Kenneth Lavallee is a North End kid. While riding the bus with his mother as a child, they would pass Peace and Harmony, a mural by Jackson Beardy on Selkirk Avenue, almost every day.
“We would pass that mural, and I would think ‘Man, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,’” Lavallee says. “For my whole life, that mural has been a huge influence on me and my style as an artist.”
In the years prior to the painting of Star Blanket, Lavallee had been working in the North Point Douglas area regularly, at both Graffiti Gallery doing outreach work and at Neechi Commons making bannock.
“I was looking at a pretty dreary strip of Main Street, between Selkirk and Higgins almost every day and felt it could use some colour,” he says.
In 2014, Lavallee caught wind of Philly Painting, a public art project by Dutch duo Haas&Hahn.
Their goal was to mobilize the North Philadelphia community to transform a commercial corridor and bring some much-needed vibrancy to their neighbourhood.
“It involved painting murals on 50 storefronts and buildings, just huge stretches of public space,” Lavallee says. “It totally revitalized the neighbourhood. I wanted to bring that here.”
The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls was gaining public attention around the time of the conception of Star Blanket.
“I wanted to do something related to that and in honour of that,” he says. “Also, my mum had a star blanket, and I always wanted one of my own. It seemed so sacred and special.”
To give a star blanket is to show utmost admiration for the person receiving it. To receive a star blanket indicates that the giver holds you in very high regard for your accomplishments. They are intended to protect and give comfort to those wearing it over their shoulders.
It’s clear Kenneth Lavallee loves both the North End and the people who live there. After all, he gave them Star Blanket.
Published in Volume 72, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 30, 2017)