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Back at home, artist's latest work a nod to ancestors

Mural artist Lucia Laford credits father, nature, culture as her inspirations for the sprawling piece she is creating on the wall of a new art gallery on the corner of Spring and Queen
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Lucia Laford, a Sault Ste. Marie-based Indigenous artist, wants to not only paint but also educate through her mural entitled Fish Lodge, currently in progress near the corner of Spring Street and Queen Street East.

Fish Lodge is on the rear west wall of The Art Hub at Spring, a recently opened gallery located at 504 Queen St. E.

Laford began work on the mural the weekend of July 9; the artist is now putting on the finishing touches.

“It’s getting pretty close,” she smiled, adding she doesn’t paint in the sweltering heat the Sault has experienced during the past few days, glad that there is some shade to her workspace. 

“About two weeks ago, a good friend - artist Tom Sinclair - asked me, ‘Do you want to paint a mural?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Laford went to work on the mural in the evenings after her day job duties with the Indigenous ecotourism company Thrive Tours.

“This is Woodland style art,” Laford told SooToday on Monday.

Her father, John Laford - also a Sault-based Indigenous artist who died in 2021 - taught her to paint in the Woodland style.

“It’s spiritual. It’s not just images that I’ve chosen to be on here. There are specific reasons why they’re on here. They’re about my connection and my ancestors' connection to this area,” Laford said.

As she put her brush and paint on the wall, Laford said, “I was thinking about Baawating, which is Sault Ste. Marie, and what that means. I was thinking about walking in this area and the lodges that would’ve been here. I was thinking about my ancestors who are buried here. I was thinking about the fish that would have fed and sustained my ancestors here. I was thinking about the lodge and the spirit of teaching and gathering together and how important that is as we’re coming together as a community, that we’re walking together, settlers and Indigenous people, moving forward together.”

“That, to me, is what the lodge is about, that place where we can all come together and learn and teach where people are equal,” Laford added.

In Fish Lodge, fish are depicted in the sky as creatures who study the stars, while two circles represent the sun and the moon.

Laford described one of the fish as "the John Laford fish" in honour of her father.

The two taught a course in Anishinaabe art together at Algoma University not long before he died.

“I always think about him, and he’s here in spirit with me,” Laford said.

“The bottom section of the mural is the earth with these beautiful browns. Brown represents the sand, the bark. There are great colours that you get in nature. Brown reminds me of bounty; it feeds us as people,” Laford added.

Strawberry and blueberry plants are depicted on each side of the mural as growing and maturing.

“Art is integrated in all parts of our lives. You cannot separate Woodland art from culture, from identity, from the land. You cannot separate them. My father was my inspiration in that.” 

Stating that her father was a man who brought people together through his own art and art instruction, Laford said she wants to carry that on.

“Settlers live here too, and they should be educated as well. I don’t want to be divisionary. I don’t want to be a gatekeeper. I want people to come together. My dad was an inspiration.”

Laford has been a professional artist for the past eight years and an Indigenous art educator for the last five years.

She has taught at Algoma University, elementary and secondary schools, youth camps and cultural camps.

“I would say keep being creative in any way possible,” Laford offered as advice to others in her professional capacity, stating art is therapy for all ages, especially youth in all the issues they face.

“Just keep being creative in any way, whatever that looks like, whatever art form you like, even if other people don’t like it, just keep going no matter what. My dad just picked up a paintbrush. Pick up a guitar. Pick up anything and be creative in any way.”

Laford also encouraged the public to get involved in painting a mural if the artist permits it.

“Don’t be afraid to go up to a muralist and say ‘hey, can I help and if I can’t can I watch?’”

“I just want to thank everybody that’s been a part of this, who have helped me and supported me in doing this,” Laford said, expressing gratitude to local artist David Beckett and downtown business Paint & Decor Concepts for supplying the paint.

She is also grateful to Marnie Stone and Adrian Vilaca, co-owners of The Art Hub at Spring who gave her the wall space on which to paint the mural and who purchased the paint.

Born in the Sault, Laford lived for 20 years in the Greater Toronto Area before returning to her hometown last year to be with family members.

“I’m definitely home. I think this was always my home. Sometimes it’s nice to get away and get some different perspectives and then come back and realize what you have here. This land is very beautiful,” Laford said.