Late start or right time? Painting inspires Innu artist to 'be proud of who I am'

Mary Ann Penashue didn't pick up a paintbrush during the first three decades of her life.

'I value my culture and my people,' says Mary Ann Penashue

Artist Mary Ann Penashue says her art has encouraged her to embrace her culture even more. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

Mary Ann Penashue only started painting in her mid-thirties, but any perceived late start hasn't prevented her from flourishing — besides, she had her hands full until then, anyway.

"I have four kids and I started painting while I was pregnant on my last child ... my husband bought me paints for my birthday and they were just sitting there," she told CBC Radio's Weekend AM.

The feeling of completing a painting is a good feeling for me, I love that feeling.- Mary Ann Penashue

Penashue, whose husband is former PC MP and minister Peter Penashue, found the time when her three oldest were at school and her youngest would nap.

And from those beginnings, the artist from Sheshatshiu has had her work displayed in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Ontario.

The Christina Parker Gallery in St. John's is the latest home for her paintings — featuring an exhibit that opened Friday, April 20 and runs until May 12 — depicting Innu life titled Uapen Innut, which means People From the Sunrise.

Satisfaction guaranteed, even when unfinished

While Penashue may have started painting later than other artists, she fell in love with it — hard and fast.

"Whenever I start a painting, even if it's not complete at the end of the day, it always makes me feel like I have started something and I want to accomplish something," she explained.

"The feeling of completing a painting is a good feeling for me, I love that feeling."

This painting is called Lost Innu Soul and it was inspired by Penashue's time in Ottawa. (Submitted by Christina Parker Gallery)

That emotion became so strong that she wanted to make it her livelihood.

"My mind, my heart was always [with] my art," Penashue added.

'I value my culture'

She draws inspiration from various places, including the time she spent in Ottawa, while attending the Ottawa School of Art.

Penashue said she is touched by the feedback she has received.

"When Christina [gallery owner] first put the paintings out there, I had a message from a young girl from my community and she said she saw my paintings and she was really proud of me," she said.

Perhaps even more powerful than the praise of others, is the effect Penashue's art has had on the artist herself.

"I didn't know how much information, how much culture that I have and I value my culture and my people and I'm proud of who I am," she said.

"When I was really young, I only focused on all the negative that is happening, but I think my art is what helped me see the difference in why I understand more of things."

With files from Weekend AM