This year, artist Patrick Hunter, who is originally Red Lake, Ontario, but spent a lot of time in Sault Ste. Marie, got an early Christmas gift in the form of a contract with national shipping giant, Purolator.
He was commissioned to create a box that Canadians could use to ship packages to their loved ones over the holiday season.
Purolator unveiled its entire 2020 Holiday Box collection, featuring 13 independent and emerging Canadian artists, one from each province and territory, with Hunter representing Ontario.
Given the vast number of packages making their way into people’s homes (46 million during the holiday season), the Hunter-designed packaging will most likely be in many people’s homes and under their tree.
“My name was suggested to [Purolator] through word of mouth actually,” says Hunter, a Two-Spirit, Ojibwe, and Woodland artist.
“It’s always a surprise, and always the best feeling to me when that happens. It took all of five seconds to respond to that email with a resounding, ‘I’m in!’ When emails for projects like this happen, it definitely makes you feel like you’re doing something right.”
The creative placement of Hunter’s art on the packaging makes the artwork functional and, to some degree, public art.
“One of the intentions behind my work is just to create artwork that makes people feel good,” says Hunter.
“I love this time of year because I think about the folks that are buying prints, mugs, or apparel from me and how it might feel to open that package. I try and make that a positive experience for them through personal touches. [Then] to design a whole box, that is the art and actively makes the opener feel good, it made things come full circle for me.”
The public aspect of Hunter’s art is not something entirely new.
Hunter was one of several artists who helped beautify the downtown core of Sault Ste. Marie by painting a mural of the side of a building, a take on the Woodland style encompassing a massive tree of life, roaring rapids and a crow shooting outlines of communication.
The “tree of life” mural can be viewed on the side of the Village Media building downtown on Queen Street.
“This box project, as with the mural for Village Media, was firsts for me,” Hunter says.
“One of the other intentions of my work is to create more visibility for Indigenous artwork in more public spaces. A clear way to achieve that vision is to collaborate with great partners like Purolator and Village Media, who have such a presence in Ontario and Canada, and want to highlight artists that have a vision of inclusivity and want to share that vision publicly … It’s the best feeling to meet people for the first time, and they mention that the ‘tree of life at the rapids’ mural [in downtown Sault Ste. Marie] is their favourite [mural].
Last year, Purolator had a similar box project but featuring only one artist on one style of box.
“This year they wanted more inclusive representation of all of the provinces and territories and more diverse artists to do them. So there are folks of all different backgrounds on this project,” says Hunter.
“It feels like it’s such the right time to spread some goodness like this around the country when everyone is apart from their loved ones. The box created by the artist in the region they represent will go into that region’s Purolator depots and also into our co-retail collaborator Michael’s Art Stores.”
The images that Hunter created for Purolator were based on Ojibwe floral designs.
“On each panel of the box where there’s my florals, which in a way represent us and the fact that we all might be apart right now but we’re still there for each other, and still connected. A favourite go-to-gift for me, and probably a lot of Indigenous people in Ontario is to give the gift of handmade moccasins or gloves that have beaded florals on them. I wanted the gift giver of whatever is sent in these boxes to have a similar feeling I get when I give moccasins. [You] can’t help but smile and feel the love when you get a pair or a beautiful florally designed box in this case.”
As an artist, Hunter was inspired by his homeland and by growing up seeing the original works of Woodland painter Norval Morrisseau. He also studied digital design at Sault College of Applied Arts.
“The artwork [for Purolator] had to be created digitally, which I totally want to give a shout out to the graphic design program at Sault College for my excellent training in, it came in extra handy for this project,” Hunter laughs.
Although the artist currently lives in Toronto, but he says he is plotting a return to the Sault in the next year or so.
“Rent is getting higher and the projects are getting a little too big for my 300 square foot apartment. St. Joe’s or around Lake Superior seem like a nice place to land after ten years in Toronto.”
For Hunter, the holiday season has been a busy one selling his original artwork.
“What is next is shipping all of the Christmas orders I’m getting,” he laughs.
“Long-term, the goal is to expand my existing art and design business into being a ‘Made-in-Canada’ online company through the creation of a production studio. [There] I’ll be able to produce apparel, larger original works, prints, and houseware products in house, rather than outsourcing, and also be a mentor to other designers. I think it would be nice to wake up and go to work regularly, rather than wake up and be at work all the time. It can get pretty cramped in here when you’re painting on five Muskoka chairs at once.”