Art student uncovers Trail’s history

“My perspective now is that there is a lot more than meets the eye and a lot of it is extremely positive.” - Melissa Magnuson

Trail’s history of big smoke led one London, England, art student on an artistic path to understand what keeps residents living in the smelter’s shadow.

But after spending a week in the Silver City shooting photography and videography for an upcoming exhibit on the history of Trail told through its residents, Melissa Magnuson’s perspective has changed and now so will her work’s focus.

“It will take form but quite frankly as it goes along my concept is changing somewhat,” said Magnuson last week. “Having been here all week talking to people, shooting photography, doing video and immersing myself in the culture here it’s kind of changed my perspective.”

The former Spokane, Wash., resident first became acquainted with the city through visiting Red Mountain Resort. Her outsider perspective never quite understood why people lived in the smelter community, which she said holds a nasty reputation developed in the earlier years.

“What is this all about and why do people live here and are they happy about it or would they like to leave?” she wondered.

Upon her visit, she learned of Teck‘s commitment to health and safety and that generations of families stay loyal to the area because it’s a great place to raise a family and offers a recreational paradise found right outside your door.

“My perspective now is that there is a lot more than meets the eye and a lot of it is extremely positive,” she said. “The people here are so friendly and hospitable and I see things in a completely different way.”

Magnuson spent last week discovering Trail with a fresh set of eyes and ears, as she connected with key individuals in the community and others she just came across. She met with a group of regulars at Trail Coffee and Tea, got a taste of little Italy at the Columbo Lodge and caught up with a few fishermen as they baited the Columbia River’s fish.

“You cannot get around the facts that there was a lot of pollution here but that’s not really what defines this community,” she said. “I think from an outside perspective that’s what defines this community but when you get within the community and you go talk to the old Italian guys at the coffee shop or just anybody that you run into it’s a completely different perspective and it’s a much more positive one.”

The 58-year-old woman originally from Mississippi said her and her husband’s growing independent hotel business drove them to the U.K., where she discovered there was more to life than work.

“Before I moved to London I was in my office in Spokane working all the time and moving to London was a reset button for me because it got me out of the office and it opened my eyes up to something that I’ve always wanted to do my whole life, which is art,” she said.

She has lived there for just over four years now and is nearly complete a joined honours degree in fine art and the history of art at Goldsmiths University in London.

Magnuson is fascinated by the story behind the people and spends time back home capturing this through street art.

“You just have to be ready to catch it when it happens, you can’t orchestrate it that’s what I’ve found,” she said. “You can try to but then usually more often than not, it’s not authentic.”

The collection of video, photography and sound collected from her time in Trail will be presented to the university’s art department but she is also in discussion with two galleries keen on displaying the Trail exhibit in the fall. After spending time in Trail, Magnuson would also like to bring her show back to the community and is exploring this idea now.