PORT HARDY—North Vancouver Island artist Jeanne Alley did not have much experience painting fish when she agreed to take on an ambitious, 33-foot mural for the Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre.
Her research took her directly to the source.
“I had to go hunt up the fishermen,” said Alley, who spent several days at the local marina waiting for lucky anglers to return with salmon, then coaxing them to hold the fish in a variety of positions while she snapped pictures. “Normally, I paint forest scenes. This was a learning curve.”
Alley, a resident of nearby Coal Harbour, proved a quick study. More than two dozen people invited to an unveiling of the mural at the Port Hardy Visitors’ Information Centre Friday night were wowed by her bright, active mural, which spans the length of the interior front wall.
“We had a lady in earlier who just stared and stared,” said Yana Hrdy, VIC manager. “She told me, ‘If I stand here for a few more minutes, the fish are going to start swimming.’
“What a nice compliment for the artist.”
One corner of the mural, which reaches upward in a broad “A” shape to a height of more than eight feet at the peak of the ceiling, is devoted to the life cycle of the salmon. But the full painting shows much more, including orcas, starfish and sea urchins, and a wide variety of highly detailed aquatic plants. It even includes a shipwrecked fishing boat and a small, distant view of the Hardy Bay shoreline.
“Jeanne just went above and beyond,” said Steve Lacasse, president of the Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre board. “It’s beautiful.”
Lacasse, a veteran diver and diving instructor who has seen his share of Vancouver Island’s underwater seascape, said Alley got it just right. And she will have plenty of additional research under her belt the next time she tackles an aquatic theme.
“She’s signed up for our next diving class,” Lacasse said with a laugh.
The mural was supported by a wide range of North Island donors, beginning with Dona Koch, a resident of Eagle Ridge Manor who kick-started the project with a suggestion and a donation. The Port Hardy Lions Club, Port Hardy Rotarty and North Island Kinsmen all contributed, and Hardy Builders Supply and Spike-top Cedar contributed materials.
Alley was chosen based on previous work she had done for the Salmon Centre, including bird paintings and illustrations for the centre’s “Critter” book.
“I knew she had this capability,” said Annemarie Koch, who helped coordinate the project. “I knew she could do it if she put her mind to it. She saw it as a challenge.”
Additional support came from Kari Watkins, who is affiliated with both Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce and the Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre board, and from Alley’s husband, Andrew Hory. Hory measured, cut and prepared the birch panels and helped install them high on the visitors’ centre wall.
“It was hard getting it to fit,” said Hory. “This building isn’t square. I understand they moved it here from Holberg years ago; that may have something to do with it.”
But the end result was a hit with all the visitors at Friday’s reception. And Alley herself was pleased at the response after months of agonizing and second-guessing herself over the painting’s details.
“I guess I look at it and I’m amazed I did something that big,” she said. “I’m glad for the reaction people are having.”