Only warmth abounds in home filled with art

While those less enthused by the great outdoors are hunkering down to spend more time indoors, Doug Lamalice is stocking up—but not on provisions.

The life-long Northerner doesn’t need to worry about having enough sustenance for the winter. His stockpiling is of another kind—his artwork. 

Lamalice lets out his creative best during the winter months. A tour guide, manual labourer and sign maker during the warmer months, Lamalice transforms his ambition with the onset of the cold. 

When his seasonal contracts lapse he picks of a paint brush, or a sketch pad, or a carving tool, and escapes the nine to five box.

It’s early in the winter still, on a Saturday afternoon in a family home on K’atl’odeeche First Nation.

Lamalice can be found hunched over in his kitchen, the buzz of TV or radio in the background and soft but focused light from an adjustable task lamp flooding his current canvas.

This scene lasts well into the night especially as the business and the energy of the day staves off.

At 4 a.m. his oncoming drowsiness is accompanied by the “art zone” buzz.

“This is all I’m focusing on right now. It’s all I’m doing,” said Lamalice.

“In our culture we had to stock up on certain things to survive. We were also too busy making sure we had enough wood and food for the day. We didn’t have all this spare time to think about things.”

Out of the crevices of his mind came an angular sketch of an eagle melding with a man’s head.

Lamalice has been focusing on his creations more seriously for more than a decade and said his works are culture specific and nature inspired and derived.

“You can make a lot just with what you find on the ground,” he said.

Six months might seem like a reasonable time to stockpile some work, but some works take Lamalice even longer.

A triangular frame he made out of driftwood took one season to dry and was only ready to be bound and finished the following year.

It’s light to lift, and it will be used for a triangular canvas he’s made.

Right now his work station is a small corner of his kitchen.

A bench leads to a small crook piled high with paints, pencils, brushes, yarn, string, ink, feathers and sketchbooks.

“We just eat around it,” joked Lamalice.

Partially finished and fully complete works line his walls along with his Christmas decorations, something his wife Karen calls “organized clutter.”

Aside from spending time throughout the north and selling his work locally and across the territory, Lamalice sits on the Aboriginal Tourism Advisory Council and leads summer tours.

In between dropping one of his daughters off to a birthday party and picking up groceries for his parents, he’s up and down from answering phone calls.

It’s his mother calling back to add to his grocery list.

He picks up his sketch pad again to regain his concentration, which didn’t used to come to him so easily.

For years Lamalice struggled with addiction and ensuing emotional problems; a life he refers to as self-centred.

He revisited his foundations: time spent out on the lake ice fishing, hunting and trapping with his father.

“It forever keeps in my mind were I came from,” he said.

“Everything I’ve gained, as far as (cultural) knowledge goes is authentic. It’s authentic because I lived it.”

He said giving up the partying lifestyle has allowed him to gain clarity in his life and work, but at times, days where his task is a seemingly unending list, he still gets easily flustered and has to keep himself in check.

“My work means a lot to me—I take a lot of pride in everything I make,” he says. “Everything that’s going on in my life goes into it.”

For this reason it’s hard to let go of paintings, carvings, drums and other creations that become, as he said, “part of the family.”

So he keeps it low key—no website, no prints and just one piece at a time.

He says the work he does sell he tried to relay a message of connectedness with nature harkening back of traditional ways, without lament.

“Everyone in our culture wished for how it was before; a lot of people feel sadness for how beautiful the culture was before,” he said.

“Maybe we can’t live in the cultural way but we can hang onto our tradition. It’s about learning to walk in the best of both worlds.”