Daily Courier Article

West Kelowna artist Lee Claremont given Pan Am Games exposure

Lee Claremont

West Kelowna artist Lee Claremont spent the eve of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games setting up her art exhibit Finding My Way Back Home in the spacious lobby of a glass office tower in Toronto’s financial district.

Claremont was asked to exhibit as part of Panamania, a 35-day arts and culture festival to enrich the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.

Claremont’s connection to the cultural aspect of the Pan Am Games began with a call out of the blue to represent Canada in Play Me I’m Yours, a public art project that involved 41 artists representing 41 Pan Am countries painting pianos that would be placed around the Greater Toronto Area.

“I was speechless,” said Claremont. “I would say it’s probably one the highlights of my whole career.”

Claremont is Mohawk and was born in Woodstock, Ont., on Grand River Six Nations Ontario territory. She incorporates her First Nations culture into her work.

Her bright-blue baby grand piano includes colourful abstract art, woodland-style beading to represent Canada’s land, maple leaves on the front and a winter scene under the lid.

The work took an exhausting 90 hours over seven days.

The piano was introduced at the launch of the countdown to the Games three years ago and then put into storage.

Claremont hadn’t seen the piano for two years until Thursday morning when she visited Toronto’s Union Station, where the piano has been installed during the Games.

“It was like seeing an old friend,” Claremont said. “It was pretty thrilling to see it, to see people looking at it and sitting there and getting their picture taken.”

Claremont said her participation in the piano project led to an invitation to exhibit work as part of Panamania.

Finding My Way Back Home refers to Claremont’s Ontario background.

“It’s always nice to come back here, where my roots are,” she said.

Claremont is exhibiting five works she painted within the last year. While she wasn’t aware those works would be on display during the Pan Am Games while she was painting, Claremont said there is a constant theme of striving to do one’s best.

The works are symbolic for how both the athletes and the artist have worked hard to get where they are.

One painting, called Stargazers, is about shooting for the stars. Another, an abstract called Fancy Dancers, is about a dance at the powwow that takes tremendous strength, stamina and training to perform.

All of Claremont’s works feature vibrant colours. For Claremont, subject matter takes second place to colour, which she said can evoke emotions.

“I do really believe colour is a healer,” she added.

As an artist, Claremont goes into a zone when she paints. She is constantly surprised how a painting comes out.

“I always say that I let the painting tell me what it wants,” she said.

Claremont is a late bloomer who didn’t start to explore her creativity until her mid-40s, when her children were older.

She started studying art at Okanagan College, which gave her a good grounding, and then transferred to University of British Columbia to get her fine arts degree. She taught for 15 years at En’Owkin Centre in Penticton before recently retiring.

While she has exhibited her art internationally, Claremont is proud and excited that her work will be seen by people from all over the world in Toronto for the Games.

“It’s home, it’s Canada. I’m a Canadian,” she said.

Claremont will attend the artist reception at the exhibit opening Tuesday before returning to West Kelowna.

The Pan Am Games began Friday, and Finding My Way Home will remain on display until the Parapan Am Games close Aug. 15.