Capturing more than 100 years of history isn't an easy job, but mural painter Peter Matyas is up to the task. The Bridgewater painter has been working on a mural in Mahone Bay that will capture that town's history as part of its 100th anniversay celebrations.
"We're trying to activate the 100 year centenary of the Town of Mahone Bay, the 150 year centenary of the Ernst shipyards and the 50th anniversary of RPS Composites that is located on the site of the old Ernst shipyard," said Matyas, who adds he doesn't consider the project a challenge at all.
"I look at it this way. If you're doing something and you're not liking what you are doing, it's just creating stress. If you do something you really love, it's a passion. Art is for art and money is for pizza."
The canvas for the mural Matyas has been working on for the last couple of weeks is on a roughly 220-foot-long and 15-foot-high canvas on the RPS Composites fence located on Main Street, and overlooking the bay.
Peter is working with his son, David, a 23-year-old painter who was living in B.C., but returned to work on this project. The pair have spent the past three weeks, eight to 10 hours a day, working on the mural. They hope to have it completed by the end of October.
A team of people have helped Matyas with the mural's concept. They include historians Bob Sayer, Darryl Haley, Peter Redden and Keith Pomeroy.
On the left side, the mural begins with the progression of a band arriving along with a conductor leading a small orchestra. Next a team of oxen drags an engine down the muddy main street of town. "This was a big celebration and they would have the marching band there and everything," said Matyas.
Other depictions on the mural include building of the Maggie Bell in 1903, along with the shipbuilding yards, as well as the town's waterfront with its famed three churches. The far right shows a Mi'kmaq encampment located at the foot of the Mush-a-Mush River where the mill was as well.
To that Matyas is adding rum running, more boat building, blacksmiths, shoemakers, and musicians. "There was a lot going on in those days," said Matyas.
Wrapping around the fence facing towards the downtown, Matyas has painted a photo of one of the pioneers of the town, Johan Jacob Ernst, financier of J. Ernst and Sons, as kind of a teaser to lead people to the main mural.
Matyas said that the mural is done in a sepia tone, which gives it a kind of historical feeling. They are painting the mural with pixelated dots, a method introduced by French artist Georges Seurat.
"I thought that this method would be a good application for a corrugated wall, so I devised a bunch of tools that would make these different size dots," said Matyas. "Once you put it all together you can really create an atmosphere and space and soft tones, so when you see the mural from out in the bay, it really gels together."
Matyas has painting his whole life. He began by painting sets for his parents in Toronto, who were in the theatre. His mother was a director, and his father a set builder.
In the 1970s he attended school in Banff and apprenticed as a sign painter and went from town-to-town painting signs in British Columbia. At one point, he joined with a group of painters that were creating murals in Chemainus, B.C., a town well known for its wall art.
In the 1990s Matyas was part of a group of painters who went across Canada painting Loblaws stores.
Then, in 2001, Matyas landed in Bridgewater to paint the Atlantic Superstore.
"During this time, I ended up taking a drive down one side of the LaHave River, taking the ferry and about half-way down the other side I saw a house, that I decided to buy. That was in 2001," said Matyas. "And the rest is history."
Since moving to Nova Scotia, he and his sons have completed several commercial and residential projects, many of them in Halifax and Dartmouth, including a 760-foot long mural, the Parclo project on Braemar Drive in Dartmouth. According to Matyas, at the time, it was the longest painted mural in Canada.