An artist goes back to school

Chantelle Trainor-Matties’ work has been featured across BC

By Josh Kozelj | June 7, 2022 |5:00 am

Chantelle Trainor-Matties entered the colouring contest without thinking she would win.

The contest asked students to colour a Jeep on a piece of paper. The winners would get a ride in an actual Jeep in the parking lot of John MacLure Community School. It was 1997, and six-year-old Trainor-Matties loved art.

She expressed herself through art, so when she received her colouring sheet, she let her imagination run rampant. She coloured in the wheels, windows, and door frames, wondering whether her design would captivate the attention of the judges.

Years later, remembering the day she rode around the parking lot in that Jeep with other contest winners, she wishes she kept that colouring sheet. Because little did Trainor-Matties know, she would return to John MacLure and inspire another generation of students, while also paying homage to her Indigenous heritage.

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Finding a passion

Trainor-Matties’ mother grew up afraid to say she was Indigenous.

Because of negative stereotypes and the ways she saw people talk about Indigenous folks behind her back, her mother grew up disconnected from her Nisg̱a’a roots.

Art has always been integral to Trainor-Matties’ life, and as she got older, she longed to connect with her Indigenous heritage.

“[My mom] grew up feeling and being very disconnected with just a few fond memories,” Trainor-Matties said.

Following an extended break after high school, Trainor-Matties attended the University of Fraser Valley in 2017 and graduated with a visual arts diploma three years later. It was at UFV where she discovered herself as an Indigenous artist.

“My mother, sisters, and I are all going through that journey of reclaiming our culture, all in our own different ways,” she said. “Art is also a universal language. People look at it, they want to learn, and I can teach people through my artwork.”

After graduating, she registered her business, Frettchan Studios, at the beginning of the pandemic. And despite the pressure of being a new entrepreneur in those times, Trainor-Matties soon had a steady flow of work.

One of her graphic designs was placed in a Richmond Skytrain station, and a raven mural was painted in Chilliwack. Both designs drew from Trainor-Matties’ Indigenous background.

Going to art school helped Trainor-Matties realize the importance of putting herself (and her work) in public. Connections with other artists and organizations, like Nations Creations, a project to support Indigenous artists in the Fraser Valley, gave her the resources to give her confidence and grow her brand.

“I’m an introvert,” Trainor-Matties said. “Before I went to art school, I never would have thought of submitting my art to a gallery. It never crossed my mind.”

Trainor-Matties’ raven mural in Chilliwack. 📸 Submitted Chantelle Trainor-Matties

She also credits Fred Jackson, another Indigenous artist she met at UFV, for motivating her to follow her past. (Jackson’s art and designs can be seen around the region. Most recently, he designed art that adorns Telus vehicles around the Lower Mainland.)

“He helped guide me and loved my designs and was like, ‘I want you to focus on your Indigenous artwork,’” Trainor-Matties said. “So the more that I study and learn about the culture, my people, the more I create better artwork. And the more artwork I create, the more it connects me to my culture.”

That work focuses on animals. Trainor-Matties primarily creates in a style called contemporary Northwest Coast formline—a form of art that uses shapes, such as ovoids, to represent wings, fins, and tails of a certain animal or design.

“Learning how you can piece them together to create something that is identifiable is what I’m trying to create,” she said.

Sometimes Trainor-Matties will base those designs off a specific request. Other times she lets her own creativity guide her projects.

Two of her designs have already been used for important causes this year.

Trainer-Matties created a T-shirt design for Orange Shirt Day that uses bear paws to signal the importance of support and love.

“In Indigenous culture, you learn from the animals,” she said. “The silhouette in there represents the mother bear being there for her cub.”

She also created merchandise for Red Dress Day in early May to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2-Spirit people. The campaign raised over $16,000 for the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

She made designs for a hoodie, t-shirt, and flag with a red handprint—a symbol for MMIWG2S+.

Inside the palm is a human face.

Trainor-Matties was inspired by the red handprint symbol and used her handprint as a template for her own creative interpretation.

This spring, Trainor-Matties will return to her old elementary school to paint a mural of the Thunderbird, which has strong Indigenous meanings. 📸 Submitted Chantelle Trainor-Matties

“I wanted it to mean that it could represent anyone. Someone crying for their mothers, their sisters, their daughters. Any family [who has someone who has] gone missing or been murdered and are not forgotten.”

Coming full circle

The Thunderbird symbolizes power, protection, and strength in Haida and Native American art.

It’s also the mascot of Traninor-Matties old elementary school, John MacLure, the spot where she first discovered a passion for art all those years ago.

Last year, a staff member from John MacLure reached out to Trainor-Matties to ask if she could paint a mural of their mascot on a wall near the entrance of the school, and create colouring sheets for school children.

Trainor-Matties hopes the mural will teach the current students about the history behind the Thunderbird.

A period of unseasonably chilly and wet weather in May put the mural plans on hold until warmer temperatures arrive. But the Thunderbird design for John MacLure is mocked up, and Trainor-Matties is eager to return to the school—her old school—to paint something that students will see when they walk into class every day.

“I want people to be able to read the artwork without even me being there,” she said. “My language is artwork, so I’m trying to get the story through with just the image.”

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Corrections: An earlier version of this article stated Trainor-Matties’ mother is Nisg̱a’a and Metis, she is only Nisg̱a’a. Also, Trainor-Matties’ red handprint design for Red Dress Day was not a template but her own handprint. 

Josh Kozelj

Intern at Fraser Valley Current

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