Mi'kmaq painter discovers surprise talent, sells 500+ prints

​Tracey Metallic was 45 in 2015 when she started experiencing symptoms of depression and care fatigue. During her time off, she discovered art as a way to heal.

Tracey Metallic was depressed, run-down when she discovered her hidden talent, therapeutic outlet

Tracey Metallic, grandmother of 3, only just learned of her talent for painting. She stumbled upon the second act while on stress leave from her job as a social worker. Art has doubled as therapy for the Listuguj woman. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

​Tracey Metallic was 45 in 2015 when she started experiencing symptoms of depression and care fatigue.

"It wasn't a hard decision to take some time off in September. I just said 'I gotta practice what I preach,'" said the former social worker.

She took eight months off work and spent time with her grandchildren. For her grandson's birthday, the always-crafty Metallic asked him what he would like from her. He asked for a picture of Leonardo, a character from the Ninja Turtles cartoon. She put a photo of the painting on Facebook.

"It just blew up," she said.

The Listuguj First Nation resident who never even knew she had any artistic talent would go on to sell over 500 prints of her artwork to people from across the continent in the next two years.

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      'I don't belong here yet'

      Despite Metallic's obvious talent, she experiences imposter syndrome, and asks herself constantly if she is talented enough to be attracting so much attention. The feeling has lingered since her first commission.

      "My coworker had asked me if I could do an abstract eagle for him. Self doubt kicks in right away," she said

      "I said, 'I'll try.' It was for his new house. I pulled it off. I did it and I couldn't believe it. Still today, I think 'where's this coming from?'"

      Many of Tracey Metallic's paintings are inspired by her Mi'kmaq culture, which she says she has discovered in the last few years. (Tracey Metallic)

      She answers her own question when she speaks about her art and its inspiration. The Mi'kmaq woman is drawn to the symbolism of her culture, and uses the spiritual mandala shape in much of her work.

      "Anything that has a spiritual twist on it, it's very appealing to me. Stuff like that has helped me in my own journey of healing," she said

      "Some of my pieces are about self discovery, resiliency. My sun catcher, the full-colour one is basically me. I didn't know it was me until after I was finished her."

      Metallic refers to her paintings as living beings — "her." She does it without noticing.

       "Still today, I think 'where's this coming from?'"- Tracey Metallic

      Her art has garnered fans from the North — places like the Northwest Territories and Alaska — and from across the United States.

      An art insider discovered Metallic's paintings last year and invited her to be a featured artist in festivals in Nova Scotia, and for the International Aboriginal Tourism Association.

      "He messaged me and asked if I'd like to be a featured artist. Huge! Huge opportunity," said Metallic.

      "It's kind of stinkin' thinkin'. I don't belong here yet. I haven't earned my right to stand alongside these amazing artists."

      Healing and painting: hand in hand

      Metallic believes her struggle with depression and resulting time off work has made her a better social worker. She hopes to explore art therapy as a way to help her clients.

      "Painting is still very, very therapeutic," she said.

      "Sometimes I'll get up three o'clock in the morning because I can't wait to put that brush to the canvas. It's a good addiction."

      A friend of Metallic's wove a mandala for her newest collaboration. The piece was then sewed onto canvas, and will eventually be part of a turtle painting. It's Metallic's first time working with another artist. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

      Her connection to each piece is just as deep as when she began painting. It's still difficult for Metallic to let go of her originals.

      Her prints, though, are constantly being mailed from her home in Listuguj to faraway places. She keeps a stack of padded envelopes at home, and says she's made friends with employees at Canada Post.

      "I buy a lot of stamps," she said.

      The artist also decorates license plates, draws greeting cards, and takes commissions. A painting takes her roughly three days, working eight hours straight each day.

      "Sometimes I forget to eat! It's not a chore. I just get lost. I totally get lost in my paintings and it is very therapeutic for me," said Metallic.

      Her grandchildren — there are three now, and two more on the way, are so, so proud," she said.

      They recognize their grandmother's hand in her paintings and, perhaps, their grandmother herself.

      "If they see my art," said Metallic, "they know it's mine."

      About the Author

      Bridget Yard

      Reporter

      Bridget Yard is a video journalist based in Saskatoon. She has also worked for CBC in Fredericton and Bathurst, N.B.