peacock on her garage door in the small community of Airdrie, she had no idea of
the controversy it would spark and the feathers it would ruffle. Michelle’s
creative embellishment on the garage door of their duplex in the Luxstone
Community became very contentious when their immediate neighbor objected to the
artwork, stating that it constituted graffiti and could have a negative
impact on property values of nearby homes. Concerns were raised that it could
open the door to the incidence of more graffiti in the community. In the coming
days, the situation became increasingly political and chaotic as Michelle
defended herself, adamantly insisting that her artistry had no malicious or
commercial intent. While Council debates about a future bylaw, Michelle’s
artistry has been deemed neither offensive nor inappropriate. Michelle’s initial
response to the negative reaction was a typical one of withdrawal as she strove
to protect her family from the unwanted bullying and undesirable consequences.
As a family, they jointly made the decision to move away briefly for a week of
respite, allowing them time to consider the ramifications and decide on their
future in the community. During this period of reflection, Michelle came to the
conclusion that running from the issue would not resolve the predicament.
In spite of the initially negative experience, Michelle would rather focus on the
constructive lessons that peacock has taught. Speaking with her today,
you cannot detect any malevolence or resentment in her voice, only enthusiasm
and fervor for the message of peacock. The legacy of the peacock
reminds us that each of us have within us the capacity to do huge things in
life. Metaphorically, the iridescent plumage trails behind unassumingly,
suddenly bursting into a spectacular fan of riotous color.
The notion of the peacock was conceived out of an initial need to experience
inner healing. The original peacock was on a 3ft x 4ft canvas and its conception
took Michelle on a journey of discovery. Throughout the healing process,
Michelle has achieved a greater sense of herself and a vision for her future to
become the person that she was meant to be. Early in it’s’ evolution, the
peacock took on a life of its’ own. Upon completion, peacock has been renamed
“Petra, the fearless Beauty“and has become a hallmark insignia of tolerance and
acceptance. Michelle is a formidable proponent against bullying, determined to
teach children that bullying is never acceptable and the colorful peacock has
come to be a sign of encouragement and an inspiration to empower children.
Michelle has two young children, ages 6 and 2. She gratefully acknowledges that
her children were never affected detrimentally, and in fact, all their
experiences to date have been extremely positive, as they learned firsthand to
stand up for what they believe in. She and her and her husband model positive
messages of encouragement, teaching that life is a process of continued growth.
Michelle encourages all parents to become pro-active in spreading the motivating
message of the peacock.
Michelle’s name (Pickering, nee Blaskow) may be familiar as she is no stranger to Whitecourt, moving to the community in 1990 with her family from Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan. When the local lumber mill closed there, her father was left without employment but was fortunately soon able to obtain a job at the Alberta Newsprint Company in Whitecourt. Her parents currently still reside in the Whitecourt district, living in nearby Blue Ridge. Michelle graduated from Whitecourt Hilltop High School and then enrolled in Red Deer College, in their Arts and Designs Course. She followed this by completion of a two year program in Graphic Design at Edmonton’s Grant MacEwan.
Following the Airdrie controversy, undaunted, Michelle approached
Whitecourt with the idea of painting a second peacock on another garage door, to
extend the wings and the message of peacock. A resounding commendation
is due to the residents of Whitecourt as her newest creation at 11 Windfall
Drive was very well received and heartily endorsed by neighbors.
With a smile, Michelle muses that her artistic endeavors were never intended
to be a permanent fixture on the garage door. In hindsight, she is happy that
she did not knuckle under and remove it in a knee-jerk response to the harassing
comments and threats that followed. As word quickly spread throughout the
community, the kindness of strangers prevailed as people began to deliver her
message, advocating on her behalf. Not surprisingly, peacock is now
legendary in Airdrie.
Michelle is a futurist that wants to encourage people to keep being who they
are and to believe in themselves. In part, Michelle’s favourite quotation is
“You are the creator of your universe. You can create anything! Do not limit
yourself to what you think you can do. Be open to new ideas. Let your artistic
expression flow and allow your inspiration to guide you to new heights”. In
speaking with her, you can’t help but get caught up in her enthusiasm as she
stands unwavering in her beliefs. Michelle explains “even though you are just
one person, you can do so much“. Indeed, Michelle’s zest for life is reflected
in her statement “It starts with my passion for creativity. I love stepping out
to inspire people in their own beauty. I am inspired by finding that place right
in the middle between heaven in earth, that slice of joy; that place that inside
that sets you free with unconditional acceptance for yourself.” Michelle
believes that each of us has the capacity to be more in life, but recognizes
that personal situations may sometimes cause us to “get stuck”. She acknowledges
that it is often less frightening to stay within the confines of our comfort
With a long history of volunteerism, Michelle partnered with various
community groups and other artists in May of 2011, coordinating volunteers
numbering over 1300 as they created the Main Street Project in conjunction with
Creative Airdrie. The theme of the Main Street project was to connect the
community and teach new skills. Consisting of 31 individual message boards 4ft x
8ft in length, they spanned the perimeter of an old vacant lot, endowing it with
new life and purpose. Most recently, Michelle chose to partner with “5 With
Drive”, a not-for-profit charity based organization that originated in Ontario.
Leading with the acronym D.R.I.V.E. – Determination, Respect, Initiatives,
Valour and Excellence, 5WD’s core value is that education and empowerment is
what makes a difference in the life of another. Their mandate is to support
people living with intellectual disabilities participate in their communities,
free from discrimination and prejudice. Five police officers, some from Calgary,
have allied themselves with 5WD in an effort to assist individuals and
communities in making a difference in the life of others. They endeavor to raise
awareness on behalf of these vulnerable groups through educational presentations
to schools, businesses and community groups.. The goal of 5WD is to provide
education facilities, sanitary pit latrines, clean water catchment systems,
including health education to enhance individual and community health for
children in the slums of Kenya.
It is interesting that Michelle’s choice of backdrop for peacock was a door; a symbolic opening and a portal to our future. Michelle insists that we are only limited by our own imagination as we frequently stand in our own way, forming roadblocks to our creativity. Her message – and peacocks – is clear “We are capable of so much more in our lives. We all have inside of us what it takes to make a difference“.
I think that the people in the community of Whitecourt affirmed what Michelle
instinctively knew, that anything is possible when it comes from the heart.
Michelle tells her story with fervor and if you listen carefully, you can
detect an element of awe in her voice as if amazed by the magnitude of peacock‘s
impact.. Because of peacock, new friends were made and relationships
developed, all because of a few well-placed strokes of paint. Many individuals
befriended her, taking up her cause, and defending her rights. Michelle relates
that the community banded around her, supporting her message by shaking hands
with her on the street, waving their support and honking horns as they drive by.
Michelle has been the recipient of many peacock themed gifts but you soon
understand that the greatest gift is the one of acceptance and tolerance. Never
did she fathom the notoriety that the Peacock would result in or the recognition
it would afford her. The message of the peacock has brought honor into her life
and ultimately, value to the entire community. Michelle has become a visionary
for the future of the local art world in Airdrie and other communities
throughout Alberta. The hurtful actions of a few, only strengthened her resolve
to walk through her fears and furthered her determination to succeed. Abruptly,
peacock came to the forefront of news as Calgary Police Service, City
Hall, RCMP, other Peace Officer’s and local newspapers became aware of its’
existence. People began stopping by to see the “infamous grafitti“.