Kal Barteski’s Bear Necessity
You can discover kindness everywhere, even in polar bears.
For Winnipeg artist and internationally renowned brush script letterer Kal Barteski, Winnipeg’s most beloved polar bear, the late Debby, led her to that knowledge.
“She was beautiful, and she was also very old, and sat very still.”
As an art student in 1997 Kal used Debby’s stillness to learn her craft. She spent so much time with Debby she came to understand her ways – her intelligence and playfulness.
“I kind of fell in love with her.”
In 2013 Kal gave a TEDx talk.
“You should watch it, it’s only 18 minutes long on YouTube, and it’s about polar bears. Surprise surprise!”
It’s about much more than polar bears.
It’s also about how Kal was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease in 2012. Rheumatoid arthritis caused “indescribable pain” in her hands, knees, feet and back.
She couldn’t lift her daughter out of her crib, never mind hold a paintbrush. She was told to stop painting.
“If I can’t paint, I can’t breathe. I’m not a better painter the more I paint, I’m a better person.”
She persevered, adapting her equipment and painting techniques to the pain.
And it was her painting – one of Debby, specifically – that caused documentary-makers at Animal Planet to offer her a trip to Churchill. They wanted to film her watching polar bears, with the idea that it would somehow change her life.
Kal was dubious. She went, thinking she’d have to pretend for the camera that bears were changing her life.
“And then they did.”
She saw kindness in the wild bears – a playful spirit and gentleness between them when they gathered to wait for Hudson Bay ice.
Kal saw how, in spite of the most adverse conditions on earth, the bears gather in peace and play. She saw that it was essential to their lives, and how it mirrored her own life.
“I don’t know how many paintings I have left, but I know that if I’m not playing, and if I’m not listening, and if I’m not being true to myself, then I’m already dead. It took me a celebration to understand that.”
Kal has a message for Winnipeggers performing Conscious Kindness on June 3.
“Kindness and love make the world go around, and if we don’t have those we will not have hope.”
Why did you donate some brush script lettering to United Way?
I believe in what United Way does and I believe in Winnipeg and I think both of those forces working together can only do good.
What United Way of Winnipeg Conscious Kindness is your favourite?
My favourite is be present (Dis-Connect). We’re always racing around thinking about the next thing we have to do instead of being right where we’re supposed to be, right? I definitely believe in getting off your phone when you’re with your people, or friends.