The victims of last week’s shootings in La Loche will live on in the thick, colourful brush strokes of artist Russell Thomas.
“I call it wild colour portraiture … using unlikely colour to create the essence of a human being,” Thomas told News Talk Radio.
Originally from Kamsack and now living in Fort McMurray, Alta. – just across the border from La Loche – Thomas said a friend contacted him requesting four portraits in memory of the two brothers and the two teachers killed on Jan. 22.
“On Monday night I had a very profound personal message from Drayden and Dayne’s mom and even in her grief she was so graceful and appreciative and I was so honoured,” Thomas said.
So when he was asked to paint something for the victims or La Loche, the answer came easily.
“There’s no way I would’ve done this if I wasn’t asked,” Thomas said, adding after speaking the mother of the two boys killed, he knew his paintings were special.
Being so close to La Loche, Thomas said the news made his heart sink.
“The personal gut-twisting moment was when I realized Dayne and Drayden are roughly to same age of my two sons, and what that would be like … I’m getting choked up even talking about it,” Thomas said.
Just as his work helped him digest the tragedy, the portraits did the same for the boys’ mother.
“It helped her in her grief and that’s all I could ever ask for. She was just so gracious to send me any messages and we’ve been talking since and the courage and resilience is unbelievable.”
Thomas said Fort McMurray and La Loche share a lot of hunting and trapping area in Wood Buffalo, and it’s common to run into people from La Loche.
Without a recent picture of Dayne Fontaine, Thomas said his mother sent him her favourite photo of her son – making the portrait much more special.
The portraits of Dayne and Drayden already hang inside the Fontaine home in La Loche. Thomas said portraits for teaching assistant Marie Janvier and teacher Adam Wood are being delivered on Friday.
But this may not be the end. Thomas said he’s open to producing more prints and donating them to La Loche.
“As an artist, I hope there’s a way we can leverage the four paintings as a group to help the community in some way, whether it’s selling limited edition prints and donating the proceeds,” he said. “They serve as a memory and I think they will help in some way and the offer from me is there to help.”
While he doesn’t plan on crossing over to visit La Loche, Thomas said he plans to meet the Fontaine family in Fort McMurray and take them to the studio where he created those portraits.