Everchanging April
Art new horizon for Yellowknifer

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 18/98) - One constant throughout April Mercredi's life is expression: expression through singing, expression through cartoons and more recently, expression through more serious art.

Still, Mercredi almost winces when asked to be too serious. And she is quick to catch you off guard with a zinger of a line or with a hearty and well-practised laugh.

"Life isn't just all seriousness," she says. "It can be a lot of fun if you just look at it from a humorous way."

The woman behind the Cabin Fever cartoon strip, which ran for several years in the Inuvik Drum and Deh Cho Drum, says she sometimes carries a stencil book with her, a simple blank piece of paper or even the back of an envelope to record comic epiphanies on.

"Of course, I'm always around my husband and he's the one who comes up with all these ideas. He doesn't know how funny he is. So I just watch him. Without him, I have no role model."

Her husband, Stan Mercredi, a YCC corrections officer originally from Fort Smith, is a natural and a downright comical guy, she says.

Every day from morning to night he's just doing or saying something funny, says Mercredi, who was born on April Fool's Day in 1940.

"He's very spontaneous and a very meaningful human being. He doesn't do things to try to be funny, it's just a natural thing with him."

Cabin Fever took its name as its content -- all its ideas came from real life. It chronicles what happens as April and Stan lead their day-to-day lives.

Born in Calgary, Mercredi's parents came from different cultures and often didn't get along. So she endured a childhood where her parents either did not have time or did not take time out from their "personal war" to go to a picnic or anything else of a family nature.

"They divorced, of course."

Through it all, Mercredi has emerged with a sparkling sense of humor.

Part of her childhood was spent in Calgary, then she moved to Rocky Mountain House and Red Deer, Alta. She had life-skills training in Edmonton and in Moose Jaw, Sask.

She started working for the Friendship Centre in Rocky Mountain House before moving to Yellowknife in 1982 to work for the Tree of Peace centre.

The pull to friendship centres started off unexpectedly but became one of the driving forces in her life.

"(The draw to the centres was) because I am an aboriginal person and I wanted to work with the people. I wanted to work with some of the concerns that aboriginal people have in terms of social development and life skills."

Working at various centres for seven years, she moulded and shaped instruction to fit the needs of the people in the program.

"People come up to me and say, 'I'm in college' or 'I'm working' or 'I'm sober' or 'Everything is going great or OK with me,' so I get a lot of positive response of how people are living their lives."

Still, Mercredi is quick to give credit to the person making the changes for themselves -- not to measure someone else's success by what she did.

Despite the passion Mercredi oozes when recalling her friendship centre days, she had a life equally fulfilling and enjoyable before starting work at the centres -- lead singer in a band.

Beginning at the age of 16, Mercredi sang lead with a series of groups. The Canadianas sticks out in her mind because, she says, "we were the longest together and we worked the hardest."

She stuck with music until she was in her mid 30s, when a combination of factors convinced her it was time to move on. "We had an agent for several years, but it came to a point when it wasn't satisfactory for me anymore. We reached just a certain limit, a 'what am I going to do from here?'"

Now, when she reflects on the experience, she says realizes that when she "was young it was a good learning experience but when I got older and wiser ... the group wasn't progressing and I thought this is the time to leave. I was 36. I decided to get into something different."

That something different was college, and courses in psychology, which stimulated a keen interest particularly through the guidance of life-skill coach Jane Gowen.

"I saw how she helped people and how she taught them to think for themselves and that whatever they set out to do they could do."

Mercredi wanted to follow in Gowen's footsteps, a desire that led to the phase of her life in friendship centres.

Today Mercredi is back in Yellowknife after completing a foundation year at art college in Red Deer.

"I would just love to be able to go out there and know what I'm doing with my paints and my brushes and my easel."

To help her to reach that goal, she intends to go out on the streets of Yellowknife this summer and just paint.

She would go right out into the wilds ... but for the mosquitoes.

An instructor at the Red Deer college told her, "Just do it April, just do it because you want to do it." The words still resonate in moments of doubt, at times when she says, "I don't even know for sure that I'm going to do this. It is just something in my mind."

This year, Mercredi was exposed to the fundamentals of a range of arts, including ceramics, sculpture, visual arts and drawing. "I told them, I want to totally immerse myself in drawing, that's my goal," she says. "This is a dream that I've had since I was a very young person."

Though not as young as when she first considered learning art, she is starting to appreciate life more and find meaning in it. "I've reached a point where I see beauty in nature around me and I'd like to put that down in my art," she says.

She has also made the rest of her life as a reference point and a resource.

"I've mentioned to several people what I'm doing and some of the older people say, 'I don't think I could go because I'm too old. I can't go where the young people are.'"

But for Mercredi, young people are a source of inspiration and a way to keep feeling young.

(Among the sources of inspiration are her own three children, all of whom left the nest years ago -- daughter Terry is 39, son Tony is 35 and Troy is 27. She also has 12 grandchildren.)

Conversely, at the college, Mercredi says older people can add insight to the young.

For example, in English courses, discussions arose about life and younger students could not have known the experiences some people have had. "I could say this is what I've seen happen or this has happened in my life. It's almost one mind ahead."

Outside her art, Mercredi goes for walks and for bike rides, "but sports -- holy cow -- waking up in the morning and getting to college, that takes a lot of activity for me with a packsack loaded with books. It just wears me right out."

And though she still enjoys music and has learned how to finger-pick her guitar, Mercredi says she has no time to really listen to a lot of newer artists these days.

To get a true sense of someone's work she needs to play it over and over to catch the nuances, she says, sounding every bit like an artist who cares deeply about expression.

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