Proud of his First Nations heritage and proud too of his personal journey back from his time spent behind bars, artist and renowned carver Lenard Paquette Jackson is celebrating his life.
The artist is Aboriginal Artist in Residence at Two Rivers Gallery. Most days, he can be found at his work station at the top of the stairs, carving out traditional motifs on his latest project, Inside House Post.
It will be painted in red, white, yellow and black, the “colour of all peoples of all nations,” he says. His hope is that it will inspire people of different cultures to live in harmony.
Displayed on a wall in the upper gallery is the artist’s colourful, majestic work: Sun: Creator of Life, a nine-foot high carving that he worked on during Aboriginal Days in Fort George Park last summer – and which he’s just completed.
“It is for the Nusdeh Yoh school, which means House of the Future,” he said.
Indeed, the School District 57 school is the first Aboriginal choice school in B.C. and Paquette Jackson, 62, said he wanted to show appreciation for his First Nations background and important role it has played in his life.
And in his art.
“There’s probably only 50 artists in the world who can carve like this,” he says, proudly. “I use traditional carving methods in my work. I learned how to carve by carefully listening to my mentors and to my elders. I like to tell people that I have elephant ears – and I never forget.”
Certainly, he will never forget his own humble beginnings or the people who helped him through his personal grief and loss, and then nurtured him when his future looked very grim.
“I changed my name to honour my grandparents on the Paquette side of my mother’s family,” he explained.
“My mother was murdered when I was three years old. We were living in Slave Lake, Alberta and at that time, the Indian agent could take children away if they lost their parents. But my grandparents wouldn’t let that happen. So they took me away and for a while we lived like nomads.”
The artist lived in Prince George from the age of five until his early 20s when he moved to Vancouver Island and first took up carving.
Around that time, in the 1970s, Paquette Jackson made the “bad choice” he still regrets.
“I was incarcerated for six years for a crime which was committed by four or five other people. I was found guilty for my involvement (aiding and abetting). But when I got out, I turned my life around and I married an English woman named Barbara.”
The couple is no longer together, but the artist learned from his past bad behaviour and has never since gone off the tracks. Now he lives with an “attitude of gratitude” for life and hopes people will learn to get along and tolerate cultural differences.
“I want to work at changing attitudes of people and how they treat each other. Look what the Canada Winter Games did for our people – it brought the whole community together as one.
“I would like to say to people: Respect your elders, take care of your children and work hard – because everybody has a choice, good or bad. Don’t blame anybody if you make the wrong choice and have to suffer the consequences.”