In this series, we share stories from Art Jam participants. Art Jam - a volunteer-run program of the Salt Spring Arts Council supported by the Social Justice Committee of the SSI United Church - provides a safe, welcoming space for members of our marginalized community, where they can be defined as creators and artists, rather than by the challenges they regularly face. By celebrating their unique creative accomplishments and reinforcing the value of their work through public exhibitions we promote positive self-identities and help build self-esteem. The Artists from the Fringe Winter Exhibit runs Nov 29 - Dec 22, at Mahon Hall.
I’m Steve, I’m 60, and I’ve done a lot of things in my lifetime. I’m kind of a private person. I have 5 kids, 7 grandkids between the ages of 7 and 21 and one great grandson named Jasper.
I grew up in a very poor household. My Dad, my father, well he wasn’t a dad. Being the oldest child in the family when he wasn’t there everything fell on me. We were like a ‘gypsy’ family, moving a great deal because my dad couldn’t keep a job so we never were able to put roots down. I had a lot of issues so I left home as soon as I could. I joined the army, which wasn’t the best choice but at that time, the 70’s, our armed forces were known more for peace keeping than anything else.
Then in the 80’s I got involved with cocaine and got addicted. The day the shuttle blew up I overdosed and luckily walked away from that. I ended up in a gunfight with the police. I used the things I learned as a soldier in the worst possible way. Due to my involvement in the drug business I ended up in jail for a while. While in jail I rebuilt my head because I. didn’t like who I was. It wasn’t possible to become any harder or angrier in jail than I already was. It took time to pull myself apart and keep the pieces I wanted.
I came to Saltspring to visit a friend of mine and saw that there was a restaurant space for rent. At the time I was thinking of doing a food truck in Vancouver. I was a trained chef de cuisine so I was trying to do a high-end restaurant and everything that went over the counter was made by me except for the condiments. I tried to pull it off all on my own but instead I lost all my money in a year.
When I first separated I bought a 32-foot motorhome and was living in it. I got suicidal in there, hibernating from everyone. In February this year I moved in with another man who was having problems. We shared our misery and tried to keep each other sane. This past September I moved into a pace of my own. I’m on disability pension but I can afford the rent on this place and maybe the internet but that’s about it. I feel like in a place of limbo because I want to work but I can’t, COPD took a lot out of me. I have no stamina any longer. If I had have to walk a long distance carrying things I have to stop and rest every 10 minutes.
Before I came here I had just separated with my wife after a 25-year marriage. When we first got together we had nothing. She came to Canada in 1988 from China. She had lived 10 minutes from Tianamen Square. She worked in a donut shop and I would stop in and talk to her. My whole life I had been interested in the East. We met in the spring and married in January of the following year.
At the time I had my own trucking business, which, I started with one truck and then turned in into a million dollar business. I delivered for Crate and Barrel, Costco, and other companies. Then I had to quit it all because I had a vertigo I was told that if I got back behind the wheel of my truck I’d have my license pulled.
Before I got sick I was in great shape, weighing about 190-200 pounds. I got an infection in my jaw that went into my lungs, my intestines and then they discovered an aneurysm in my aorta when I had my heart attack. It left me unable to do a lot of things I use to do. I ended up going down to 137 pounds. I’d always been a history buff and I remember seeing pictures from after the war of Japanese prisoners and they looked like walking cadavers. When I looked in the mirror that was what I saw in myself, a walking cadaver.
Now I’m doing carvings, walking sticks, obsidian daggers, spear points and I’m learning to nap. I carve soapstone or wood and even leather. I have no idea where it comes from, this artistic side of me. I’ve been doing this for the past 6 months and am always shocked to hear people say my work is incredible. This is where I need to work on my confidence. I wonder if people are saying my work is great just to say it or because it really is. At first I started to come to Art Jam for comradery, to socialize. Somewhere I picked up a stick to carve basically for self-therapy and then wondered what I could do with soapstone, which got me more and more interested in doing the walking sticks and carving. I was a history buff and when I saw the deer bone and obsidian I knew I could make something with them.
Above two photos, and photo of Steve by Kim Stewart Photography.