Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 8, 2007
The artist's brush writes his words
A stroke silenced social activist Hank Zyp until he found his voice in art
- Photo by Glen Argan
Hank Zyp's vibrant colors in the artwork Quechua depict women and children in Ecuador reclaiming land from an absentee landlord.
"She's a very nice lady," Hank says of Fitzsimmons who has been back to the Zyps' home several times to urge him on.
"It's wonderful to see his progress and what he has been able to produce in the last few months," said Fitzsimmons, who is coordinator of Art in the Lobby. "There is a sense of community and joy of life that he puts into his art."
Because of Hank's physical disabilities, "his work is all the more compelling," she said.
Aboriginal people have long been close to the Zyp family.
In 1960, the Zyps lived with their two daughters in Jasper Place - not yet annexed to Edmonton - when native children began to come to the city to attend junior high school.
Edmonton schools would not accept the children, but Jasper Place superintendent H.E. Beriault did, not only enrolling them in the Jasper Place Catholic district, but even putting 12 of them up in his own home.
When word of this spread through their parish, the Zyps offered to give a home to some of the children.
"We had up to three children at a time because nobody would take them," Tillie recalls. "They were just beautiful children."
"All of a sudden, he started to draw and paint."
- Tillie Zyp
The experience started the Zyps on a long-time relationship with Aboriginal people, prompting them to move near the Enoch reserve and eventually leading Hank on several visits to Latin America.
The Zyps were instrumental in starting Alberta-based non-governmental organizations such as Change for Children, St. Joseph's Save the Children Fund and Rainbow of Hope, all of which fund Third World development projects.
A key moment for Hank came when he attended an Oblate-led retreat for Aboriginal people. Native leader Harold Cardinal stood up and said the native elders should lead a retreat and the Oblates should attend.
Hank joined them for four days on the Kootenay Plains without food or water. Each "retreatant" made his own shelter where he slept and prayed. There were pipe ceremonies and a sweat lodge.
"I thought, 'Holy man, I can't understand this,'" Hank recalls.
But it inspired a series of paintings reflecting native spirituality.
Now he has returned to that perspective with even more vivid colours. In The Pump, he shows Bolivian children playing joyously around a water pump in the city of Cochabamba where public protests overturned the privatization of the municipal water supply by foreign companies.
In Quechua, he shows women and children in Ecuador taking over land from an absentee landlord and beginning to work it. Brothers and sisters
And in Visions, Zyp paints a native man and woman raising a tipi at Lac Ste. Anne while Aboriginal St. Anne, Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus are in the background.
Says Tillie: "With his artwork there is a profound message - that (Aboriginal people) are our brothers and sisters."
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