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Young Cree artist’s version of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night wows graduation

A teen from Star Blanket Cree Nation in Saskatchewan is considering a career in art after a graduation mural he painted got rave reviews.

Students at Bert Fox community high school in Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask., northeast of Regina, chose Starry Night as the theme for their graduation and Sekota McArthur painted a mural putting a local spin on the famous painting by Vincent van Gogh. 

Initially McArthur wasn’t going to get involved with the project but ultimately decided to jump on board. 

“I heard no one else was taking it up; I might as well take the offer,” said McArthur. 

He was hesitant at first because there was a three-week deadline and he also had school work to focus on at the same time. 

“It was major relief that I was able to get it done in time,” he said.

McArthur said he’s always been interested in art and his grandfather Floyd Kinequon was his inspiration. He does small paintings, sketches, skull dipping, and costume design. 

Bailey Antonishyn, head of the art department at the school, said the grads chose Starry Night because of the colour scheme.

“We wanted to be relatable for our students and where they’re from, and they’re very connected to the land and to the [Qu’Appelle] valley,” she said. 

“It’s really important that it reflects them and where they’ve grown up.”

A picture of a mural that has a tipi, rolling hills, and buildings.
The mural painted by Sekota McArthur features a teepee and rolling hills. (Submitted by Bailey Antonishyn )

Antonishyn was priming the 1.4 metre high by 3.7 metre length canvas with white paint when McArthur took over.

“We know he’s a talented artist,” said Antonishyn.

She said he took the brushes from her hand, “and he’s like, ‘It’s OK, miss.'” 

McArthur and Antonishyn discussed the vision and with the help of a couple of classmates, he freehanded the entire design and completed the work in a week and a half.

“This is my first ever big project. Usually I work at a smaller scale than this,” said McArthur.

Antonishyn said the painting was one of the first things that you saw when you came in the doors. 

“A lot of people stopped and they took photos and people were really impressed by it,” she said.

“He did a really good job on that project.”

Positive feedback

McArthur’s sister Sasha Keewatin was a guest at McArthur’s graduation and was surprised to learn he painted the mural.

She said from an early age their family knew McArthur was talented.

“We noticed it from the artwork he would bring home from school,” she said. 

A painting done by a teenage that shows a forest like landscape with trees and water.
Another painting done by Sekota McArthur. (Submitted by Jessy F-T)

Keewatin took a picture of the mural and posted it on social media to show their family members who couldn’t come to his graduation. Soon people were reaching out to her with positive feedback and positive comments. 

“His artwork has touched all across Turtle Island, even in New Mexico. I haven’t even been to New Mexico,” she said.

“So for it to go that far is really, really outstanding. I’m so proud of him and his work truly deserves it.”

McArthur said it has helped to motivate him to pursue a Fine Arts degree. He is thinking about applying to the First Nations University of Canada in Regina.