Making others — and herself — smile through Squamish art | Squamish Chief

Making others — and herself — smile through Squamish art

Artist and cancer survivor Jany Mitges etches her heart and sports onto her unique wood pieces

Not many things could symbolize Squamish more accurately than the artwork of Jany Mitges.

One piece features a climber on a rock face, her belaying partner down below, with tall trees standing watch — the whole image burned into wood.

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Another piece features two mountain bikers going down a hill, led by a dog and watched over by the colourful sunset sky.

 

On yet another, Santa rides a fat-tired bike beside a lake, with mountains in the distance.

Squamish through and through. Mitges is also hella funny at times, with a wit that makes you chuckle hours after you talk to her when you recall what she said.

The Chief caught up with Mitges, 53, for a chat about her artwork, rock climbing and how cancer has impacted both.

What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

 

Q: I have reached you in Hamilton, Ontario. You split your time between there and here, correct?

A: I come in the summers. Most of my mountain biking friends moved out there and I go and housesit. I end up doing a lot of my sketching and artwork and pencil work on the Mamquam River. I have found a little secret spot where I go and hang out.

I got to do the Hot on Your Heels last summer. We were like kitchen ladies — the Spice Girls — so we wore tutus and had measuring spoons on us and each had suggestive spices written on our T-shirts.

Jany Mitges
Source: Jany Mitges

Q: When did art start for you — as a little girl?

A: I started when I was about four years old. I had a pretty rough childhood, not a good one — lots of violence and drugs and all that. My brother was quite the artist and put some pencils and paper in front of me and just said, "draw what you see." It was basically a little bit of sanity in everything that was going on.

I just kind of stuck with it. The wood burning came later.

I find people can relate to the nondescript aspect of the people in my wood-burning pieces. They can put themselves into the image — they can see themselves.

When you do detail, people appreciate the art, but they don't see themselves as much.

A piece I am working on right now is a climb and I know when people in the area see it, they are going to know which one it is — it is one of the few climbs that has a mono on it.

Q: You are a big rock climber too, when did that start for you?

A: In about 1989. There's some terrifying rock climbing near Hamilton, where I grew up. I learned to climb on chalk. Ontario has some really beautiful limestone cliffs, like Lion's Head and Beaver Valley and we have some short chalky cliffs. My husband and I started out trad climbing.

We came to Squamish and a lot of other places.

Jany Mitges
Jany Mitges post-chemo in 2008 in Death Valley. - Courtesy Jany Mitges

Q: You talk openly about being a breast cancer survivor. As an athletic person, that must have been a shock. Can you talk a bit about the process and how it informs your artwork?

A: It was definitely a big change from being super athletic. I have got European genes. I feel like I was a bit of a machine. I could do everything and keep going for days and days and could take it all and then cancer and chemo changes that for a while.

Art was one of the things that kept me going through all of it. It was also an incredible distraction from the suffering that you experience. It redirects your brain so you can be creative and calm and not just focus on yourself.  It also helps pass the time. When you are going through chemotherapy, time seems to slow down, it is minute-to-minute and the suffering is pretty uncomfortable.

Q: Are you still climbing?

A: Yes, when I can. When I turned 50, I wanted to prove I could still do things. I sent another 13a when I turned 50. I was super happy about that. I am working on 13b that has been a going project.

Jany Mitges
Source: Jany Mitges

Q: How are you now?

A: I am good.  Cancer always lurks in the back of your mind. I had a bilateral mastectomy — I have gummy bears that will be perky forever — but I got a neuromuscular condition from the drugs, so I have a constant reminder. I had two types of cancer and one type was more aggressive so I have that awareness that there is the potential for it to come back. When I saw my oncologist, he said I am really not out of the woods until 23 years have passed. I am at the 12-year mark.

You have the mental thing and some PTSD that happens from getting cancer and the chemo; from being in the room with others who have cancer and of knowing some of those people didn't survive. 

Again, my art helps me to be productive and be positive because every minute I surrender to a negative thought, I can't get back.

And my art lets me make other people smile and leaves a bit of a legacy that I know, regardless of my life, I will make other people smile for a long time.

 

For example, every year people pull out my Christmas ornaments with a sentimental history to them — a lot of them are commissioned. I am lucky to be an artist who has thousands of pieces in people's homes at a very special time of year and that bring them joy. I get to share my heart and my art.

Find out more about Mitges online at  https://www.janymitgesfinearts.com/

Follow her on Instagram @janymitges.

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