A day in the museum 

Students tell stories, create art inspired by digital photos of early Whistler

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CATHRYN ATKINSON - Picture this Student Erika Ertel decided to interpret an archive photo of Whistler in a surreal way.
  • Photo by Cathryn Atkinson
  • Picture this Student Erika Ertel decided to interpret an archive photo of Whistler in a surreal way.

History lives — especially when you bring creativity, stories, art and young people together to interpret it.

The Grade 10 and 11 students in Sophie Leevers' French immersion class at Whistler Secondary School recently reaped the benefits of Whistler Museum's impressive archive, using digital photographs from the resort's early days to inspire art and presentations.

It's an arts project meeting Whistler's culture with the added payoff of science and history thrown in.

The resulting works are currently on display in the museum, located in Whistler Village.Erika Ertel took an artistic approach with her photo and worked with the impression it made on her. She drew a surrealist picture of a person without identity on a mountaintop.

"I decided to go without historical facts and names. I wanted to capture the impression of what the pioneers would have felt when they climbed the first mountain," she says."I wanted to emulate the feeling of indescribable things, different patterns."

Another student, Desiree Fisker, chose a photo of Whistler icon and professional alpine ski racer Dave Murray skiing because she had a similar image of her father Chris, wanting to connect a sports star with an ordinary lover of the mountains.

And Yushu Xiao selected a photo taken at Alta Lake in 1921 of a steam train with a plow in front to move snow, and told the story behind it.

"I didn't really focus on the artistic side. Mainly I researched the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, and the train shape," she says. "And I looked at the changes in technology."

Leevers said other youngsters were interested in photos that showed the effects of climate change on the region's snowpack.

One student compared a photo of the run The Coffin, which is these days a chute. Skiers in the 1960s and '70s would have experienced the terrain and the levels of snow looking different, with the chute being fully filled with snow at that time.

"They picked a photo that they were interested in or which related to them somehow," says Leevers.

Jeff Slack, the museum's programs and marketing manager, says he first gave the students a presentation on 100 digital images from the archive.

"I contextualized them, and it was the raw material for their projects," he says.Leevers adds: "It's an interpretive project, visually and literary. It was open. It could be a fictional story they could write or draw. Some took the photos and tried to recreate the images in today's world.

The students then told the stories behind the images they selected in French, including artist statements.

"It's really interesting. Some of the photos have lots of information. I can tell the students who it was, the date and the context of the photo. And others there is nothing," says Slack.

"They used their imaginations and came up with some great ideas."

The project was made possible thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of Whistler.



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