– Story by Darcy Nybo Photography by Don Denton
From West Shore Life + Style magazine
Say the word artist and several images come to mind: you might envision someone covered in paint, lost in thought or covered in clay or dust.
What doesn’t come to mind is a medalled ex-military woman, a mother about to get her master’s degree, and someone who has a passion for shining a light on concepts surrounding reconciliation. That, in a nutshell is Colwood’s Julia Trops.
Julia and her family moved to Colwood from the Okanagan in June of 2017. She immediately transformed her double garage into a workshop and display space. And she needed it: she has over 250 framed paintings, thousands of sketches, several clay sculptures, wax bronze works and hundreds of pounds of stone — one about to be transformed into a horse.
|Don Denton/West Shore – Artist Julia Trops in her studio with a stone for a sculpture she is working on. Photography by Don Denton|
Prior to moving to Colwood, Julia lived for 16 years in the Okanagan, where she took Indigenous studies and learned how to speak nsyilxcen at the En’owkin Centre, an Indigenous Immersion School.
“I was accepted into the En’owkin Centre because of all the work I’d done in West Kelowna in bridging the two communities [Indigenous and non-Indigenous],” she said.
While giving an artist talk at Summerland Art Gallery, Julia received a pamphlet about Culture Days — a fair held across Canada that focusses on promoting elements of culture.
“After I got the pamphlet, I had a vision. I started talking to people at the Sncewips Heritage Museum and people on the Board of Trade. We [eventually] held our first Culture Days, which was launched at the museum and included many of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses in West Kelowna. It’s been running every year since 2014.”
Julia’s path as an artist is nothing short of fascinating, and includes a stint in the military.
“I joined the military in 1985 and trained at CFB Cornwallis for basic training, then CFB Borden for training. After that, I moved to Moose Jaw, where I met my husband. I had walked away from being an artist after university in 1980, but even when I was in the military, I just couldn’t get away from creating art.”
Julia and her husband started a family and by 1997, after a peacekeeping tour in the Sinai, she decided to quit the military and go back to school.
“My husband had finished his RCMP training and was posted to Alberta. I went back to school at the University of Lethbridge. I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts with Great Distinction in 2001. We moved to Kelowna in 2002 and I was accepted as an artist in residence at the new Rotary Centre for the Arts (RCA).”
While at the RCA, Julia developed the Livessence Society for Figurative Artists and Models, a life drawing society.
“I created it because it was needed. You can’t have life art drawings without models and vice versa.”
Julia became very active in her community, speaking out when she saw inequality and injustice. By the time she left the Okanagan in 2017, Julia had gained a Lifetime Achievement Award, had been interviewed on CBC radio numerous times, attended residencies in Italy and Spain, and become a Banff Centre for the Arts alumni.
“I was pretty burned out when I moved to Colwood. I hadn’t painted for two years, I was so consumed by community activism.”
|Don Denton/West Shore – Artist Julia Trops in her Colwood studio with two of her latest paintings she is working on. Photography by Don Denton|
That fall she saw a photo online of a four-year-old girl from the Ma’am taglia-Tlowitsis and Namgis First Nations in northern Vancouver Island. The child was holding a sign that said, “Fish Farms Out.”
“I contacted her parents and they gave permission to paint her. I gave the painting to them as a thank you, following the Indigenous protocol of giving and receiving. The first one [of anything] is always given away.”
Julia continues to paint for the love of painting and sometimes a photograph from one of the First Nations sites she follows online will catch her eye.
“I saw this photo of an Elder from Chilliwack, and I loved the intensity of his expression, and the fact that he was not in regalia, just everyday clothes. I created a painting from that photo. I’ve contacted him to see if he wants it.”
She adds, “There are a lot of layers to non-Indigenous artists painting Indigenous peoples and I am very aware of this — very cautious, very respectful. I ensure I am not crossing the line into cultural appropriation. It boils down to the fact that people use Indigenous imagery without understanding the traditions, the stories and everything behind it. I make sure I paint with awareness and respect. I always consult and never paint without asking.”
When she’s not in her studio creating art, Julia is finishing her Royal Roads University master’s degree project, which includes a paper, an art exhibition and a video. The subject matter is dear to her heart: the hegemonic white society and its impact on community and culture. She’s focussed on finishing her project and is in the process of finding a space for her one-woman art show, Bridging Cultures, in 2019.
“I’m proud of the fact I am very mindful of the work I do. From serving in the military to being a master’s student — being mindful is present in everything I do. Many artists paint to be commercially viable. I am not one of them. While I have sold a great deal of my work, my goal is to simply create. With each piece of art, I learn something about myself.”
Find more about Julia Trops and her art at juliatrops.com
|Finished cast sculpture by Artist Julia Trops in her studio. Photography by Don Denton|