Paul Rasporich is a talented artist, but it wasn’t until he started learning about First Nations’ culture and spirituality that he was inspired to use his artistic ability to help local youth.
When he was six years old, Rasporich started drawing, something that he still enjoys to this day. From 1982-1986 he attended the Alberta College of Art and graduated with a diploma in Visual Communication.
“I want people to feel something and to feel inspired.”
Rasporich’s artistic abilities span a variety of mediums including: charcoal, watercolour, ink, clay and oil paint. He was short-listed by the House of Commons to paint former Prime Ministers and was considered to paint a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
Rasporich was first introduced to First Nations’ culture when he worked at Co-op in Calgary. Rasporich brought bags out for for the late John Snow, Chief of the Nakoda nation.
“I’d often have conversations with him [Chief John Snow] about Indigenous spirituality and outlook and I learned a lot from him and became very interested,” said Rasporich.
Rasporich’s first experience with teaching was when he worked with a class from Morley, Alta. Through art he was able to help his students adjust to public school and express themselves. This led him to go back to school and get his teaching degree at the University of Calgary in 2002.
Another influence in his journey to become a teacher was through medicine man John Stevens. Rasporich met Stevens at the North American Indian Ecumenical Conference, hosted by Chief Snow. Stevens brought Rasporich to a variety of ceremonies, but the one that would affect Rasporich the most was a sweat lodge.
While attending a sweat lodge, Rasporich had a vision that would inspire him to pursue teaching. In his vision, Rasporich saw a great tree and a cliff.
“This barrier cliff had a bunch of holes in it that represented youth that were not meeting their potential… it was a sad cliff,” explained Rasporich.
In his vision he also met two Assiniboine men, Walking Buffalo and Black Elk.
“You can do this if you want, you have the ability to do this but we want you to work with youth, not just indigenous, and help,” the two men told Rasporich.
Rasporich continues to work with youth at the Foothills Composite Highschool/Alberta Highschool of Fine Arts, and feels that in some ways his work with young people is more meaningful than his artwork. He says the biggest reward is being able to watch youth thrive in their lives through art and contributing as happy citizens, rather than, “just surviving.”
Rasporich says that it is important for people to find their happiness and potential, and a lesson he would like people to take away is.
“Don’t deprive the universe of who you are. Everybody is unique. And you have unique gifts and abilities and don’t be ashamed of who you are…”
He added, “Be who you are, that’s what the universe wants you to be and that’s just all you have to do.”
To view Rasporich’s art, or for information on his upcoming show at the Calgary Public Library in 2020, check out his website at paulrasporich.com.