Don and Isobel MacLaurin: celebrating a beloved Whistler couple 

Community events highlighting the pair's contributions begin with art show at The Gallery on May 4

click to enlarge PHOTO BY LEANNA RATHKELLY - lust for life Isobel MacLaurin shows her zest for life as she enjoys champagne while sitting in her hand-painted coffin.
  • photo by Leanna Rathkelly
  • lust for life Isobel MacLaurin shows her zest for life as she enjoys champagne while sitting in her hand-painted coffin.

Isobel MacLaurin's home perched above Alta Lake features a giant world map that's heavily dotted with pushpins.

She has no idea how many, but each represents a place on this planet that she's visited—mostly with her late husband, Don.

"I had my 85th birthday in the middle of the Arctic," says MacLaurin, who turns 87 in June, pointing up at the map. "They sang. It was just gorgeous."

While she might be best known as Whistler's first artist—she's documented the wildflowers, wildlife and mountains around this valley since the '60s—MacLaurin also painted and sketched everywhere she travelled. Many of those pieces have sold over the years ("In the past I was so pleased people bought my paintings I'd never even take their names," she explains), but dozens are still on display in her basement studio, which boasts floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake.

Her range in style and subject is astounding. There's a painting captured in Thailand of dozens of multi-coloured umbrellas, early sketches of women in dresses that ran in upscale department store ads in the '50s, and the evocative faces of the people she met during her travels. Then there are wine bottles with labels she created, her vast collection of leather and silk fashions and, most shockingly (particularly if you've never met her), her own coffin painted in bright, beautiful hues.

That last item was on display at a living wake she and Don held for themselves years ago. "Don had his MG (TD car) painted on (his coffin) with a little sign that said, 'Yes, I can take it with me.' Mine has wildflowers. It's in the garage. (At the wake) the white wine was in my coffin and the red wine was in Don's. It was gorgeous. We invited our friends and they said, 'We miss Don and Izzy' and they told funny stories ... And we both danced," MacLaurin says.

The coffin, paintings and other objects she adorned will be on display in The Gallery at the Maury Young Arts Centre from May 4 until June 10 as part of the show Don and Isobel—The Life, The Legend, The Laughter, The Leathers.

It's both a retrospective of her life's work as well as a tribute to Don, who passed away in 2014, and the work he's done in the community. He studied both economics and ecology, worked as a forester, helped build the Whistler Interpretive Forest, mapped and developed local trails, and worked to preserve the Ancient Cedars, Musical Bumps and Lost Lake Park, to name just a few of his contributions.

When Arts Whistler approached Isobel about the idea for the show, it was important to her that Don be included. "I wanted it to be Don and me," she says, "The more I thought about it, the more I loved it. When Don died I was asked about (our relationship) and I said, 'I married Don for two reasons: his MG TD 1951 and his dancing. And he retained both attributes until he died at 85 years old."

The show at The Gallery will be just one aspect of a community-wide celebration of the couple, who met at a dance in New Brunswick and got married in 1958 before moving to the West Coast and having four children.

There will also be a show at the Whistler Museum called Don and Isobel: A Retrospective of Community Builders, a "Paint Like Isobel" family event at the Audain Art Museum, a show called Inspired by Isobel—Student Works by Whistler Secondary School at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, as well as other events throughout May and June at the Alta Lake Station House, the Whistler Public Library and The Point Artist-Run Centre.

The show is similar to last year's series of events for the late artist Chili Thom, says Maureen Douglas, executive director at Arts Whistler. "We really wanted to make this an opportunity to celebrate another iconic artist across the cultural connector," Douglas says. "We went to all our partners and said, 'This is what we're cooking up.'... (Isobel) is excellent at telling a bigger story about community life and Whistler history."

An opening party for the art exhibit is slated for May 4 from 7 to 9 p.m. Isobel promises it will be anything but an ordinary reception. Already she's picked out a beautiful emerald outfit with delicate gold buttons running down the top.

"We're going to have fun with it too," she says. "It's not going to be your average, professional show with the price underneath, very serene. It's going to be old history and just very different."

To see the full slate of events celebrating the couple visit artswhistler.com.

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