Scattered around Heidi Chartrand’s acreage in Metchosin are dozens of compost buckets – but it’s what’s inside the bins that is rather unusual.
Inside the bins are a number of animal heads including 13 ducks, two beavers, four chickens, a moose, two cows, two rams and four deer, which have been covered in horse manure and are in various stages of decomposition.
Once they’ve been cleaned, Chartrand will paint the heads and transform them into works of art.
“The whole thing is really bizarre, but it make me happy and it’s nice to reuse something that would be garbage,” Chartrand said. “I’m really just about making something that’s eco-friendly and giving back to nature.”
Chartrand is one of roughly 20 artists from around North America whose work has been selected to be on display at the Calgary Stampede’s art show July 6 to 15. Four of the cow heads Chartrand has painted will be on display, and she will be bringing a fifth cow head, which she will paint live on opening day.
“It was a big surprise when I got in,” she said. “This is the best thing ever and I’m thrilled.”
Having her work on display at the Stampede is an impressive feat considering she is relatively new to the arts scene.
Chartrand is a barefoot trimmer and trims horse hooves by trade. The animal lover has always had an intense passion for anatomy and looking at the structure of animals, and as a result many of her friends who are farmers gifted her skulls to examine over the years.
It wasn’t until she moved into her current home off Kangaroo Road when she decided she wanted to get creative and paint skulls.
But Chartrand admits it isn’t easy getting the skulls into the proper condition for them to be painted. Often she’s given skulls in various conditions (some still have flesh on them), which need to be heavily cleaned – a process that can take up to several months.
“It’s the work you have to put into it to have the honour of getting to paint it. For me that’s all part of it,” Chartrand said.
Over the past three years she’s painted skulls of all sizes from small owl and chicken skulls, to coyote skulls from Alberta, to a large draft horse (also known as a work horse) skull, which took her about 130 hours to complete.
Some of her pieces were on display at the fine arts shows in Sidney and Sooke last year, and most recently Metchosin musician Jesse Roper commissioned a piece. According to Chartrand, Roper had hit an owl by accident, and after he had it blessed by the Pedder Bay First Nations, he brought it to her to paint.
For Chartrand, the value of her work is breathing new life into the animals.
“It’s my way of relaxing. There’s no pressure when I’m doing it, whereas with my job there’s a lot of pressure working with live animals, but then when I come home everything is already dead so no pressure,” she laughed.
“When I get to paint a skull, I’m giving the animal a second life because it’s taking something that nobody really wanted and turning it into something more useful.”
For more information on her work visit HeidiChartrand on Instagram or email email@example.com.