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Two local families responsible for mystery art

The mystery of the outdoor, lamp-post artwork has been solved.

The mystery of the outdoor, lamp-post artwork has been solved.

Amika Verwegen and her children, with her neighbour Fabienne Nzouankeu and her son, are responsible for creating and hanging 32 Christmas paintings throughout their Old Town neighbourhood that includes The Promenade, and Rye, Green, Flynn, Charlotte and Paffard Streets.

“We are so grateful to be living in this beautiful little town, and our amazing neighbourhood around Charlotte Street,” says Verwegen.

“We are two families with four artistic children and their mothers. Together we came to an idea to spread love around for the holidays. All we imagined was that it would bring a smile to our friendly neighbours going for their daily walk, or driving by the streets,” she says.

“I don’t think any one of us realized how much joy it would bring, and it made us very happy to bring light into everyone else’s hearts.”

Verwegen says thanks to the workshop elves Opa (Herman Versteegen) and Jonathan Nzouankeu, who cut the plywood on which the kids created their Christmas paintings, and drilled the holes to help hang them. The kids used whatever time they could find outside of school, over the course of about a week.

Verwegen’s three older children, Nova, Yuna, and Kazuhiro Versteegen, along with Owen Nzouankeu, were the “future Banksys” (referring to the famous anonymous British street artist) the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre was trying to identify. And they were indeed, with the aid of their moms, trying to make their neighbourhood streets a little merrier.

Verwegen, with Fern, her baby girl, and Fabienne snuck out after dark one evening, and spent about two hours hanging the paintings, managing to do so without being caught.

Thankfully, says Verwegen, the paintings remain untouched.

She understands this will be a challenging holiday for many, especially the seniors in her neighbourhood, and says she feels blessed.

She and her four children live with her in-laws, Herman and Eva Versteegen, and so will be able to enjoy Christmas together, which is a blessing for all of them. “Everybody will be together,” she says.

The Versteegens, who have lived in NOTL for about 50 years, get to watch little Fern and their other grandchildren grow up, and Verwegen is grateful to be surrounded by family.

The paintings were Christmas-themed, but one that was really important to her daughter Yuna, says Verwegen, was the one of a cat. 

“She told me all the people walk their dogs on the street, but there are lots of cats at home. She wanted a cat in a painting for the street, where all the dogs walk.”

Verwegen says she and her kids try to go for a walk every day, and they see their neighbours outside. “They mean a lot to us, and give us a lot of joy. It’s nice to give them a smile, not just at Christmas, but all year.”

Lisa Andreana, chair of the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre, lives in the neighbourhood. 

“I was enjoying my walk when I came across not just one, but a series of Christmas-themed artwork hanging on the lamp posts. What a lovely gesture to give to the community at a time when we need it most,” says Andreana. “I was pleasantly surprised by this impromptu art show that brought a smile to my face.”

As a reward for promoting art in the community, the Pumphouse has offered complimentary memberships to the arts centre for the two families.