1333 Portage Avenue
This Mural, entitled 'Rain Forests of South America' helped make the 1300 block of Portage perhaps the single most impressive single block for Murals in the city. It was rendered in 2003 by Jennifer Johnson (Pollock) and Mandy van Leeuwen; with sponsorship by the West End BIZ and Building Communities Initiative.
Although the wall prep for this Mural was quite adequate, within a few short years it became very clear that the paint would not stick to the wall and began peeling off. After more than one restoration job, it was concluded that this wall had a serious moisture problem. The Mural was whitewashed over in the fall of 2013.
Original notes follow:
Mandy van Leeuwen: "This Mural is my baby! This was one of our most ambitious
projects of the year. This Mural is all about detail. When we were given the opportunity
to work with the theme of a rain forest it was like a dream come true! A South American
Rain Forest was on the plate, and from there we did all kinds of research from books.
Someone had a photograph of a family in a jungle and their everyday lives: eating off
leaves (as the plate) and a very raw lifestyle. I find that whole concept so fascinating that
people live like that everyday. Rather than taking the way cultural Murals have been
done around the West End, this was sort of a new page to try and see how it could work,
and the artistic process of seeing how we could portray a country or place. We did not
use human activity in this Mural. We solely concentrated on the setting, the land, the
animals and other creatures, the trees. It happens to be a pet store as well. It was good to
give the look of the Mural some benefit to the business as well. It stops far short of being
advertising for the business, since none of these exotic creatures featured on the wall are
available in the store. This is a real art from the heart piece, and it really helps to
landmark the building. It is something appropriate for the store, and given that they
contributed funds towards the rendering of this wall, they should be able to benefit from
the imagery on the Mural as well. It all works together, and I feel very strongly about
"We selected a lot of different species and tried to give mixed feelings with this one so
that there is a little bit of something for everyone on this Mural. It's good for all ages-
kids go crazy when they see this Mural! They are invited to participate into what the
animals are; and it's a bit educational in that sense of where these creatures are from and
the kinds of animals and birds there are. It's really good for the community that way.
The West End is known for having a lot of young families coming to move to live there
in their starter home, so it adds to the community that way and it's nice to be a part of
Jennifer Johnson Pollock: "This one of the longest project we've ever had. You can tell
just by looking at the detail! All of the animal life- the frogs, the droplets of water, the
butterflies- we really enjoyed this one. We really wanted people to feel they were part
of or drawn into the scene as well. That's why the trees are all angled inwards. It was a
breath of fresh air to have the opportunity to do a project that was so different. I don't
think there's anything else in the city that has such a tropical theme and represents South
America. All the animals in there were researched- we made sure where they came
Mandy: "One of the ideas and approaches we had on this wall is that we wanted to do
little things big and big things small. The creatures are definitely not to scale! We took
big things and put them into a small scale and small things into your face for the impact.
We wanted the Mural to be effective, and this is a fun twist on it. Even the plants and
foliage-there are a lot of rare plants featured on this wall. It was very interesting learning
about all the different species and plants. It was a fascinating topic to work with- I
would do it again! You'll notice a lot of the animals are looking right at you-I really like
that detail that when you're walking by it seems like the creatures are watching you and
One of the disadvantages and challenges that the artists had in working on this wall was
to find a way to suggest the sheer height and the large trees of the rain forest. The ceiling
of the rain forest was much higher than their 'canvas' allowed.
Mandy: "To do that we took the perspective of the background tree trunks which would
be the large trees of the rain forests. You can see behind the twigs that dance around in
the front of the picture; behind them they come together and it invites you into the canopy
of what the higher areas of the forest might look like. We had some fun with global
perspective there, but it's not as obvious as in our Mural at Higgins and Main. It also has
a hazy look, as standing in the thick rain forest not much sunlight reaches you. There are
a lot of layers that went into the work of this one."
Jennifer: "The tree frog (Photos 5, 6)- he's one of my favourites. Every project that
Mandy and I have done, we've tried to complete one part of the wall first; and for this
wall, the frog was the first thing that was completed as a focal point. When you first start
off with the Mural, they don't look very nice. To start off and complete one small section
or one figure allows people to see the potential that the rest of the project has. It's like
advertising for us as well because it shows up front the quality that's going to go into the
rest of the work- a preview. The frog's feet look wet; his nose, and the light reflecting off
his reptile skin."
Mandy: "Tree frogs are very common in South America; there's also a boa constrictor,
Jesus Christ lizard, many different species of butterfly, toucan, chameleon. The centipede
on the storefront wall is my worst fear, and I couldn't paint it-Jennifer did! I couldn't
even look at the photo! But I fell in love with snakes here, and have gotten myself a
bright red corn snake as a pet."
Jennifer: "Mandy started work on the boa constrictor (Photo 9), and then I worked on
him, and then she worked on him; we kept going back and forth. It was so overwhelming
because he is so big. There is a bus stop there, and he is the same length as a Winnipeg
bus, if not bigger!"
Mandy: "This was quite a lengthy project. We changed some things in it. It was very hot
when we worked there. There were days when we would drink four litres of water a day
and even that didn't seem like enough water. When you're working in that kind of heat,
you're just crazy! The sun melts your mind! You have to really bite the bullet to get it
done. It was a big project. It was all the way around the building, which in itself was an
exciting concept that would give that much more of an impact to the viewer. The clients
were great! It's a married couple that runs the store and we really enjoyed working with
them. They have a great sense of humour and were very hospitable and let us store our
supplies there. There was a lot of pedestrian traffic, and lots of comments while we were
working. In terms of art from the heart and also in attracting attention to the business, I
would say this is the most effective Mural I've ever done because people had so much to
say about this one. There were even people who would walk by and say 'this reminds me
of home' and had actually had some of these exotic creatures as pets in their
Jennifer: "I don't know how many of those big leaves there are; there has to be hundreds
of them! That was one of the last additions to the project. This is such a big wall that I
think a lot of it speaks for itself. There was a lot of time and a lot of effort put into this
wall; and took us over seven weeks to complete."
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