Artists: Annie Booth, Theresa Healy, Betty Kovacic, Wendy Young
There was a lot to be said for the word Challenge in reference to UNBC. From the onset there was a challenge in shifting perceptions, particularly in the lower Mainland: the north didn’t need a university; what the north needed was instructors in the safe operation of chainsaws. It was an uphill struggle, to get the idea of a university in the north for the north accepted and then designed and built.
Answering that challenge meant many disparate elements had to come together, to interlock and stand united to create the finished piece that is so integral a part of the northern BC landscape today. The concrete reality emerged from the solving of that first challenging struggle. In front of them is the jagged and uncomfortable uphill path, also representing the mountain ranges that lie across northern BC. At the foot of the mountains, in the centre of the piece is a kneeling non gendered Atlas figure carrying the University of the North on their shoulders.
The walls of the building hold symbols that echo the nature, and the cultures, that surround the university. Moose, whose highway the land was before it became a university campus. Now, when the moose return they peer in residence windows or try to get into the library, an endearing symbol of the environment around us and the deep seated memory it carries. The wolf, too, is important, our sports teams are known as the Timberwolves, for being strong. The raven is intelligent and considered by many First Nations to be a trickster. The raven, part of the UNBC coat of arms, we decide should be on a wall, but ---- “can you work on my raven and make it less like Tweety Bird?”
Everyone has to take a turn, says the artist among us. So we choose what we want to add to the collage she has made of all our ideas. Annie wants to add a wolf until she pushes the sketch across to Betty and says “can you make my wolf less like a German Shepherd?” Tess works on the word challenge, making it sharp edged and uncomfortably- spiky looking. Wendy declines adding, saying she likes what we have all done so far.
We sit companionably. Our conversation ranges from placement of our symbols on the piece to the placement of the finished work on the walls, about how hard the last two groups have been to organize and how lucky we were the University women could take two spots. We talk about how delighted people are when they see their finished piece and how impressed they are with them.
So, here we are around the table almost completed and our piece is colourful and vibrant. Betty is worrying about one small patch in one of the paintings - it is not quite right yet, she says. Annie is making plans on how to wrangle one of the last groups. Wendy is adjusting firing schedules. We are such a disparate group yet we have revolved together around the work amicably and with flashes of humour that lighten the work. We danced a delicate tango that fused words and images, painting and logistics, people and ideas. It will be almost a year gone when we finally see the work installed, almost a year since we came up with this crazy idea with few expectations of winning the competition and getting selected. And yet, here we are, 9 months later, almost ready to deliver.