Members from Old Hazelton who came out to the BBQ celebrating the completion of “The Return” pose in front of the mural. (Contributed photo)

‘I can feel an energy’: Old Hazelton mural brings more than just art to downtown

“The Return” is a collaboration by Leah Pipe, Roy Vickers, Michelle Stoney and Facundo Gastiazoro.

Forget hastily-scrawled names in cement, anyone who left their brushstroke on a Old Hazelton mural has made their mark.

The recently-finished mural, titled “The Return” was a collaborative effort between local artists Leah Pipe, Roy Henry Vickers, Michelle Stoney and Facundo Gastiazoro.

To celebrate its completion, the owner of the Inlander Grocery, the building on which the mural is located, put on a free barbecue Saturday.

But reflecting on the mural in the aftermath of its completion, Pipe told The Interior News it was much more than just a collaborative piece between four artists.

“It really was an epic adventure,” she said. “It was different than other murals because we had such a large community engagement portion to this mural.

“I gotta be honest, without the community coming out and helping … it probably would have taken us three months instead of one.”

A crucial element of the mural, she said, was that she wanted to engage the community and encourage people — even if they wouldn’t consider themselves to be artists — to come out and make their mark on the mural.

With this in mind, Pipe set up sections of the mural that could be painted or simply filled in by people who wanted to participate but were not super comfortable with painting.

“That aspect of the mural was just so inspiring and so rewarding on so many levels, people felt so proud to come down and to be able to put a brushstroke in there and be part of this, it was more than I could ever imagine.”

And while she had sectioned off specific portions of the mural for less artistically-inclined participants to fill in a few brushstrokes, she said that so many people showed up for the Village’s annual Pioneer Day — and in general during the month — that these quickly ran out.

“[People] were messaging to me every night, ‘can I come tomorrow?’ [but] what I didn’t expect was they were happy to do anything,” she said, adding participants would help with everything from additional touch-ups to moving scaffolding.

“I wasn’t prepared for that … people were still so keen to come help and to be part of it at all.”

She said completing the mural felt a lot like crossing a metaphorical finish line.

“We kind of dropped our brushes like, done — we did it! It was such a huge deal for us.”

Pipe also highlighted a portion of the mural done by local Gitxsan artist Michelle Stoney.

“Her design can be seen in the red button robe of the tall woman at the very end of the mural and she did an eagle design free handed, and I love that she did an eagle because there’s an eagle soaring above the two women [and] the eagle’s head is on the chest of the woman and then the eagle’s wings are wrapped around into the robe. It’s phenomenal.”

Roy Vickers, another collaborator and grammy-nominated artist who currently lives in Hazelton, said when Leah approached him about being a part of the mural that not only was doing so a no-brainer, but that he wanted to donate some of his very own salmon designs to the project.

Reflecting on its completion he said it was especially significant to him having lived in Old Hazelton at varying points throughout the village’s history.

“When I look at it, I look across the street upstairs at the Marshall building where I used to spend my time when I was an artist … and never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be part of a community project putting a beautiful mural on the side of that building.”

Vickers said seeing the finished mural has filled him with the feeling a much-needed energy is returning to the area.

“For old-timers like me when I go into Old Hazleton it’s just a shadow of what it used to be as a community, [but] I can feel an energy coming through this mural project and it seems like it’s been a long time to get back here.”

Pipe agreed.

“We’ve had a real downturn with Old Hazleton so this wasn’t just — in my view — a regular mural going up. If I could just put it that way, it was like the town came alive and supported it in droves because finally something was happening in our town. And they appreciate it on that level.”

As for any other artists in the area, Vickers had a very simple message.

“I would like to put out a challenge to other artists in the area to follow the example of this,” he said, expressing a desire for a continued boom of arts and culture in the area.

“The Return” can be seen on the side of the Inlander Grocery, located at the intersection of Field and Omineca Streets in Old Hazelton.

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Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson (left) poses for a “kiss” with one of the fish, which Pipe holds onto. (Contributed photo)

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