Exploring history with art 

Whistler Secondary class seeks inspiration for new work from old photos

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Jacob Jazic is one of the only students in his art class at Whistler Secondary School with a parent born in Whistler. The rest of the grade 11/12 split is first generation residents or newcomers, including some exchange students from abroad.

It's a telltale sign of just how young the resort community is. Equally telling: the fact that nearly all of Whistler's non-Aboriginal history is preserved in photographs, like the black and white image of a snow-covered train that Jazic selected for a recent art project. "The train aspect spoke to me because trains brought people to Whistler," he explains.

Around 26 students were assigned to choose one of 100 photos from the Whistler Museum and use it as inspiration for an original work of art that expressed something about the town's history. Jazic, for instance, took the train from the old photo and painted a new, vibrant scene with a multi-colour locomotive and rolling, green slopes. "I made it colourful because people have fun in Whistler," he adds. "It's a little abstract."

The finished pieces were hung in the Whistler Museum this week as part of an exhibit that will remain on display until the end of the month. The initiative was a joint project between the museum and art teacher Brenda Norrie, who shaped the final assignment after attending a professional development day that the museum hosted. "Art is a vehicle for so much commentary. You can comment on anything you want, visually," she says, as a group of kids at the opening reception chat behind her.

The resulting images ran the gamut from a stunning drawing of Whistler pioneer Myrtle Philip next to a young girl in contemporary clothes to a piece that incorporated two photos cut up and jumbled with a pair of florescent skiers sketched over top. "That one really surprised me," says Jeff Slack, programs and marketing manager for the museum. "It was the most abstract approach. (The artist) tried to create the feeling of skiing."

Slack visited the class as they worked on their projects to provide historical context for the photos. "It was cool to see the enthusiasm," he adds. "It was the most focused arts class I've ever seen."

Students might not have been forced to memorize dates or facts on their town's history, but they hopefully walked away with "a deepened appreciation for it," Slack says.

The museum has collected over 80,000 photos since Florence Petersen put a call out for images back in the 1980s when she founded the institution. Nowadays, the museum is constantly fielding inquiries from elderly locals with boxes of pictures they want to share with future generations, like Norrie's class.

"I'm very happy with the results," Norrie says. "Hopefully, they feel proud."

The exhibit is on display at the museum until Oct. 28. The work will also be posted on the organizations' blog.

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