Cackling among the boats and buoys in the Dixon Entrance Maritime Museum is a bright-eyed raven painted by Dejah Busch.
Called Laughing Raven, it is one of several works by Masset artists Brie Altrogge, Thomas Arnatt, Janet Baker, Rose Williams, and Jorden Wolfe that are showing at the museum until Sept. 6. Some of the pieces will then move to The Ground coffee shop.
Composed as a head-and-shoulders portrait, Laughing Raven will feel familiar to fans of the many illustrations Busch painted for Birds at Risk: A Haida Gwaii Introduction — a 2011 children’s book by Margo Hearne that was given to elementary students across the islands.
“I give them a little personality,” says Busch, noting that it’s especially easy to do with ravens — with their variety of sounds and songs, each has a character all its own.
Busch said she didn’t plan it, but birds are a strong theme in her recent work.
Since studying art at Camosun College and returning to the islands in 2009, Busch has illustrated another children’s book, The Great Chicken Heist by Ramona Reynolds, gave Susan Musgrave’s A Taste of Haida Gwaii cookbook a cartoon raven, and designed the Haida eagle and raven in the centre of Thomas Arnatt’s big, colourful birds mural on the Community Futures building near the Masset library.
Any sharp-eyed birders walking Masset Main Street this week will also notice Busch’s latest paintings on the post office windows — an Atlantic puffin, raven, and great horned owl that match a new series of Birds of Canada postage stamps.
Before the birds, Busch captured some even higher-flying personalities — Captain Kirk, Spock, and the Klingon Kor, who were recently commemorated on stamps for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek.
“We’ll switch it up whenever something new and fun and colourful comes out,” said Busch of her post-office paintings, which started with simple Halloween, Christmas and Easter designs but have now become Masset’s only open-air gallery.
Brie Altrogge is another of the six artists with works on display in the museum show, which Altrogge said came together when Thomas Arnatt kindly asked other local artists to submit things they are working on.
“I think it’s great,” she said, speaking of Arnatt’s idea for a group show.
Two years ago, Altrogge joined Deja Busch, Maryanne Wettlaufer, and Jennifer Bailey in putting on a themed show at The Ground coffee shop.
“One thing I learned from that show that I really like about Masset is that we’re such a small community that art can be really democratic,” she said.
“People aren’t pretentious about art here — if they like something, they’re just like, ‘Wow, I like that.’ People are really supportive.”
Called Salmon dreams the weir, Altrogge’s piece is part of a series that combines painting and sculpture.
Beginning with a frame and moulding paste, Altrogge sculpted an abstract form that she then embedded with sticks and pour-painted with reds and blues.
“It was kind of a happy accident,” said Altrogge, who has a few similar works made with empty canvas stretchers that she similarly sculpts and paints on the borders while mounting an organic mix of string, net, and found objects in the centre.
“I can’t even really explain it, but I have four or five of those and I’m still interested—they could come together into something,” she said.
Altrogge said she took a few classes in university, but all the credit for her art-making goes to the late Joanne Hayward, a former colleague at the Haida Gwaii Society for Community Peace who specialized in art therapy.
“We would hang out in her office, doodle and scribble, and that was the first time I’d really done art outside university,” she said.
“Joanne was a really cool woman, and she inspired me to start doing art on my own time.”
Like Dejah Busch, who paints mostly at night when her four-year-old son is mostly sleeping, Altrogge said it’s encouraging to know that a small place like Masset has so many artists creating things whenever they get the chance.
“We’ll just keep working in the cracks of our lives.”