Bright, bold and big, Walt Humphries’ sprawling mural was a beloved beacon at Yellowknife’s old Stanton Territorial Hospital for 25 years.
Now, the eight-and-half metre long painting sits in a heap of gravel next to the new hospital.
Humphries, an acclaimed artist and longtime Yellowknifer, learned of the mural’s resting place last week. A friend stumbled on it while walking through the surrounding outcrop.
“It was a bit of a shock,” said Humphries.
From his talks with Stanton Territorial Hospital management in recent years, Humphries believed the mural would find a home at the new hospital after the old site closed its doors.
The new Stanton Territorial Hospital opened a year ago.
Apparently, however, that didn’t happen.
Humphries estimates the weather-worn mural has been sitting there for years — ever since construction at the old Stanton site uprooted his creation.
He painted the mural in 1992. Lively and intricate, the artwork features over a dozen figures in the foreground — hand-holding families; dog walkers; a suit-clad man bearing a GNWT-labeled brief case.
The old Stanton Territorial Hospital sits on the horizon. On the left, lush trees. On the right, barren grounds.
“Rather than just doing a picture of something that had nothing to do with the hospital, I wanted to do a mural with Stanton in the middle of it; sort of stretching from the territorial border up to the Arctic Ocean,” recalled Humphries.
“I wanted to show that Stanton covered the whole Northwest Territories,” he added. “I considered it one of my major works.”
‘A lot of people loved it’
In recent days, Humphries said a number of people have reached out to him to share their memories of the mural.
“People would try to count how many bears were in the mural. I won’t give it away but there’s between five and 10,” said Humphries, chuckling. Like his other paintings, he wanted to produce a piece that revealed more and more to admirers each time they looked at it.
“I wanted a painting that represented the entire NWT; intricate enough that if you were a patient at the hospital or you had to wait for a couple of hours and you’re looking at the mural, you could spend two or three hours looking at it, weaving stories in your own mind about what’s going on: Why is that there? Who is that person?
A lot of people love it and really enjoyed seeing it,” he said.
Mural can still be saved
With moisture creeping into the Plexiglass-covered mural, the paint is cracking and blistering away, but Humphries has faith that his labour of love can still be salvaged.
“I’m not a conservator, I’m a painter. But I think if they took the Plexiglass off and cleaned it up well and let it dry up well; do a couple touch ups in some places and put a coat of shellac or clear paint on top of it, I think that would solve the cracking,” he said.
Humphries said the fate of the mural rests under the purview of the territory’s Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, adding that he’s spoken with Minister Katrina Nokleby about saving the piece.
“(I’m) in touch with the government and they seem to accept responsibility for it and plan to do something; how soon I don’t know,” said Humphries.