Indigenous street artist Daniel Martin died last month, but his legacy lives on at First Lutheran Church.
Martin, who died July 28 of cancer at the age of 62, was well-known to many who bought his unique drawings and paintings around the downtown.
Posted: 13/08/2019 3:00 AM
A small painting of a bear sits on Christa Bruneau-Guenther’s mantel at home. It is the first piece of art she bought from Daniel James Martin four years ago and it now serves as a personal memorial to her late friend.
Martin died on July 28 at the age of 62, following a short battle with stomach cancer.
In addition to being remembered by those who purchased his art, he is memorialized in the foyer of First Lutheran (580 Victor St.) by two of his paintings.
One is of an eagle, with one of his favourite verses from Isaiah 40:31: "They shall mount up with wings like eagles."
The other is of a chicken — a mother hen, actually — with the words of Jesus from Luke 13:34: "As a hen gathers her brood under her wings."
The two paintings were commissioned by the church in 2009, said pastor Michael Kurtz, as a way to give people a sense of what First Lutheran was about when they walked through the doors.
Getting Martin to paint the eagle wasn’t a problem; that was his favourite subject.
"But I had to convince him to paint the chicken," said Kurtz, who has been serving at the church since 1999. "He just looked at me and asked why I would want him to draw a chicken."
Kurtz explained while the eagle is one image of God in the Bible — an image of strength — the mother hen is another powerful image of safety, comfort and security.
Martin got that, Kurtz said, because that was what his faith and church meant to him.
"But he drew us a very strong-looking mother hen," he added. "Nobody is going to mess with those chicks."
Recalling his long-time friend, Kurtz said he first met Martin about 15 years ago, when he came to the church’s food bank.
"He asked if he could come to worship services," Kurtz said, adding he became a regular attender and joined the church.
"He seemed to find a home here. We accepted him as he was, with all his quirks, and also with his gifts. He became an integral member of our community."
Martin also found an eager market for his drawings and paintings; almost everyone in the congregation bought some from him, Kurtz said.
While he was "a very private and compartmentalized person who didn’t open up easily," Martin did share about his life. This included being sent to residential school as a child, and spending most of his youth in foster homes.
Through all the difficult times, "he was always drawing," Kurtz said. "He drew through poverty, through mental illness. I think it kept him alive."
“I really admired his perseverance. He went through a lot in life. And I really came to admire him as a person of faith, someone who trusted God and believed that God had something good in store for him despite all the difficult things that had happened in life.” — pastor Michael Kurtz
It also connected him to people as he sold his art. "He found his strength in drawing and in the connections and relationships his drawing helped him form," Kurtz said.
"I really admired his perseverance. He went through a lot in life. And I really came to admire him as a person of faith, someone who trusted God and believed that God had something good in store for him despite all the difficult things that had happened in life."
Of his art, Kurtz said: "He was completely dedicated to using the gift God gave him, as a way to express his faith. I think it was a form of prayer for him, and his way of honouring the creator’s world."
Martin often included a cross in his paintings, including the ones in the church’s foyer.
About 100 people attended his funeral at the church Aug. 15.
In his sermon, Kurtz asked those gathered to "give thanks for Daniel, for this precious, beloved, gifted child of God, who shared his gifts relentlessly."
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
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