Known for her culinary artistry, especially her beautifully designed cookies, Jeanne Labonté of Sturgeon Falls has most recently given her efforts over to producing a one-panel mural for the newly minted Walkway of Murals. This new project, inaugurated with Labonté’s offering, will see a fence-line of mounted murals stretching from one end to the other between the Sturgeon Falls Carpet and Flooring outdoor patio (formerly Odeon Centre) and the public fountain on King Street. The place is a natural gathering spot and, as Gayle Primeau of the Sturgeon Falls Beautification committee indicates, will provide even more opportunities for local artists to display their creations.
This initial painting by Jeanne Labonté was mounted on August 4. It features a stylized dam, waterfall and sturgeon fish painted in a fashion reminiscent of Woodland style, executed in homage to Labonté’s own heritage, which includes indigenous ancestry, while also being a straightforward reference to Sturgeon Falls itself.
The artist said that, because of her incredibly busy lifestyle and other creative efforts, it took her awhile to commit to the project. “I met Gayle [Primeau] on Facebook,” explained Labonté. “I put up some of my artwork, and I do custom-designed cookies. She got a hold of me 2 years ago, asking if I would do a mural, and I said I would love to, but I was so busy. So, she asked again… I said yes, but get a hold of me next year. And here we are, the next year!”
Labonté is very accomplished and well known locally in a number of areas. Her decorative cookies are always in high demand for all occasions. She also cans, and bottles, and makes salves and ointments from what she harvests in her extensive garden. Labonté is involved in so many creative activities, there must be two of her! Additionally, she is very strong on presentation, in all her endeavours. With Labonté there are no half measures – she delves deeply into whatever she’s engaged in and is dedicated to detail – somewhat of a perfectionist. “Yes, details, yes. Like my father told me, if you’re going to do something, do it properly or don’t do it at all.” As for the perfectionist part of her personality, “That’s my downfall in some things, yeah, I’m my own worst critic.”
Her painting is a bright and colourful representation on a yellow field with the black outlines characteristic of indigenous style. “I told [Gayle Primeau] I would do something that would represent Sturgeon Falls. We have the bridge at the top, then the dam, and then you have the sturgeon. I call it Resilience (…) because Sturgeon Falls is very resilient. If there is any kind of tragedy … everyone comes together. Sturgeon Falls always comes together when there’s a need. Also, with the fish, the sturgeon too — it’s been around forever.” Labonté notes that the sturgeon is a prehistoric species, “It’s a very resilient fish, so I basically combined the two together and, voilà! I didn’t want to put too much detail into the picture, I wanted to just have it very plain, simple, so you see it right away.”
While it took Gayle Primeau two years to get Labonté to commit, once she decided to go, it took her 38 hours to complete. “I drew it out, did a sketch for Gayle,” she recounts, showing the evolution of her project renditions on her cell phone. The painting was sponsored by Mathieu Gélinas of West Nipissing Roofing and Construction. Gayle Primeau finds sponsors to offset any expenses associated with the project, while the artist contributes their ideas, talents and time. In the past, Jeanne Labonté also painted /refurbished religious statuary at Our Lady of Sorrows (one statue of Jesus and another of the Virgin Mary), so she’s familiar with having her work publicly displayed.
This particular project, The Walkway of Murals, is continuous, as individual artists will be mounting their works adjacent to each other all along the fence. Primeau is cultivating several contributors. “It’s all nature scenes for now,” she reveals. “There’s one that’s going to be indigenous, another one of flowers, maybe one with hummingbirds. So far, it’s all nature-related. The intent is to cover the whole fence. When I was talking to Bob [Guénette of Sturgeon Falls Carpet], he wants to beautify. So, the vison is to continue here, along with Marina [the mermaid statue to be mounted by the fountain], with the [fairy] lights on at night. To me this is a volunteer area, this walk, The Walkway of Murals.”
Jean Labonté watched her painting go up with some satisfaction at being the first to contribute to this new endeavour. “I’m very proud!” she said about her involvement. “I’m glad [Gayle] hung in there for a couple of years.” Labonté went on to acknowledged all the other artists who have contributed to the vision of beautification and enhancing the art scene in Sturgeon Falls. She would be happy to paint a second mural and recommends other artists get involved. “Yes, absolutely. I’m ready to do another one. Once you do it you want to do another one.” Gayle smiles, “A lot of the artists, the first thing they say is ‘I’ve never done one this big’. They aren’t sure, but yes, you can do it!”
People in West Nipissing are beginning to recognize the different styles. When Gayle posted a teaser of Jeanne’s painting on social media, asking for any guesses as to who the artist was, it was a matter of seconds before Jeanne Labonté’s name was posted. Labonté turned to Gayle and asked, “Who came up with the idea of murals all over town? You?… Well, thank you.”