The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on everyone. But since the beginning, essential and frontline workers have remained a strong and steady presence, helping us to pull through it. We owe them all our gratitude and appreciation. Recently, four local artists created a fitting tribute to these local heroes through their bright and beautiful artworks.
The mural project from visual artists Molly Margaret, Amber-Lynn Thorne, Nelson White and Anastasia Tiller was officially unveiled at the Avalon Mall in St. John’s on May 14. A partnership between the City of St. John’s and Eastern Edge Gallery, Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, Lawnya Vawnya and Riddle Fence, it pays homage to essential and frontline workers through a series of four separate panels, each highlighting the artists’ unique style and vision.
“It was an absolute pleasure and honour to be able to create a public work of art that thanks essential workers. You can’t imagine a world without essential workers, because they are the people that keep us protected, healthy and happy (pandemic or not),” says artist Molly Margaret.
“So many people stepped up during this pandemic and put themselves at risk in order to keep this province moving. I wanted to create a piece that showed that gratitude, through the use of bright colours, whimsical characters and showcasing just a few of the many jobs that are essential. My inspiration came from the people who would bang pots and pans out their windows in the evening when people were hard at work during the first lockdown, to show solidarity and appreciation. That gave me the idea for these figures in motion to be looming over the city, taking on the world.”
Fellow artist Amber-Lynn Thorne says “My work as both artist and educator center around my deep interest in people and allowing their stories to be heard and shown. With this mural, I hope not only to highlight the vital contributions made by essential workers during this pandemic, but also to reaffirm the humanity of those currently serving behind masks and plexiglass.”
For artist Nelson White, the project also provided the chance to pay homage to those people working in the background.
“It was an honour to be part of this project,” he says. “Not all essential workers were first responders, medical personnel or front-line clerks. Some were not publicly visible but still had to go to work each day and do their job to ensure services such as mail and warehouses proceeded unhindered.”
Anastasia Tiller says she created her image as a response to the courage demonstrated by essential workers every day during the pandemic.
“I perceive that hope, faith and commitment to humanity, as well as dedication to their families, helped essential workers to overcome the fear of the unknown. White doves in my interpretation represent hope and ability to rise above the circumstances. The bright sun, depicted here as a stylized symbol, represents assurance that warmth and love are still here to support us. The diagonal lines represent strength. I have indicated a man-made structure in juxtaposition to the sky to show the new indoor and outdoor dynamic we live in, indoors being a place of hopeful confinement,” she says.
In addition to giving artists the chance to express their gratitude to essential workers, Tiller says, the project also brought a group of artists together and gave them a creative purpose.
“For me personally, it truly created a meaning and a working routine during Covid pandemic isolation during level two. To have an opportunity to work on a project that focussed on gratitude was truly healing to the soul.”
Philippa Jones, Executive Director of Eastern Edge Gallery, is one of many who is applauding the artists’ tribute.
“We have seen and felt first-hand the impact that COVID-19 has had upon our community. These skilled and captivating artworks pay homage to the tireless efforts of essential workers in countless roles throughout the pandemic.”
The City of St. John’s contributed $18,000 to the $27,000 project. Debbie Hanlon, City Council lead for Arts and Culture, says partnering with local organizations is just one of the ways that the City supports local arts and industry, adding “Public art is what makes our community special and brings so much joy and happiness to everyone it touches.”
The Avalon Mall was noted as a fitting location for the artwork due to its accessibility and its role as a key location in the city for many essential and frontline workers. The Avalon Mall and Crombie REIT were also partners throughout the planning process and Stephanie Regular, Marketing Coordinator of the Avalon Mall, says they are very pleased with the outcome.
“The hard work and creativity from the artists is truly beautiful, and we are happy to give it a home in the Avalon Mall. What is even more special is how wonderfully the art showcases essential and frontline workers. Thank you to the artists, arts organizations and to our essential workers for keeping us safe.”