A family affair

At only one year old, tiny Owen Gilpin likely doesn't understand the size of the birthday present he's getting.

At only one year old, tiny Owen Gilpin likely doesn’t understand the size of the birthday present he’s getting.

His birthday is today and early next month his dad, artist Simon Gilpin, is putting on a show of paintings inspired by his son’s complicated birth and first year of living.

Simon Gilpin moved to Whitehorse with his wife Jean in 2011. In 2013, not long after the pair found out they were expecting a child, Owen was prenatally diagnosed with spina bifida, which is caused when the baby’s spinal column does not close all of the way.

“We suddenly found ourselves learning more than we ever thought we would about the human spine and the human brain,” Gilpin said. “It was a fairly bleak diagnosis at first.”

Doctors thought Owen had a fairly severe case. They didn’t think he would have any movement in his legs and expected brain complications that could cause seizures and other problems, Gilpin said.

In the end those more severe complications have not materialized. Owen has a giant smile; he’s crawling and learning to stand.

“He’s been a big source of inspiration for both of us. But he, sort of, really spurred my creativity in the last year,” his dad said.

Gilpin’s show, Mother Earth, will be at the North End Gallery starting with an opening reception on March 6 from 5 to 7 p.m. and running until the end of the month.

The oil and canvas paintings mostly revolve around the themes of family and the mother and child relationship.

Near the end of Jean’s pregnancy the couple had to pick up and move to Vancouver.

They needed to be close to the larger facilities for when Owen arrived, Gilpin said.

“They had no idea what they would be facing when he was born.”

Almost as soon as he was born Owen was taken into surgery to close his spine up.

He had another surgery at three weeks old to put a shunt in his brain to help regulate his spinal fluid and keep it from building up in his head.

It all looked like it was going well, and the new family went home.

At around three months old Owen’s shunt began to malfunction. The fluid was building up in his brain and he was rushed back to Vancouver to have it fixed.

Trips to Vancouver have become the norm for the family. But while his parents worry, Owen seems to be taking the frequent doctors’ visits and medical tests in stride.

“It’s been a trying time. But, like I said, it’s also been a very inspiring time because he’s such a happy child,” Gilpin said.

When the family returned to Whitehorse and settled into their new life, Gilpin said the ideas for art started to flow.

There’s a painting of his wife and son looking at the northern lights, called The Nightlight.

“We hadn’t been back in the Yukon very long when that happened,” Gilpin said.

“Obviously that was kind of an emotional response, but I think it’s one that most people can relate to up here – having that experience seeing the northern lights with your family.”

Looking back at the work, which covers about 18 months, Gilpin said he can see how his life impacted his painting even if he didn’t know it at the time.

“I’ve found that I’ve been very attracted to pathways and walkways and trails that go into light,” he said.

“I think that’s very indicative of how this year has felt. That we’ve been sort of walking down this trail that’s been very dark at times but there was always this bright light that we were heading toward.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at


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