I always knew I was an artist, since I was a child, I have been making, creating and drawing — I am one of the lucky ones who has figured out how to make a living at what I love. I didn’t grow up with my father, nor did I grow up knowing who he was. My Grandmother, my Father’s mother, Ida (Modeste) Thompson made the connection. She knew I was out there, and she wanted to have her granddaughter in her life. I remember, vividly, when we first met. It was incredible to meet her, and was amazed at the large family I had just been introduced to. I had no idea I had 7 sisters and 4 brothers!! I had grown up with my brother, Eugene and my Mom and her family, little did I know there was a massive Thompson family I had yet to meet. And I just met the matriarch. She was so beautiful and full of love, unconditional love, for me.

I remember when I realized my father was an artist, and a successful one at that! I was in awe, looking around the gallery, seeing his work, the sheer beauty of it, it was powerful. I loved going into his shop and watching him transform a chunk of wood into a beautiful mask. The transformation, the labour, the vision – it was amazing to witness. I always thought it was such a theraputic process for him, creating something so beautiful from a blank piece.

He was always teaching me,whether it was just being witness to him working, or I would sometimes find him in his library, laying on the floor, looking at a book and I would lay down and look at the book upside down, and he would talk, and explain and point things out. Or we would be driving, and he would be talking about our family history, my lineage, or some interesting story of his….and to this day, I will forever be his student. He continues to teach and show me things, through his art. Occasionally he shows up in my dreams and literally teaches me, or shares, or even tells me something to pass on to someone. Those dreams, I hold dear to my heart.

When Vancity put out a call for Artists for their new branch in the Mt. Tolmie neighbourhood, I knew this would be a perfect time to create a Tribute to my Father and Grandmother. They had left to the spirit world ten years prior.

I did some research and decided to utilize waterjet cutting. A process where in a very high pressure jet of water mixed with an abbrasive substance is used to cut metal. A CNC cutting machine uses the art and cuts out the metal to perfection. I then took artwork my Dad created to honour the Indian Residential School Survivors and rendered art to work with the cutting process. I chose copper because my Uncle Ron Hamilton, Chuuchkamalthnii, gifted me with the name, Tllaa’kwa, which means copper. In the proposal, I told the story of my father, and the artwork, and the love my Dad had for Mt. Tolmie.

It was funny, when the sun was setting, at times, it was so beautiful, the colours, and Dad would get us to all race up to Mt. Tolmie and take a family photo with the beautiful sun setting behind us. It was always almost comical to have us all running around, getting in the vehicle, getting up to the mountain, all posing on a rock — all within a 10 minute timespan. We would get the shot, and it was always beautiful.

I then designed the border to be in the Coast Salish style, to represent my Grandmother. She loved swans, so I created a feather shape, mirrored it and created a heart, there are two, one for my Gran and one for my Grandfather.

Once the design was approved, everything happened very swiftly. Within hours, the copper was cut by Victoria Waterjet, and thanks to Jesse, it came out perfectly. I then had to rush around trying to find a shop to work at, and was blessed with a shop 8 doors down at the end of the block. The first day was spent hand filing the smaller pieces of the copper. Then thankfully my Dads good friend, John Livingston lent me his pro-dremel, which literally took hours, possibly even a few days off the filing. Then came the polishing…I had no idea copper was so volatile!! On the web, there are a lot of people trying to explain how to clean copper, but they haven’t totally explained it properly. Most say, lemon/lime with some salt, some say vinegar with salt, some say Brasso, some even say ketchup!! But rarely do you find the true way to clean copper. You can use any one of the above but the missing step, is finish with baking soda. All of the above are a high acidic treatment, which works, but no one tells you that in order to keep it polished, you have to neutralize the high acid. So, I used Brasso, steel wool and finished with baking soda. VOILÁ! Clean sparkly copper. I then coated with a clear acrylic and polymer resin to keep the copper from tarnishing (patina). The top border is NOT coated, therefore it will transform over time.

The installation happened on Wednesday evening and finished on Thursday. Pierre Gagnon assisted with the install, and did the job to perfection! I was so impressed with his attention to detail, he made this part of the process very easy.

On Tuesday September 17th, I officially put in the last copper nail!! It was a very cathartic moment for me, and I am extremely proud that I was able to visualize, create something graphically and then follow through and make it a reality.

Tlaa’kwa / Copper installation in all its glory