Deanna Musgrave (Nienke Izurieta)

Canada 150: Artist Deanna Musgrave Unveils New Mural In Saint John

Deanna Musgrave’s artwork should be familiar to many people in Saint John. Her massive 56′ x 10′ painting ‘Cloud’ hangs in the Hans W. Klohn  Commons at the University of New Brunswick Saint John Campus. It’s hard to miss.

Still working on an equally impressive scale, and in an even more high traffic area, Musgrave’s latest work, ‘Nest’ fills the available surfaces of Saint John’s pedway system outside of Markey Square.

The mural looks like a handful of gulls and assorted birds, rainbows, and buildings, but it incorporates more than that. Musgrave layers on the hidden meanings, and nothing escapes a bit of symbolism. The mural is meant to commemorate Canada’s 150th birthday, and naturally packs in some of the city’s more historical elements. You’ll be picking it apart for years to come – telling your kids about half-forgotten references like it was a roof built like a ship’s hull.

Musgrave started painting back in early April. She began with a rough design that incorporated many of the major elements, and then let fate takeover. Like any good miracle worker she submitted her plans and then multiplied her work estimates by a factor of four.

(Nienke Izurieta)
(Nienke Izurieta)

“This would normally take at least six to twelve months but  Stephany Peterson (of Hardman Group) approached me in March and asked me to do the archway. I said I would be interested in the project if they let me do the ceiling,” says Musgrave.

Musgrave worked nights, usually between 2:00am-11:00am, and managed to finish the working in two and a half months.

“I believe it to be divine intervention that I do not feel pain in my neck and was able to keep going. My best time to work is 1:00pm – 4:00pm and I could never work those hours because it just wasn’t practical. I had to work when there was less people or none at all… Almost everyone stopped to talk to me. It is something about the space – that hallway demands a conversation. For the most part I don’t enjoy waking up in the dark to go paint however, there is a quietness in the city that I really enjoyed. It feels peaceful to watch the sunrise so many times.”

Musgrave says she really put he back into the work of producing the  public painting as a form of peaceful protest. The mural features a number of heritage buildings meant to represent Saint John’s Jelly-Bean Houses that were recently torn down. Many, including Musgrave feel that that the houses and other heritage properties of Saint John are the embodiment of the city’s character, or what Musgrave would refer to as our ‘nest’.

Deanna Musgrave (Nienke Izurieta)
Deanna Musgrave (Nienke Izurieta)

“I hope the over 1000 people who interrupted my work to ask ‘how is your neck’ or ‘that sure is hard work painting on a ceiling’ realize that this was the type of rigour that went into the heritage buildings that are at-risk and that it is not possible to reproduce those heritage buildings again.”

The mural also includes themes of diversity, connectedness, and loss. It’s filled with countless Easter eggs like a Canadian Flag made up of 150 wings of local birds, references  to several historic locations uptown, especially those under threat, and all manner of things representing local figures and events, right down to a robin for each of the building’s security guards.

The mural will be unveiled Friday, June 23rd at 4:14pm in Market Square’s Skywalk. Musgrave’s husband, Andrew Reed Miller (contrabass) will be joined by Danielle Sametz (violin) and Rob Dutton (trumpet) for a performance of Miller’s piece ‘Skywalker’ composed to commemorate the occasion.