just built a beautiful house on the Naramata Bench (BC interior). I made hand-painted tiles and rammed earth walls. And I have the loveliest studio to paint in. The house really is a piece of art in itself,” she said.
“We spend the winters there and then we have a place on Savary Island as well," she said.
"I’ve been so fortunate in my life. I’ve had so many remarkable experiences. We became good friends with the Factor (the person responsible for a Hudson’s Bay trading post) at a reserve in the far north. I’ve walked on land that no white person had ever set foot on. I’ve been making a living as an artist for fifty years now. I have wonderful friendships with people from all over. It’s really been remarkable” she said.
“I teach painting as well now. Just like I’d ask the subjects of the portraits I painted, I tell students ‘Don’t just paint a tree as you see it.’ Close your eyes and see if you can connect with that tree, listen to it. Let it tell you how it see’s itself, and paint that,” she told me.
"What makes your soul sing? That’s the key to life. That’s what it’s all about.”
We had taken a seat in the mall as soon as we got inside, and hadn’t moved for about twenty minutes. I remembered that Anne-Marie was going to buy wrapping paper. We finished our chat and she started to walk out of the mall. I asked about the paper.
"Oh, I don’t have time to get it now, I have an appointment to go to. I was just trying to fit in an errand, before the appointment. That's okay, I’ll get it later,” she said. Anne-Marie had spent her errand time talking to me. That made my soul sing. #notastranger