It was by chance that Nina McLachlan took on the painting of a mural at Christina Place.
The 92-year-old saw that work had started on the six-by-eight canvas, but had been put aside after the large project was deemed too much to take on.
After unsuccessfully trying to rally fellow residents at the White Rock retirement care centre to finish the project, McLachlan took on the mural, armed with a book of North American wildlife, acrylic paints and her imagination.
The end result was a vibrant desert and oasis landscape covered with 13 animals, 13 insects and 12 birds that jump off the wall of the garden room where it was placed. Baby birds nest in trees while a lion lounges close to the water. Above them all, the “ruler of the animal universe”, a fierce eagle.
“I like to call it the circle of life. When you’re a child, you fantasize about things you’ve never seen. I grew up on a farm in a small town in Alberta, and I’ve never seen a monkey or an elephant, so you visualize these things, you fantasize about what they are like,” McLachlan explained. “But then you have to grow up and face reality. And there are more experiences and you see what things are really like.
“So I thought, well I can mix the two and I can call it the circle of life. Because later, when you get to be my age, you start fantasizing again. You’re back where you started.”
Adding to the circle of life theme was a visit from students at White Rock Elementary who were vocal in their approval and enjoyment of the colourful painting.
“I think the day the children came was the most moving experience I’ve ever had. I was standing there and they came around one at a time, one by one, and they said ‘wow,’” she said. “And I think that made it worth the whole thing.
“I began to think, well, maybe I did something.”
The nonagenarian has been passionate about art since she was a little girl. But it wasn’t until she was a senior in the late 1970s that she began taking classes in Summerland to paint porcelain plates – something she first saw her aunt do.
“My mother was very artistic and she had plates her sister had painted. Back in those days, painting porcelain was unheard of. Only special people could do that, so I got interested,” she said.
Once she started, McLachlan was unstoppable, creating porcelain pieces that featured intricate designs, including delicate flowers and, her favourite subject, wildlife.
She recalled one of the first courses she attended in Calgary, where she was told she would be able to make one plate after the three days.
“I came home with nine,” she laughed. “I kept saying, can I have another?”
McLachlan has shared her passion with her family – creating five 40-piece dinner sets for relatives – and has even started up her own business called Studio Nine.
Other items she has worked on include porcelain dolls for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, stuffed animals and even decorations made from light bulbs, which will be featured on the Christina Place Christmas tree.
“I’ve got busy hands, and I feel very fortunate that I can do what I want to do,” she said. “I’m still energetic enough and healthy enough to do the things I love.”
McLachlan will showcase her pieces at the Christina Place Fall Craft Sale on Oct. 26 from 1-4 p.m. at the White Rock facility, 1183 Maple St.