Nanaimo artists focus on humanity in art

There’s nothing like the feeling of recognition for a job well done, especially when it isn’t even complete. 

Lauren Semple and Lys Glassford have been putting their mark on Nanaimo since 2018, working together as Humanity in Art. They created a series of murals for the exterior of Branch 245 Mount Benson Royal Canadian Legion, a testament to their dedication and a perfect blending of history and art.

Remembrance Day ceremonies provided the artists the opportunity to rub shoulders will some of the people who actually lived the events portrayed in the murals.

“The feedback from Legion members and the community was amazing. The entire project consists of 12 separate murals – five have been completed to date. The back of the building will be done next year,” says Lauren.

“It's wonderful to hear the impact our artwork can have on people. Sometimes you can get a little bogged down mid project and you can't see the end clearly. But afterwards, when you get to see it through someone else's eyes, it's a chance to see our own art differently. That's the “Humanity in Art” for us: the people creating it, and the people taking it in. We all contribute our unique perspectives to the experience”, she adds.

The Legion had very clear ideas of the messages and elements they wanted included in the murals, and everything was to focus on the contributions of service members, the people, rather than the conflict itself.

The two Nanaimo artists are known for their work on the Urban Art Gallery project, One Song Staircase at Diana Krall Plaza, and various other interior and exterior murals around the region. This is one of their favorite projects so far. 

It hasn’t been a walk in the park. The Legion has been very supportive through the challenges of the pandemic. Shipping and supply delays have given them a bit of trouble throughout Covid 19, and at times, extreme heat put them on pause a few times. It's been an honour to help the Legion share their purpose, their stories, and their decades of community service and veteran support, she explains.

With all the hills and valleys, it’s been virtually impossible to tabulate the hours they have put into this project. “Probably 800 hours so far,” says Lauren.

Before the paint brushes come out, the process begins with a lot of research, working with veterans, the Legion, the Vancouver Island Military Museum, and the public library. The next stage is the creation of concept sketches and rounds of collaborative feedback and refinement with Branch 256 until the vision is just right. 

For walls this size, they use projectors or painting techniques to line everything up and make sure it's in the right place, and then they paint. That includes wall prep, priming, and the post-paint work of sealing the murals. They often have photos of the final designs in hand while working, but for this project they also had reference photos of real uniforms, pins, and other elements.

The people portrayed in the mural are mostly representative of the many who served, but there’s one specific veteran who is recognized – Seaman Raymond Good of Snuneymuxw. (with permission from his family). 

Known by his family and friends for being at home on and in love with the sea, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1963 and served on the HMCS Saskatchewan for his entire career. He died in 1995 and two years later his ashes were laid to rest onboard the former Saskatchewan, which was scuttled by the B.C. Artificial Reef Society near Snake Island, just outside Nanaimo.