Campus Life  

OC Business Professor's stained glass portrait honours Indigenous students, colleagues

A stained glass portrait of an Indigenous person in traditional dress.

If you have visited the Kelowna campus’ Centre for Learning and looked up at the second-floor offices, you may have seen colourful stained glass art hanging from the windows.

Those pieces were created by OC Business Professor, Devin Rubadeau. During the day, he teaches business administration and in his spare time, he is a stained glass artist.

His father taught him how to make industrial art at a young age and since then, stained glass art and woodworking have been two media he always comes back to. While working on his doctorate, however, he said that stained glass art became even more important to him.

“I was finding that reading was no longer relaxing because I was reading all the time for my studies and professors are constantly reading,” he said. “You need a way to quiet your brain and to disconnect from the things that are happening on a daily basis. And so stained glass and woodworking, doing industrial art is a way for me to unwind.”

His pieces usually take ten to 30 hours to create, depending on how complex they are. So far, he has made over 20 pieces, with ten up in the Centre for Learning and the others displayed in the Lab Building (or C Building).  

At the end of 2021, Rubadeau unveiled his newest piece: a stained glass portrait of Aboriginal Transitions Planner Jewell Gillies in traditional dress. He said he’d been thinking about creating a piece to honour Indigenous peoples, but didn’t know where to start.

“I asked Jewell if I could use them as a model. They agreed and sent me some photos I could use,” he said. “I combined those pictures to create the image that I thought would be representative of Jewell.”

Gillies said when Rubadeau first proposed the portrait idea, they listed off syilx and Secwepemc artists and knowledge keepers who could model for him and help his vision come alive.  

“I know a multitude of wonderful First Nations community members who are beautiful human beings,” they said. “But very patiently he said ‘that all sounds great, but that wasn’t really what I had in mind’. He gestured very generally at my face and I was very taken aback, not in a bad way, but I was surprised.”

Gillies said they agreed to have the piece modelled after their face because in the end, representation of the Indigenous community at OC is what mattered.

“I could tell from the beginning he felt a bit concerned about whether his skill was going to do justice to how he would describe my natural beauty,” Gillies said. “But this is artwork. It’s meant to be something beyond just a replication of my face. This is art that transcends what exists in front of us, and he captured something that goes beyond that.”

The piece took about 40 hours, with Rubadeau creating the art throughout November. When he showed Gillies the piece just before winter break began, he said their feedback was quite positive.

He described the final piece as having a stern look that commands respect: respect for the syilx Okanagan and respect for their land. Gillies said they felt honoured that he captured not only their essence, but the essence of the region’s Indigenous people.

“He wanted to capture the essence of how we’re gracious and kind in talking about how we need to grow and aspire to better things,” they said. “But there’s still this expectation of a level of respect and honouring our knowledge and the history we have here.”

Gillies added they hope the message people take from the piece is this: that in order to make concrete steps towards reconciliation, we must humble ourselves, be open to learning and be open to represent those who don’t see representation of themselves in our learning spaces and throughout the community.

“This experience, working with Devin on this piece, has been so humbling for me in a lot of ways,” Gillies said. “Agreeing to have the piece be modelled after me is me stepping into my discomfort meet people in the middle towards reconciliation. The portraits he has done are so beautifully put together and prominently and proudly displayed across our campus, spaces that other students who look like me are going to exist in.”

“They can see themselves represented respectfully here and that just gives us a greater sense of inclusion and deliberate celebration of our diversity,” they said.

For his part, Rubadeau said it was a wonderful opportunity to have been able to create the piece in collaboration with Gillies.

“First Nations cultures are so beautiful and many of their symbols are important,” he said. “I felt inspired by their community and wanted to express myself, and I wanted to do so in a respectful way. I wanted to honour them in the way that I can do it.”

Rubadeau added he wants to encourage students and instructors to find an outlet that can help them quiet their mind in times of stress, whether because of life, school or work.

“I think everybody has a creative side and they just need an outlet to express themselves,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have been provided an opportunity to unwind and connect with myself in a way that is also very fulfilling.”

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