If you don’t already know who Della Senz is, she’s a pretty big deal. Just walk down the alley behind the Clock Tower Mall building (622 Connaught Drive) to see how big.
Her queen-sized portrait is now a permanent fixture on the two-storey wall. The image was the second of three murals created as part of the second annual UpLift! Jasper Mural Festival.
When Calgary mural artist Alex Kwong came to town, he hadn’t yet decided on the subject that he would paint for his part in this year’s festival. During his speech to unveil the mural in front of a crowd of onlookers, he explained that he wanted to give the town something uniquely Jasper.
“I was just waiting for the right inspiration for the right project,” he said.
As festival organizers Logan Ireland and Oliver Andrew toured him around, he soon learned of the famous Della Senz, the nonagenarian who still lives in her house amid Jasper’s business district because she refused to sell it to developers.
To him, her story is Jasper’s story: the story of a community, the artist explained.
“I inquired a little bit more about her, and I just was hearing all the best things about her,” Kwong said.
“They were all very indicative of the whole community you guys have here. Everybody’s helping out. Everybody knows one another. It’s all this big family.”
The close-knit community atmosphere blew him away, he said, adding his hope that Jasperites cherish that uncommon facet of life in this mountain town.
“You guys have a beautiful thing going on up here,” he said.
Celebrating everyday people is what he strives to do with his art. It’s his way of putting a spotlight on people that might otherwise be taken for granted, even though they are beautiful and special in their own ways.
“I want to utilize my artwork to shine a light on just normal people. We all deserve to be celebrated: recognized for how magnificent and amazing we all are,” he said.
He thanked Della and her family for being so welcoming and trusting in allowing him to learn more about her in order to do his job.
“It has to be a little weird when some guy just shows up in town and wants to hang out with your mom,” he joked to the amused gathering, adding that it was his honour to paint her portrait.
Senz had a beaming smile for the festivities that included an outdoor patio and music where attendees at picnic tables were being served meals from the Downstream Restaurant.
She arrived in the appropriate regal style: in the backseat of a rickshaw driven by Patrick Mooney. It was as close to a horse-drawn carriage as one could get.
Mooney offered the ride as his own token of celebration to the grande dame. Kwong, who was a guest in the two-seater for the grand entrance, was not surprised.
“Nobody takes her for granted. I’ve been up here on this wall. Everybody loves you, Della,” he said.
Co-organizer Logan Ireland said that murals quickly become cultural assets that bring more positive attention to the town.
“It just impacts each person in the community in its own way and the community at large as well… getting to see these artists and the town gets this behind the scenes ‘how it works’ and they get to meet these creative people and share some stories with them. And then as the artists leave, the murals are left here for us as a gift to the town,” he said.
The festival ended on Saturday with the third and final mural unveiling. Originally from Kazakhstan, Montreal artist Ola Volo turned the outside wall at the tennis courts into a massive, stylized image of a woman in a symbol-laden headdress reminiscent of the sunbeams that shine above her.
That unveiling came with a community-wide party that lasted from mid-afternoon until the evening. People of all ages celebrated by taking the chance to learn how to do their own spraypainted art.
By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on May 23, 2023 at 12:00