Community Stories

Stone Growth: A tale of personal growth

October 08, 2021

Last Friday was the opening night of a brand new exhibition at the Viewpoint Gallery. Titled Stone Growth, it features stunning mixed-media art pieces by talented indigenous artists Ryan Jason Allen Willert, Christiana Latham and Sydney Schur.

The event was inaugurated with a smudge and blessing performed by Elder Lynn Jonasson on behalf of the Urban Aboriginal Voice Society. After burning the sacred herbs, he recited a beautiful and heartfelt prayer in honour of The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Up next was an Artist Talk with Ryan Jason Allen Willert. The artist of Blackfoot descent has about a dozen pieces currently presented at the Gallery, but you may recognized the name from numerous murals painted all over Central Alberta – including Red Deer. In front of an audience, he explained how art was a key element in his journey towards maturing, becoming a man, reconnecting with his Blackfoot roots, and overcoming homelessness and addiction.

Ryan was raised by his caucasian mother in Innisfail and Red Deer, far from the Blackfoot culture and traditions. He experienced bullying throughout school, and became homeless at the age of 16. It was only around the age of 18 that he found a desire and need to unite with his indigenous roots. Unfortunately, the paternal side of his family lost the ceremonial ways to the hands of residential schools and were unable to teach it to him. Determined to accomplish his goal, he joined an indigenous program, which allowed him to connect with many elders, and guest speakers who were able to teach him the Blackfoot culture. Still living in the streets, he started expressing his newfound Blackfoot identity through black ink drawings. For five to six years, he sold the drawings in parking lots to get by, an occupation that required incredible amounts of perseverence and resilience. Unbeknownst to him, this was the start of his art career.

“I started hanging out with artists within the community, and I sat and watched them. I watched how they painted and I started working with paint myself, doing something different,” said Ryan.

While trying new mediums and forms of expression, Ryan said he started maturing with his art. As he became more adventurous with his creativity, he was able to speak from the heart through his abstract pieces.

“I did not get into art to profit off of it; I went into this because I was sick of the life I was living. I just wanted a better life for myself. I sobered up, I started learning,” he said. Art showed him self-love.

He concluded his Talk with a beautiful performance of a song about becoming a man.

His pieces available for viewing at the Viewpoint Gallery show the evolution of his art. They feature animals native to the Siksika territory, abstract canvases representing the smudge rituals and depictions of traditional Blackfoot attires.

Stone Growth is presented at the Viewpoint Gallery until October 29.

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