Growing up in Labrador in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Michelle Parsons was an inquisitive and creative child who loved art, especially the work of Pablo Picasso. But it wasn’t until she was about 12 years old that her creativity really started to bloom.
“I was inspired by my Grade 6 teacher, Mrs. Michelin, with pastels, and that’s where my love of art began,” she recalls.
These days, Michelle is a registered social worker, as well as an artist and entrepreneur who runs her own business in Happy Valley-Goose Bay (alongside her husband Danny Swearinger, who moved to Labrador from the United States) called “LU Designs,” where she has the opportunity to express her own creativity while showcasing the rich heritage and culture of Labrador.
In addition to offering a range of handcrafted and curated products from local artists, including soapstone carvings, jewellery and knitted items (as well as sealskin furniture crafted by Danny), LU Designs also gives Michelle the chance to celebrate and teach others about Indigenous cultures through creativity. One of the things she’s particularly proud of is her own line of Labrador-inspired greeting cards, which feature traditional scenes and clothing, as well as a variety of words and phrases in Inuktitut. With over 100 cards created, Michelle says it’s the “largest Labrador card selection.”
Recently, Michelle also partnered with the Dark Tickle Company in St. Lunaire-Griquet to create the “first Indigenous chocolate bar in the province.” Michelle came up with the name of the bar, “Drummer’s Delight,” and the artwork for the label, while Dark Tickle printed the label and made the chocolate. (The bar was also gifted to The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall during the recent Royal visit.)
“They’d seen my vision and they were awesome…I reached out to several chocolate companies in the province and Dark Tickle, they were interested right away and started to work on it,” Michelle says.
“Dark Tickle and I are looking to create five more bars applicable to Labrador, and I’m leaning towards my own culture, the Nunatsiavut, the Inuit culture.”
Another important aspect of her creative practice, Michelle says, is wellness, empowerment and hope – themes which echo throughout her work, like her “Women of Unity” painting (a collaboration with her mother, who wrote the verse that accompanies the image). The painting (a print of which sits in the office of Lieutenant Governor Judy Foote) shows a small group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women standing together in unity.
“They’re like grassroots women. And then you’ll see the blues representing the beauty of all the cultures as well, and you’ll see the trees and they’re representing the land…but then you see the brighter colours and the women are walking forward because brighter colours represents hope,” Michelle explains.
“My social work background and my cultural background, I combine the both of them into a lot of my work here. And my cards are all about bringing pride to the cultures and celebrating the cultures in Labrador.”
To learn more about LU Designs, click here.