The eyes have it. Artist Connie Manning is in the midst of Lumber Barons John Humbird, left, and H.R. MacMillan, with their imposing eyes popping above the scaffolding as she works on their portraits. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Lumber Barons mural nearing completion in Chemainus

Starting from scratch allowed the Chemainus artist to make the portrait even better

Chemainus artist Connie Manning considers it a great honour to be painting the Lumber Barons mural on the side of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce building in downtown Chemainus.

It’s an honour that bears repeating for Manning of capturing the essence of legendary personalities John Humbird and H.R. MacMillan in larger than life portraits. This is the fourth time she has either refurbished or completely redone the mural due to crumbling conditions on the CIBC wall.

“These two guys are so critical for Chemainus’s forestry life,” Manning pointed out.

Humbird was responsible for the construction of the fourth Chemainus sawmill in 1924 and also managed it while MacMillan purchased the sawmill in 1944, changing the name to the Victoria Lumber and Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in Chemainus.

Manning is currently putting the finishing touches on the project that began in early June and expects to be done by this weekend.

“This is a very significant piece,” she explained. “It’s being done from scratch and it’s not a restoration.”

Her work brings back memories of the Chemainus Festival of Murals’ heyday when artists were on site painting murals and attracting huge crowds of residents and tourists, who enjoyed the experience of seeing the art unfold before their very eyes.

Manning certainly saw that during her initial painting in 1992 and the follow-ups in 1996 and 2011. Huge receptions also marked the completion of each mural.

“At that time, artists were profiled very highly in the community,” she noted. “It’s a way of engaging with the community.”

There’s been plenty of engagement again on a casual basis for her on this project.

“People who’ve lived in the community a long time have come and said, ‘it’s good to see this mural back up’,” Manning indicated. “There’s been great positive feedback.”

She’s enjoyed speaking to people about the process.

“I’ve got people from all over the world the last three weeks,” Manning said.

That included a tour bus of people from Israel who were absolutely enamoured with the undertaking.

“Those people mentioned over and over again how much they enjoyed seeing a mural in progress,” Manning added.

As the mural takes shape and gets into the final stages, the features of the two lumber giants have become more prominent in the artist’s striking portrait. The eyes of Humbird, in particular, hauntingly look right through you.

Portrait work is difficult to accomplish, but it’s always been Manning’s forte. This rendering was a chance for her to make some modifications.

“My goal was to make it better,” she stressed. “Your painting changes over the years.”

Manning primarily works with oils, but is using Benjamin Moore latex on this project. “I didn’t worry about that, though,” she said of the differences.

This paint has a great pigment quality and is very fast-drying, she explained.

The faces of the two men are imposing, almost five feet high.

“When you’re up close, it looks very different,” Manning conceded.

“Part of it is intuition when you’ve done a lot of portrait work and the expression on faces is everything. There’s an attention there and that’s how faces draw you in.

“It’s all about this is the feeling I have about this guy and how do I go about interpreting that?”

Manning literally went to new heights on this project, starting at the top, which she said had many advantages. The scaffolding done by Ken Stanton ensured she had a solid base to work from.

“He put a real big emphasis on security and it made a big difference for me because I don’t like heights,” she conceded.

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