I just happened to notice the big raven painted on the wall of the Roadhouse restaurant the other day and stopped to check it out.
Leah Pipe has opened what she calls a seasonal popup shop and you need to check that out too. It’s open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday to Saturday through to Christmas Eve.
This lady can paint and her style has a stark realism that connects you emotionally with her subjects. Almost like she has asked her ravens or wolves to stand for a portrait so she can accentuate their facial details.
Her work is seemingly appearing all around the valley. The District of New Hazelton has several commissioned works on its walls. The Blue Water Sushi on Main street has been bitten by her spell and a lot of this buzz seems to have been promoted by the Roadhouse.
What’s going on? I had to find out so I bought her art portfolio book and called her up for a story.
Leah has her studio in her house in New Hazelton and she invited me in for a cup of tea.
“My great grandparents were right out of downtown London, England and moved to the Kitwanga bypass area to try and farm,” says Leah. “Fortunately, Grandad Frank had some mechanical ability and got a job at Wrinch Memorial (Hospital) as a maintenance man. Dad was born here and grew up wanting to see the world so when he was of age he joined the military. I was actually born in Ontario and was lucky to be a part of my parents’ gypsy lifestyle as we moved to various job sites in Europe.
“Mom and Dad had some natural talent for drawing, so it seems I was always sketching or drawing too. When it came time to decide on my career I just naturally chose to apply to the Ontario Art College and thought I would be a shoe-in.
“Unfortunately, I did not get a seat and decided upon a graphic design career. Maybe it was meant to be. I was also very practical and knew how difficult it is to be a starving artist.
“Something in me always kept a yearn going for Hazelton and I finally moved back. The timing was right as Ksan hired me and my graphic design skills fit into their program for 11 years. Of course, I still painted on the side and after my tenure, I opened my own shop “Art and Antler” in Old Town.
“I loved being there but regrettably the customer traffic was not steady enough. So, after three years I had to close and I returned to my graphic design background and took up with the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition for the next four years.
“That’s when I finally made my decision to become a full-time artist. It’s not an easy commitment and entails a lot of work. Fortunately, after a commissioned project at the Roadhouse restaurant in Smithers, owners Michelle and Moe saw my potential. They stepped in, business helping business and sponsored me.
“They asked me what I needed and then proceeded to provide it. Moe was amazing, helping with my website design and operation. They connected me with various suppliers and truly got me on my feet. They even set me up in their building to retail my wares. I can’t thank them enough, they are very special ladies.
“I now produce 15 works a year for the Inuit Gallery in Vancouver. People want to connect with our northern lifestyle. Humans are connected with animals. We want to be a part of the wilderness and my work can provide that affinity. I want my work to move people emotionally. I am an emotional being.
“When I am struggling, I paint. When I am happy, I paint,” concludes Leah.
Thanks for this Leah. Your story is powerful, glad I bought your book and now have a closer connection to your art.