It has been an absolute joy and honor to help create Bowen Island’s newest public art installation: The Bowen Gateway Mural. In 2021 I had the opportunity to join forces with an amazing team to create this 128-foot scene featuring some of the Island’s most treasured places and inhabitants. The lead Creative Team behind the mural consisted of three artists; myself, Paula Love and Sarah Haxby. We had a strong cohesive vision for the project: a background scene of our beloved island with dozens of feature plants, animals and places that would be “filled in” by guest artists. We applied to the call in June, in July we were awarded the project, and by August we had paint (drying) on our brushes!

The 128-foot mural installed in Snug Cove – Photo credit Raf Izdebski

The artwork features contributions from over 40 artists and community collaborators: children and youth artists, seasoned professionals, senior groups, photographers, and even our local cartoonist. The project was made possible by the Bowen Island Municipality, the Bowen Public Art Advisory Committee, and Sangre de Fruta Botanicals. The entire endeavor proved to be one of the most inspiring and heartfelt collaborative community ventures that I have ever had the opportunity to participate in. We brought together dozens of community guest artists and participants, all inspired and compelled to weave together stories of our special island. Read on to learn a little more about how this amazing project came together!

“The West Side” panels 14-16, Photo by Di

The Story of the Gateway Mural

Written by Sarah Haxby

The Vision: In the summer of 2021, three community-minded local artists with a collaborative vision set out to co-create a sixteen panel artwork that features a panoramic journey to and across Bowen Island. The Gateway Mural features highlights of the landscape, flora and fauna, whimsy and spirit of the island as well as references to some cultural and historical elements. It seeks to celebrate the community, people and place that make up Bowen Island, Nexwlélexwm, a jewel in Howe Sound, nestled in the Salish Sea.

“The Love Forest & Killarney Lake” panels 10-12, Photo by Di

The artwork was designed by the Gateway Mural trio of artists to maintain overall composition and harmony, with Di taking the collective ideas and designing the background and Paula Love designing the majority of the close-up flora and fauna elements. These were created partly in response to the over 125 suggestions from a community engagement survey which collected community suggestions from age six to ninety about which animals, places and plants the community feels best represent the island. Community guest artists were invited to participate in the mural by painting featured flora and fauna and youth artists were mentored over the summer.

“The Creative Team” from left: Sarah Haxby, Di, Paula Love – Photo credit Alex Kurial

Community Participation

One of the key parts of this community public artwork was the idea that the different styles and contributions of the guest artists would be jewels in the overall tapestry, expressing many styles and pops of colour. An array of artists at various stages of their lives and art careers, which was an inclusive aspect of the project, shows the spirit of the community through an array of styles.

Preschool children and infants contributed hand prints and footprints that were incorporated into the project as the youngest contributors, and the oldest contributors were in their late eighties. Honouring elements of our cultural history, for example, the paintbrushes of various artists who are no longer in our midst such as Ione Betty McIntyre and Nicolette McIntosh were used to paint the artwork.  

Technical Difficulties

The creation of the project took place from August – October 2021, in the midst of conforming to Covid protocols, painting during a heat-dome event which dried the paint as fast as we could apply it, and then dealing with wildfire smoke, painting in multiple locations as we moved from outside to indoors and managed to work at various sites. After the heat of the summer, we painted in the fall, during multiple rainstorms, high humidity, an atmospheric river weather-event, high winds, high humidity and the cold weather of October. The project was a challenge in size, scope, scheduling, arranging a covid-safe community engagement schedule. Even just sourcing the paint as the summer of 2021 also brought a global paint shortage, with red and yellow exterior house paint difficult to find!

Digital concept sketch, with animal outlines left blank for artists to fill in

The project goals included creating a welcoming and inviting entrance to Bowen Island that shares and celebrates our environment, our local heritage, culture and community spirit. We hope that through community engagement the piece has a rich depth, engenders a sense of collective ownership by the community, shares some of our many stories and celebrates our natural environment. 

Youth artists posing next to their creations 🙂 – Photo credit Alex Kurial
S7aplek and Spakwus Slolem (Bob Baker and the Squamish Eagle Song Dancers) performed a cleansing ceremony to protect the mural and make sure it starts off on the right foot. (Alex Kurial, Bowen Island Undercurrent)

The background design anchors the artwork, the details and unique artist cameos build on the foundation, and the people participating in the experience of the creation of the mural and sharing of stories brought it to life. We hope it will be enjoyed by the community and visitors to the island in its setting on the Lock Block wall in Snug Cove, at the gateway to the island.

Thank you for the opportunity to create this project with, and for, our community.

For more information and to read the full PDF of the Bowen Gateway Mural, with detailed photos and descriptions of each panel (written by Sarah Haxby) download here:

‘Snug Cove Gateway Mural Comes Alive’ – Bowen Island Undercurrent Article:

The full mural, click to zoom

The Creative Team: Paula Love, Sarah Haxby, Di (Art By Di)

Contributing community artists: Natalia Dominguez, Bob Doucet, Janet Esseiva, Nick Jens, Wylde Marsh, Marysia McGilvray, Alison Mitchell, Matilda Shapland, Adam Taylor, Liz Watson, Simon Daniel James Winadzi, Ron Woodall, Danuta Zwierciadlowski, The Wayfinders Collective (Diane Buchanan, Jane Dunfield, Coral Louie, Reidun VanKervel), and Sangre de Fruta employees.

Child and youth artists: Hannah F., Summer I., Mizuki J., Rachel M., Sasha M., Kate P., Ayla S., Community Recreation summer camp kids (AJ, Dela, Elliot, Felix, Frankie, Freyja, George, Greta, Isla, James, Keira, Meiko, Masha, Nia, Stella), and the infants and children at the Bowen Island Childrens Centre.

Acknowledgement and Sponsors: The 2021 Gateway Mural Project was made possible thanks to the Bowen Island Municipality, the Public Art Advisory Committee, Sangre de Fruta and the enthusiasm and participation of the community of Bowen Island.

Public Art Advisory Committee. Purpose of the Committee: to provide Council with advice and recommendations, using the Public Art Program and Policy as a guide, with the goal of integrating art into public spaces throughout Bowen Island. The Committee will incorporate best practices to build cultural vibrancy on the island, strengthen our community identity and civic pride, honour, preserve and encourage our cultural heritage and artistic diversity, and assist with community planning, economic development and cultural tourism opportunities. Committee Members Scott Massey (Chair), Mary Lynn Machado (Vice Chair), Philip Dion, Councillor Maureen Nicholson, Jami Scheffer (The Hearth Executive Director), Greta Smith (Bowen Island Arts Council Board Member), Gillian Drake (Manager of Recreation and Community Services)

Additional Project Supporters: Raf Izdebski, Robin Savoie, Ael Muo Vida, Helen Wallwork, The Little Red Church/Collins Hall, Adam Taylor, underwater photos, Bowen Fish and Wildlife, BICS, Bowen Island Recreation and Community Services, Scott Massey and his studio, and many other friends, family and members of the community.