A good project can grow a life of its own. A great project can grow wings. When combining a great project with the right person, magic happens. Such has been the case for artist Ed Staples.
Staples is one of many talented artists who just happen to live in Princeton and who just happens to be a member of the very energetic Princeton Arts Council. When the idea for a Spirit Festival presented itself to the Council, they did not balk at the idea, but rather hit the ground running.
Robin Lowe was asked to write a grant that fit within the guidelines and soon money was coming their way. The money became a catalyst to the group who found many ways to make February 26 a date the community could be proud of.
One such off shoot for the festival was soon identified. A piece of art to follow the theme of “Art in Public Places” was soon identified as a must have feature of the festival. This is where prairie boy Ed Staples stepped into the picture.
Staples was just right for the idea that soon formulated from the Spirit Festival idea that the group had been tossing around. He had travelled to many places, lived abroad for many years and yet felt a deep connection to his Canadian roots.
“I got a trunk for my graduation present,” said Staples. “That gift sent me forth in the world.” Staples attended Dickinson State University in North Dakota where he pursued his love of music. Dickinson State had a strong reputation for its music program and Staples family had a strong musical and artistic background. Ed began his musical career playing the piano and picked up the trumpet along the way which became his instrument of choice. After school, he began teaching, first in Alberta and then later, in more exotic locales. Along the way, Staples met Nienke Klaver who played for the Victoria Symphony on Vancouver Island.
Saudi Arabia, Santiago, Chili and Japan were all places where Staples set up shop for a while. “Music is definitely a passion of mine and so is travelling,” said Staples, “so for me this really worked.” Along the way, Staples and Klaver had the opportunity to visit India, Tibet, Asia, Australia, Egypt and other countries and see many sides to the unique cultures that came with them. Spirituality was never far from the surface of ancient markings and well preserved histories.
For Ed his nationality, his creative side and his travels came full circle, as he ended his career teaching music and picked up one of his other passions. Staples has a passion for clay. When the idea was put forth for a mosaic interpretation of some of the local pictographs by the First Nations of the area, Staples grabbed the project with both hands. He and Lowe began meeting with members of the Upper Similkameen Indian Band to find a meeting of the minds and receive a blessing from whose history it was. “Robin and I did research. We talked to the USIB members and received the blessing of the elders to use the images for our art project. We have achieved a level of comfort by going through all the right channels and taking all the right steps.”
“We respected the First Nations culture and had every aspect of the festival vetted by the band,” added art partner Lowe. “We spent countless hours forging a relationship with the members.”
“If it wasn’t for Robin’s patience, none of this would have happened,” added Staples. “We had to put in the time getting to know the band and the whole process was give and take.”
“We had to tread lightly,” agreed Lowe, “when the inspiration for our festival comes from thousands of years of history.”
For Staples, the art project has become part of something bigger than just art. “The project has become a spiritual journey for me. I have begun to understand what the images mean in the pictographs and made rubbings and followed a whole process of discovery. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The Arts Council received permission to use a rendition of one of the pictograph images in their official logo. “The concept for the festival came together quickly,” stated Lowe. “We have fostered respect with USIB and hope to be able to educate the community and have some fun while trying to build a wonderful winter festival.”
For Ed, the process has included hundreds of hours of creating. The mosaic that will be unveiled to the public on February 25 has 253 tiles in it. At some point each and every tile has been touched many times by Staples throughout the process – drawing the initial images, carving out the image, shellacking, blasting the tiles in the kiln and assembling the final product.
“There are many different interpretations as to how pictographs came into being,” added Staples. ” The most common interpretation for the pictographs of our area is that they were created by young native men and women who went on a spiritual quest. The pictographs represent a guardian spirit that visited through hallucination. The images are considered very spiritual. They are holy, sacred images with a direct link to the First Nations ancestry and culture.”
“The pictographs link the past to the present and hopefully the mural will open people’s eyes,” said Lowe. “To me the project has already become a huge success.”
Staples retirement has led him on a path he could not have guessed for himself. “I had no idea where my desire to dabble in art would lead me many years ago. I hope this mural is something the town will be proud of.” While hoping the completed project hits a cord with the community, Staples admits that in his mind he had to please himself first. “None of the pictographs are replicated as that is considered highly disrespectful. The resulting tiles are all my artistic interpretations and images inspired by the pictographs. Nienke has been my number one supporter, documenting the process. We work well as a team. The final piece will have gone through many transformations and taken me on a journey along the way. This is one of the coolest things I have ever done.”