Debra Rushfeldt’s painting space on Broadway has been consumed by a giant western toad… or at least, a painting of one.
Sort of like how the project itself has consumed Rushfeldt these last few months.
But she’s okay with that.
“I would be open to doing more murals – I’m comfortable with it now,” she told the Valley Voice in a recent visit to her Nakusp working space. “It took me lots of research to figure out the best methods – what to paint it on, the paint to use, etc.”
Rushfeldt moves between her paint table and a ladder as she talks, adding the final touches to her 10’ x 25’ mural of a western toad. She says she wanted to scale up the tiny creature to highlight its beauty that can be overlooked.
“As an artist, my natural inclination is to gravitate towards objects and ideas that are somewhat common and overlooked, such as the western toad, and bring the viewer’s attention to what I find interesting about the subject matter by focusing in on details,” she says. “I was fascinated by the toad’s skin and its eyes initially, but where I really fell in love with this creature was when my research took me to toad and frog symbolism in native cultures.”
As she completes the final mushroom in the forest scene – which features a toad the size of a cow, settled peacefully on the forest floor – she recalls how all this got started when she heard about a funding call for public art last fall.
“I thought it would be different from what other towns had… I didn’t want to do another historic mural or figurative stuff,” she says. “But I thought it would be really cool to have a big western toad.”
Working on the proposal, and on the painting of the creature itself, has allowed Rushfeldt to connect with how special the humble creature is.
“Toads are considered magical creatures and associated with the power of transformation in myths because of their four stages of life,” she says. “They represent adaptability and regeneration, and symbolize the power of change. Their croaking rain song speaks of cleansing, harmony and new life. I thought a lot about these toad associations and many others while I was working on my proposal.”
And thinking upon it, she’s come to realize her work can have a wider meaning now too.
“I wanted to be part of the dialogue that is taking place among many of our creative residents that Nakusp is an inspiring place to live, and our downtown can express this with beautiful gardens and sculptures by local artists,” she says. “I feel the western toad is a powerful, positive symbol for a mural in Nakusp as we move through the challenges that 2020/2021 has manifested for everyone.”
The mural will be hung on the side of Rushfeldt’s gallery on Broadway, where it will just begin its 10-to-25-year lifespan of entertaining the community and visitors.
“I hope people will have fun with the scale of the piece. The toad is so large, people look Lilliputian next to it,” she says. “I hope people will be engaged with all the details I have painted, and it will stimulate their imaginations and take them to another world that is somehow more magical and connected.
“I hope children and adults alike are stimulated to learn more about the western toad, and toads and frogs in general and their important role in ecology of our forests. Lastly, I hope that people will see and understand that in symbology, the toad teaches us to look beneath the surface and seek the real beauty of every situation, however unattractive it might appear on the surface.”
But the last brushstrokes on the painting is only the end of the first part of preparing the work for public display. She’s still got several weeks of applying protective coatings and varnish to the work, and preparing it for installation on her building.
There will be an unveiling ceremony on July 17.
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice