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Artist honours grandparents and Gitxsan culture with playing cards

Tom sits down with Hazelton artist Michelle Stoney
Michelle Stoney with two of her nephews. (Tom Roper/Interior News)

I woke up the other morning to the radio tuned on CBC. Carolina de Ryk was interviewing a lady from Hazelton and inquiring about her artwork on a set of playing cards.

That seemed to me to be an ingenious way to get your art out to the public. We all play some type of card game and the standard bicycle cards could certainly be jazzed up a bit. I sensed a story and headed north to locate this interesting lady.

We met over coffee at Mercedes Beans in downtown Old Town. I love that area as it is our oldest intact historic settlement along the Bulkley River. Mercedes Beans has become a mini market for Michelle Stoney’s artwork from calendars to playing cards. This lady is prolific producer of art and is always generating new ideas for sale production. She also has a studio in Two Mile and sells more art products there.

Naturally, my first query was whether she was from Hazelton.

“Actually I was born in Vancouver. My mom is Gitxsan and my dad is Cree,” said Michelle. “They met at U.B.C. while training to be teachers. They divorced when I was three and our family moved back to Hazelton. My ye’e, (grandfather) was Victor Mowatt and he was my inspiration to becoming an artist. My uncle was the late Earl Muldon and I come from the House of Delgamuukw. I now live on the Gitanmaax reserve.

“When I graduated from school, not being sure of a vocation, I thought I would follow my sister into teaching. I always looked up to her and it seemed a good profession. Then I decided to enroll at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver. I graduated with a fine arts degree majoring in silk screening and metal sculpture. This experience gave me confidence to explore my creativity.

“I studied traditional styles and infused my personality into the mix to find my way. It is a great feeling to create something of your own and if that creation is interesting enough to be desired by others, it can be marketed and become a win/win for me. I can be an artist and pay the bills.”

“During the pandemic my twin sister and I were living with our granny. As I had been doing painting workshops before the pandemic I decided to hand out free kits to kids stuck at home. I started posting free colouring sheets of past work. They became so popular I would put up a new page every day for 100 days. I now have just under 200 on my social media site, @mstoneyart.

“After the pandemic, I was invited to Fort St. John to put on a workshop. It was so much fun and I learned a lot. Can you believe it, I am an artist and now a teacher, funny how those things have come together in my life. I am now able to explore several different mediums with my particular style. I have put my hand to Chilkat weaving, I am developing jewellery and then I came up with the idea of playing cards.

“These cards are showcasing my relatives. The four suits are symbolizing the four crests of my family tree. The King, Queen, and Jacks are represented by my grandparents. It is a neat way to honour them and provide an outlet for my artwork. The back side of the cards are in traditional Chilkat design and colors. The cards are produced by the Bicycle card company and are of very good quality.

“Another initiative has been developing after I received a personal grant. I came up with the idea to make drums and paint them based on the colouring pages I put out to the public. So I am hiring people from different Gitxsan communities to make the drums and choose a design that stands out to them. I hope to have 50 to 60 drums together for a show in 2024.”

You really have found a way to exploit your entrepreneurial side Michelle, I commented.

“It has all been a great learning curve for me,” said Michelle. “I’ve had my first show at the Smithers Art Gallery and have put on painting workshops in all our communities for people of all ages.

“My latest adventure is charms for your crocs. Who said you can’t have some fun with this? My website,, is where I sell only the one-of-a-kind items. I also sell shirts, prints, stickers and jewellery on the Provincial Artists market site Etsy.”

Thanks for all this Michelle and all the best for your future.