Welcome to HUB: A new mural

"Welcome": This is the secret message that greets folks entering HUB stairwell 8914.

01 June 2018

Mural artist Jerry Whitehead traces the letters "W" and "E" in his mural.

"Welcome": This is the secret message that greets folks entering HUB stairwell 8914. The word is part of a mural, and it's secret in the sense that you wouldn't see it unless the mural's creator, Jerry Whitehead, pointed it out to you.

Jerry Whitehead is a Cree artist who lives in Vancouver and often travels to Edmonton for art projects such as this mural, completed in May. During this visit, he also spent time at Amiskwaciy Academy high school, engaging students and working on his mosaic concrete turtles for Edmonton's upcoming Indigenous art park.

The mural was organized through the University of Alberta's Residence Services and First Peoples' House. Whitehead's work focuses on powwow dancers, incorporating lots of colour and movement. This inspiration goes all the way back to his childhood, when he was mesmerized by such dances at James Smith Cree Nation, where he grew up in Saskatchewan. In the background of this mural and many of his other paintings, he adds bright strokes of paint representative of very colourful northern lights. "I used to watch them all the time when I was a kid," he explains.

Whitehead painted another mural in Edmonton several years ago, across from the Stadium, and he has murals as large as 10 storeys high in Vancouver. He often paints in schools, and he was even commissioned to do some work in a hospital. When he paints in schools, he invites teachers to bring their students to watch him paint and ask questions. Sometimes they use paint to layer their names inside the mural-another way of adding a secret message to the painting. "I got like 700 kids' signatures on this one wall," he says, describing how the layers of paint filled the area completely with blue.

Family is another big inspiration in his work. He explains that he always likes to paint large groups of dancers because he comes from a family with five sons and five daughters. He's also the father of three adult sons. "I like to include the family of colours too," he says. "There's all the colours represented."

Over the years, the style of his work has evolved and been simplified. "I keep everything simple, like the face," he says. "They all look like they're related."