Scott Strasser, CityView, June 14, 2022
Ten years after initially painting it, Airdrie artist Veronica Funk recently completed a refurbishment of her 2012 mural on Main Street, Honouring the Ancestors.
The public art piece is a mural, but rather than adorning the side of a building, Honouring the Ancestors is painted on a utility box, located on Main Street by 1 Avenue N.
Funk explained how in 2012, she was invited by the City of Airdrie to beautify the downtown utility box. Inspired by her upbringing in a rural community in northern Manitoba, but having moved to Alberta as a teenager, she decided to create a piece that referenced the Nose Creek Valley's wildlife and paid respects to Airdrie's Indigenous history.
“A lot of us have moved here from [other places] and the community has grown so much,” Funk said. “I wanted to incorporate that. I’m from northern Manitoba and lived by the Churchill River. That Indigenous history has always been a huge part of my background where I grew up.”
The 2012 piece was filled with the images, colours and symbols of Funk's memory of living in both Manitoba and Airdrie. The painting utilized layers of abstract mark-making and vibrant colour along with recognizable imagery.
Funk said she had learned while chaperoning a field trip with her children's class to the Nose Creek Valley Museum that the land Airdrie is located on used to be a prime hunting location for members of the Blackfoot – something she kept in mind when painting Honouring the Ancestors.
“I wanted to incorporate that just to honour the history of the place we live, especially with everything that has come to light about the residential schools in the last few years,” she said. “We need to honour the past and hopefully move forward in a more positive light.”
Considering the rain, wind, and hailstorms that have battered the utility box in the last decade, Funk noted it was time for the painting to receive a much-needed touch-up this year.
“It survived all of that, but some of the paint had faded on the south and east sides of the utility box,” she said. “I thought that was a pretty good testament that it lasted so long.”
With her brushes in tow, Funk got to work last week. She re-painted the utility box over a course of a few days, working on the piece for a few hours at a time.
Differing from her original 2012 work, Funk said she wanted to add new elements to Honouring the Ancestors this time around. She ultimately settled on the addition of 16 swallows wrapping themselves around the rest of the image.
She said the decision to add the 16 birds was based on symbolism, as the number 16 reflects new beginnings. Swallows, meanwhile, represent good luck in many Indigenous communities, Funk noted, while in other cultures they can also symbolize humility, divinity, grace, loyalty, and hope.
“I think coming out of this difficult last couple of years, I wanted some positive energy or feelings of community,” she said. “I’m tired of the fighting, the anger, the stress and the struggles that people have faced. I think it’s time we hope for something better. Swallows are also representative of community, and that’s really important.”
Honouring the Ancestors can be viewed on the sidewalk at Main Street and 1 Avenue N in downtown Airdrie.