Moved by Giants

The grand scale of the BC Rockies allows graphic artist
Marian Bantjes to find greatness in the small details.

As told by Mike Berard

Part 1

Nature's Influence

When Marian Bantjes' paddle emerges from the glacial‐fed waters of Emerald Lake, the liquid drips off it in shimmering waves. Her dog, Moser, moves throughout the canoe with tentative steps as it cuts a graceful wake on the smooth surface.

Together, they explore the flora and fauna that exist along the shoreline of this iconic lake sitting in the middle of Yoho National Park in the British Columbia Rockies. The skyline above is a dramatic expanse of the massive, jagged peaks this landscape is renowned for, yet Bantjes—one of Canada’s most influential graphic artists—can't take her eyes off the lake's glassy horizon.

“Water takes so many forms: the beautiful lake, the streams that have all these colours, from light aqua and white to beige and browns with the sediment mixed in. And then incredible clarity in other places. it's just completely magical and timeless.” - Marian Bantjes

Bantjes and Moser have traveled to the BC Rockies from their home on British Columbia’s Bowen Island—where the acclaimed artist creates artwork for titles like Wallpaper, Wired, The New York Times, and brands such as Saks Fifth Avenue. She’s come in search of inspiration for her next piece. Yet, for all the substantial size surrounding her, Bantjes points her camera at the tiny rather than the tremendous: a lady’s slipper orchid, a lakeshore pebble, and delicate butterflies brave enough to land on Moser’s soft fur.

“I always see the details. On the lake, I see the wave patterns and the reflections. I see little rocks. I see the colours and the sharp stones. All of these little things together are what make up the whole, magnificent spectacle.” - Marian Bantjes

Two decades ago, Bantjes was making something magnificent herself. Based in Vancouver, the friendly typesetter was gaining a reputation as a rising star in the world of graphic design. However in 2003, she dissolved her agency, moved to Bowen Island off West Vancouver’s coast, and kicked off a self-directed body of work that has, quite simply, made her a pop star in the design world. She has become renowned for her impeccably detailed and creative approach as a graphic artist.

“I can never get over the mountains,” she says, eyes alight with the morning sun as her gaze goes from lake to skyline. “They change so much with the light, and look completely different from one minute to the next. They never cease to amaze me.”

Bantjes dips her paddle into the water and digs deep into a forward stroke as Moser lies down and rests his curious head on the gunwale.

Part 2

Small Town Character

Nestled within Yoho National Park, the picturesque town of Field, BC is easy to miss if travelling by car. Those who do pull in to cross the bridge over the wide stretch of the Kicking Horse River arrive in a true Rocky Mountain town. Using Field as a home base, Bantjes and Moser have access to some of Yoho National Park’s highlights: Emerald Lake, Lake O’Hara, and Wapta Falls. But as fantastic as the natural attractions are, it’s in these small mountain towns—and the varied personalities that call them home—where the spirit of the land lives.

One of those personalities is Pierre Lemire. A gifted photographer and retired mountain guide, Lemire’s home is like a museum of venerable mountaineering feats. An ice axe affixed near the chimney is a gift from Canadian Mountain Holidays [CMH] for 25 years of service. On the kitchen wall a framed archival photo hangs, featuring a young, handsome Lemire standing alongside famed CMH heliskiing pioneer, Hans Gmoser, plus a veritable “who’s who” of Canadian mountaineering royalty. At the dining table, Lemire and Bantjes laugh easily as he regales her with stories of global travel and more proximate adventures in Field’s bold backyard. They interact like old friends despite having just met.

“He has a quiet intelligence,” Bantjes later says. “His view of the mountains as a climber is one that I will never see. He was there and, as a mountain guide, he lived it.”

Part 3

From Great Heights

At 3,138 metres (10,295 feet) tall, the chunk of stone named The President is one of the highest mountains in Yoho National Park. In every direction, ridges fall away from the peak. Not far below sits Stanley Mitchell Alpine Hut. Hewn from rough timber in 1939 and centered around a handcrafted stone fireplace, the hut has since become recognized as a Federal Heritage Building. On the steps of this building Bantjes sits taking in the sun while her mountain guide, Jonny Simms, plays blues standards on an old 12-string guitar by the crackling fireplace. The smell of coffee pervades the crisp mountain air. Bantjes asks Simms about topics like wildlife, glaciology, and the 10-year process of becoming a member of Canada’s most exclusive alpine club, the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides. It’s the relationship with the mountains that Bantjes finds most intriguing.

“People like Jonny are so interesting,” she says. “They dedicate themselves in many small ways every day, for years, to achieve the larger, singular focus that is their dream. It’s inspiring.”

After lunch, the two hike along the Iceline Trail in order to gain an up close vantage point of the glacial terrain, and a long distance glimpse of Takakkaw Falls – the third highest waterfall in Canada at 254 metres (833 feet). Every second, a thunderous 11 cubic metres (388 cubic feet) of water from the Waputik Icefield launches over its precipice. To hydrologists it’s known as a powerful waterfall, and in Cree, Takakkaw means “it is magnificent,” but from where Bantjes and Simms sit, it’s merely a long, silent white line.

“When you look at the falls from afar it’s like this little trickle,” says Bantjes. “It’s much more impressive when you get close to it. The mountain landscape has this element of scale that changes your perspective.”

Part 4

The Little Things

Back in her studio on Bowen Island, Bantjes brings all the moments together in her latest piece of art, titled Mountain Spectrum. Viewed from afar, the sizeable 48” X 32” file seems a lively collection of tangled vignettes, but when Bantjes magnifies it, all the beautiful elements become apparent.

“If you just drive through the BC Rockies you get that big vista but you don't get all of those little details. The whole experience is not just one thing, one photograph. It's a collection of many, many moments.” - Marian Bantjes

Included within the collage is the collective best from nearly 1,000 photos she took during her road trip. Seen from up close, one starts to understand how immersed in the landscape Bantjes became during her time in the mountains. The lady’s slipper orchid is there. So is a diverse selection of other wildflowers. Snippets of bright blue sky and chlorophyll green stand out amongst the grey colour palette of the giant stone monuments. There’s even a shot of a canoe reflected in Emerald Lake. It’s all the little things within the larger picture that are most rewarding.

Moser stands at Bantjes’ side as she uses her drawing tablet to move individual photos on the computer screen. The pen moves deftly, swapping images in and out as she attempts to find the perfect balance that has come to define her work.

“I think there are places that have an extra 'something' that simply can't be captured. Ultimately these mountains inspire a feeling of awe that I'm going to try and convey. But regardless, you still have to go there to know how it feels.” - Marian Bantjes

She reaches down with her free hand to pet Moser. His tail wags happily from side to side.

Mountain Spectrum

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