Renowned muralist returns to Chemainus

Thirty years after painting what is considered Chemainus’ most famous mural, Paul Ygartua was back in town last month

Thirty years after painting what is considered Chemainus’ most famous mural, Paul Ygartua was back in town last month to restore the Chemainus Festival of Murals Society’s signature historic mural, Native Heritage.

The 50-foot-by-20-foot image can be found at the corner of Chemainus Road and Mill Street.

Ygartua, an international artist and muralist with bases in Canada, France, Spain and England, originally painted Native Heritage in 1983 as part of his Heritage Series. It was done singlehandedly with a brush.

The mural is based on figures from the First Nations past and present in the area. Carved poles flank the central images of Ce-who-latza (left), who was chief of the Lyakun Village on Shingle Point, Valdez Island, as well as a constable of the Native Police and a pilot for the Royal Navy; former Chemainus Band Chief Clay-sa-luke (centre) and a Salish woman (right). Among the other figures that appears is Mrs. Mary Rice, at the top right.

To give Ygartua space to create such a large mural, the Municipality of North Cowichan actually built the wall on which it is painted.

Ygartua’s wife Joanne says it took him seven days to pain the mural.

“This one was amazing because he had no projector or scale,” she said. “People thereafter have said Paul is a visionary. It’s true because he just sees it.”

After painting the Native Heritage mural, Ygartua was commissioned to paint a mural for Expo 86, and many more murals followed.

Chemainus Festival of Murals Society director Karl Schutz, the architect of the mural project in Chemainus, approached Ygartua about painting a mural.

“He talked about the size, and I thought that sounded great,” said Ygartua. “As an artist, I am already visualizing what it will look like when it’s finished. I saw the three faces.”

Ygartua says murals need to be restored every eight to 10 years, depending on whether or not they are in a position where the weather hits them often.

This is the fourth time he has worked on his Native Heritage mural, and the restoration was made possible by the Chemainus Festival of Murals Society and the Municipality of North Cowichan.

Ygartua says he and Joanne knew from the first time they came to Chemainus that the murals would have a big impact on the town.

“The first time we came, we knew it would be a great idea to change the whole perspective of the town from a mill town to a tourist town,” he said. “Since then, other towns have put murals in. Chemainus has been developing all along. They’ve been doing more murals, and people have been coming to live here. It’s really grown.”

Approximately 80 per cent of visitors come into Chemainus for the murals, according to the Chemainus and District Chamber of Commerce.

Ygartua says many people relate his style to this particular mural, and he and Joanne end up talking about Chemainus a lot when they are at art shows all around the world.

The Chemainus Festival of Murals Society is a not-for-profit society trying to raise money through grants for the mural restorations.

“We have an ongoing five-year plan,” explained director Peter Collum. “Usually, one is restored completely each year, but most are cleaned up.”

According to the society, murals are the main attraction for over 30,000 visitors to Chemainus each year.