Thunderbird answers Northwestel’s call

For the next year, artist Justin Smith will be on the phone… book. Smith’s original painting “Guardian of the Games” was…

For the next year, artist Justin Smith will be on the phone… book.

Smith’s original painting “Guardian of the Games” was chosen to be the cover art of Northwestel’ directory this year. The telco has featured original northern art on its phonebook covers since 1983.

But for this edition, the company wanted artists to submit work that would reflect the upcoming Arctic Winter Games.

Smith’s acrylic “Guardian of the Games” piece features a stylized thunderbird with a face in its belly, which symbolizes the human spirit.

 The thunderbird is depicted as having rear feathers that are not fully curved, suggesting a younger animal.

As well,“I meant to have a lot of movement in (the painting),” added Smith.

Noting that he picked the thunderbird because of its strength, the painting’s main theme is perseverance, he said.

“You can do whatever you want to do, no matter what anyone else says, and no matter what may be holding you back.”

Smith, 24, a member of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, studied photography, printmaking, painting, drawing and sculpture at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Currently, he’s honing his skills at Whitehorse’s Sundog Retreat carving program.

Smith’s family has deep artistic roots.

Nine years ago, Justin’s mother Ann, a well-known weaver, had her Raven’s Tail robe featured on the cover of the Northwestel directory.

Smith’s father Brian Walker works in bronze, copper and wood.

Smith was raised in a home “surrounded by art,” said Ann.

Their home often hosted artists from around the community, she added.

When Ann started weaving back in the early ‘90s, Justin used to sit intently under her loom watching her art take form, she said.

Throughout his artistic career, Justin has shown an appreciation for art from many different cultures. While Justin’s work is often traditional, he has always shown a reception to outside artistic influences, she said.

In the future, Smith intends to continue with his artistic education.

He also plans to play a continued role influencing younger generations and encouraging them to follow their ancestor’s ways.

For Smith, reviving Northern art is also helping to bring back an “erased” native culture.

Thinking back to his time in New Mexico, Smith remembered studying alongside other aboriginal groups with similar goals of “holding on to what’s left of their culture.”

“(The culture) is still there, it’s just harder to find,” said Smith.

Northwestel has been featuring northern artists on its telephone directories over the past 25 years.

The accumulated original artworks currently grace the walls of Northwestel offices in Whitehorse and Yellowknife.

“We’re currently talking with the Yukon Arts Centre about doing an exposition,” said Anne Kennedy, Northwestel’s director of corporate communications.