'An interesting life'

Derek Montague
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Ontario artist creates life-like sculpture of friend Elizabeth Penashue

Longtime friends Kari Reynolds and Elizabeth Penashue pose in front of the portrait sculpture that Reynolds made in dedication of Penashue. The sculpture took approximately six years to make.

In 1990, artist Kari Reynolds joined Innu activist Elizabeth Penashue on a walk from London, ON, to Ottawa.

Penashue ventured on the long walk to show her disapproval of the controversial low level flying that was occurring in central Labrador at the time. Supporters from Ontario, including Reynolds, joined her.

While they walked, the two women talked and quickly became friends.

“We just made friends so quickly. She talked about hiking and camping, and the importance of caribou to her people,” recalls Reynolds.

“I got lots of friends. I go many, many places to speak,” adds Penashue. “When I met this woman (Reynolds), she’s so nice to me…and she understands what I’m doing.”

Beginning in 1991, Reynolds, who lives in Toronto, began visiting Penashue in her hometown of Sheshatshiu. Since that time she has made trips almost every year to Labrador.

Over the years, Reynolds has joined Penashue on four snowshoe treks in the spring, and four canoe trips in the summer.

After finishing art school in 2003, Reynolds focused her talents and time on making portrait sculptures of people. She has completed 50 sculptures during that time including ones of Einstein and the Dali Lama.

“I like to make portraits of people I admire and have a very interesting face,” says Reynolds.

“I don’t do ‘pretty’ faces…I like to look at someone’s face and see that they’ve led an interesting life.”

Six years ago, Reynolds decided it was time to show her respect and admiration for Elizabeth Penashue by doing a portrait sculpture of her. It would be a long, gradual and expensive process, involving the use of clay, plaster molds, rubber molds, painting, and varnishing.

In the early stages, Reynolds had Penashue sit and pose for the sculpture. The artist asked the Innu elder to replicate a pose she saw in a photograph; where Penashue has her chin resting in her hand, as if in deep thought.

“I see a lot of stories in her face, an interesting life,” says Reynolds.

On Dec. 3, Reynolds finally finished with the last coat of varnish. And the end result was a stunningly beautiful and realistic portrait of a respected Innu woman.

“It’s very difficult for me to please myself; that’s why it took me so long to finish it,” says Reynolds.

“I love it. It makes me happy, very, very happy,” adds Penashue. “I have lots of friends, this is the first time a friend made something so important for me.”

Although Reynolds had been working on the portrait sculpture for several years, she made sure that Penashue didn’t see the artwork until it was painted and ready for varnish.

“I had to hide it from her to do the paint job,” says Reynolds with a laugh. “Then I felt I was ready to show her.”

Reynolds will now be trying to sell the sculpture, hopefully to someone locally, so it can stay in Labrador. Penashue, meanwhile, will be able to keep a miniature version of the sculpture as a souvenir.


Geographic location: Labrador, London, ON, Ottawa Ontario Toronto Sheshatshiu

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