The lobby of Prairie Sky Cohousing Cooperative, just off Edmonton Trail in northeast Calgary, looks a lot like the lobby of any multi-residential building, with its row of mailboxes, tile floor, and a bench to sit on as you pull your boots on or off. Then, your eye catches the portraits that hang on the walls: eight of them on your left as you come through the door; another 18 in two rows above those ubiquitous mailboxes.
Thirty-six paintings and two pencil sketches make up the collection. “People who come into Prairie Sky are greeted by our faces” says Holger Mauthe, a homeowner at Prairie Sky for the last ten years. “The community is more represented by the people than by the buildings so I thought it would be nice to have the faces of Prairie Sky represented somewhere and welcome people when they come here.”
Holger was inspired by a paint night to mark the opening of “Raw Canvas” in Kensington. It advertises itself as “….an informal setting where you get to unleash, drink, eat, create, socialize and create art.” Holger and his partner Jonathan were invited guests. Holger was intrigued by a painting of a woman in silhouette. “I don’t feel that I am a good painter”, he says, “but I thought, I can do that. So I did and when I was done, I liked my painting better than the one on the wall.”
He came up with the idea of a paint night to allow the residents of Prairie Sky to paint each other. He bought paints, brushes, and a stack of 8 x 10 canvases and issued a simple invitation to his neighbours. “If you want to be painted, send me a picture. If you want to come paint, then come.” Between 15 and 20 people were at Holger’s first paint night.
So he organized a second for those who couldn’t make it. Then another member of the co-op organized a third. Participants picked a photo, and did their best to render it as a painting. Among the works in the lobby, there are some you would call child-like and others that show real artistic chops. What is important to Holger is how the portraits reflect the relationship among the residents. “We had to have a good relationship to allow us to paint each other. Some of the pictures are not very flattering. Because of the good relationship among us, people are OK with that.
Holger is the first to point out that you would have to know someone pretty well before you would recognize them from their lobby portrait. After a paint night, people love to linger in the lobby, trying to figure out who is in each portrait. But that’s something else you don’t see in the lobbies of condo projects elsewhere in the city. As Holger hoped, the portraits make for a warm welcome to the Prairie Sky community.