Renée-Claude Serré has two of her favourite birds, a cardinal and a blue jay, flying in downtown Sturgeon Falls. On Sunday, November 9, her beautiful mural, titled “L’envolée irrevocable” (Irrevocable Flight), joined the many other murals which have been making Sturgeon Falls a more interesting place – and her contribution is both eye-catching and contemplative.
The 2-panel mural, 8’x8’, was mounted at 173 King Street, what is commonly known as the Old Royal Bank Building. The building is the site of the original mural of Gayle Primeau’s mission to beautify Sturgeon Falls, by Mique Michelle. Unfortunately, that mural was painted over due to wall damage. Fortunately, the new mural is a stunning addition to the town. The brightly coloured painting of the two birds is Indigenous in its style, somewhat reminiscent of Aztec or Mexican cultural styles. Renée commented, “The new owner of the building renovated and painted over the brick. It’s going to replace the first ever mural – no pressure, right?”
Renée Serré came through – with flying colours. The mother of four has a deep love for the arts. “I was the kid in school that doodled. I’m all over the place, I like to do a bit of everything. If I feel it, I do it.” She’s been collaborating with the library in Cache Bay, her home community, working on an inside mural. Despite a few disclaimers, which reflect that lack of self-confidence so many creative people exhibit, she started posting some of her art on social media, mostly for family and friends. She undertook some commissioned pieces, mostly animals, and has been refining her skills over time.
This dramatic piece is her latest gem. She says her art is Indigenous-inspired, reflecting her own Indigenous background, or it can be called folk art. “The past few years I have a little more time for this. It’s a bit of my release because I am home-schooling my kids and I have four kids at home, and I’m very big on nature. I’m always outside with them and…[Thursdays] that would be my night to paint.” Many people have expanded their creative side during the pandemic. “I’ve always done stuff but in the past, it’s been more useful: sewing, canning, gardening, things that can be applied. This is more for fun, for now.”
The posts of art on her private page caught the attention of Gayle Primeau, SF Beautification lead. Renée and her children are also involved in beautification in and around Cache Bay, picking up waste, so they were aware of each other. Gayle looked through her pieces, and Renée agreed to do a mural. “When I create art, it’s always with intention and I like it to be a positive intention, coming from a place of authenticity. [Gayle] tries to match artists with [building] owners, so it’s something they like, that they don’t mind putting up on their building. The piece she liked was a blue jay I had done for a friend of mine in honour of her grandfather… I lost my grandfather a few years ago, he was an outdoorsy person, very involved with the community. It was a re-occurring thing on my property; the blue jays started coming in abundance. Gayle asked me if I could re-create this piece… I’m forever progressing and changing and my artwork is like that. I don’t do anything perfect. I asked, “Would you mind if I switched it up a bit?” So, I decided to do a cardinal and a blue jay. It reflects on part of my heritage as well. I am Indigenous, Anishinaabe.”
For Renée the blue jay is a bird of loyalty and the cardinal represents love, so that was very meaningful to me. And I really like the colours. As [the painting] came forward and I kept on going, a lot of the findings of children buried at residential schools was coming forth and it was really hard for a lot of people.”
She continued, “My family was raised to embrace that part of our culture. My dad was one of those who brought it into our family again, so we were lucky as kids to go to pow wows, and learn the teachings, and went out to the bush to find medicines and stuff. But if you look at me, I look white. So in the white community I’m not completely one of them and in the Indigenous, not fully embraced either. But because of all that happened [to us], a lot of us have lost that and haven’t been able to embrace [our culture] and live that truth. In this painting I wanted to honour that message – irrevocable flight – L’envolée irrevocable. It’s to give the message that you can’t take it back now, there’s the knowledge and the truth, and it’s widely known. The people who lived close to those residential schools, we don’t know why this is news. People that have been living here our whole lives have always known this. I remember in high school and speaking about it and everyone would be like, well, it’s just Native… A lot of people dehumanize other races and minorities and its people. We are realizing now that there’s been a genocide and it’s horrific. There’s been a lot of support and acknowledgment, and my message is, you can’t take it back. We move forward now.”
Renée-Claude Serré has transformed a deep sense of loss and sorrow into a glorious flight of freedom from the shackles of the past, sharing a part of her personal journey onto the street-scape of Sturgeon Falls. Her father’s side of the family is local, her mother’s side from Quebec, she spent a good deal of her life in Hamilton, but is originally from Verner. “Luckily, I was exposed to [the culture] a good part of my life, but at the same time you feel on either side of the boards, an outsider looking in.” Her art is transformative. “It’s been a long project, working in the garage. It’s been a labour of love, spaced out [over time], so I’m grateful for the patience of the owner of the building, and Gayle, who have allowed me to fulfill [my vision].”
This is her first outdoor mural of this size. On Sunday, when it was mounted, Renée-Claude Serré was surrounded by family, holding a bouquet of flowers, and cheered on by her children. It was a confirmation of her vision.