by Petronella Duda
In a small town of about 400 people, Atlin has a lot to show for itself. Where it lacks in cellphone reception, it makes up in welcoming people, historical buildings, incredible art and… benches.
When you aren’t mesmerized by the surrounding towering mountains or their reflection in the glistening water of Atlin Lake, several painted benches can be spotted in various places around the homely community —you might even be sitting on one as you gaze at the scenery.
This sit-able art is part of the Atlin Arts and Music Festival. The benches have also become part local culture. When the benches go out it means the weather has finally turned. It is a symbol of summer to come.
Patricia Kitcher, vice president of the Atlin Historical Society, says the idea to paint the pews, or benches, came in 2006, a couple years after the festival first began. She says the original intention and what the benches have become now are completely different.
“When we first thought about painting the benches we thought of it being more for donations or fundraising,” she said. “But people loved the idea so much, it turned into something else.”
The pews are donated to the Atlin Historical Society by the town’s churches when the pews are deemed in need of replacement. Kitcher says that some benches had even been donated from churches outside of the community.
The historical society then loans them out to the festival where they are painted, varnished and eventually placed outside for everyone to enjoy. Each year they rotate to different locations.
With each festival comes a different theme. In previous years, the benches had been painted with a theme of flowers and waters and sky. This year the benchs' paintings will reflect on northern life.
Clayton Connor, one of this year’s bench coordinators, says the theme is usually kept simple. “That way anyone can get in on it without being too intimidated,” he explains.
He says that anyone above the age of 12 can contribute and leave their mark on the bench — and on the community.
Cassidy Anderson has been painting the benches since she turned 12. She grew up in Atlin, but has been residing in Whitehorse for the past five years. She loves coming back to visit, especially during the festival where she looks forward to painting the bench.
She says she wants to paint some spruce trees or aspen. They remind her of her childhood in Atlin.
“For me and my artwork it links back to nature and things that influenced me growing up. It is one of my best memories walking through these aspen forests as a kid,” says Anderson.
Like her, many come back yearly to paint the bench. Some say that it makes them feel like a kid again, others just like to make the town a little bit more beautiful.