Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff Ryan Jason Allen Willert talks about his mural, Blackfoot Teachings and Healing. He painted it with Cyndee Sparrow on the side of the Central Alberta Realtors Association building at 4922 45th St. in Red Deer.

Red Deer’s last Art Alley mural depicts symbols of healing

Inspired Blackfoot painting completes the downtown mural project

A mural depicting Blackfoot symbols of healing was unveiled in downtown Red Deer Tuesday as the 10th and final Art Alley Mural project.

The bold, colourful artwork by Ryan Jason Allen Willert and Cyndee Sparrow decorates the side of the Central Alberta Realtors Association at 4922 45th St.

It features a painted sweat lodge, medicine wheel, and shows buffalo roaming over a green plain.

Written in one corner is the statement: You have to love yourself enough to want to heal.

Willert considers it a visual guide to Blackfoot teachings. It contains among many images, including “the law of four elements.” It’s symbolized by the colours red, white, blue, and yellow, which respectively stand for Aboriginal, Caucasian, African, and Asian races, and the elements of earth, air, water, and fire.

When balanced together, thee elements create unity, said Willert.

When Sparrow, who painted the buffalo that are central to Aboriginal culture, left the mural project early because of other commitments, Willert spent a month-and-a-half finishing the project through all kinds of weather.

He hopes the final result inspires people to work on bettering themselves at a time when much healing is needed in society. Willert encouraged Aboriginal Red Deerians to be proud of their culture, taking cues from traditional teachings to create a healthier life.

The artist, who reconnected with his Blackfoot roots after growing up in a non-native community, has had his work showcased at the Glenbow Museum, Mount Royal University, as well as in the Colour It Forward Indigenous art adult coloring book.

Danielle Davies, president of the Central Alberta Realtors Association, said her group is “proud to honour the mural,” and display it prominently for the enjoyment of passersby.

Amanda Gould, executive-director of the Red Deer Downtown Business Association, is also thrilled with the latest Art Alley project, which her association commissioned. Since 2014, the association’s Art Alley project has funded 10 mural projects all over the downtown at a cost of about $3,000 per year.

The outcome of beautifying areas needing attention has been to reduce incidents of graffiti and tagging and “unsavoury activities.”

“We did the locations that we wanted to (improve),” said Gould, and the time has come to move on with other initiatives in response to the business community’s needs.

While Gould doesn’t yet know what these will be, she said art and culture will continue to be important components.

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