Why She’s Top 40: For using grief as an inspiration for her art and to help others cope with their losses.
What Do You Like Most About Edmonton?: “Edmonton is a little big city. It’s big enough that we have so much cultural richness but, at the same time, small enough that people know each other, and collaborate and work together.”
Alexis Marie Chute is remarkably calm as her three-year-old daughter, Hannah, plunges her arms elbow deep into a peanut butter jar full of a murky paint and water mix.
“I guess we have some new painting clothes. No big deal,” Chute says, as the little girl stands up to reveal some new colours on the knees of her pink leggings.
Not to worry about the floor, either, because Hannah is honing her art skills at Harcourt House, where her mother just finished a year as artist-in-residence. As Chute talks about her children, Hannah makes sure everyone knows her place in the pecking order.
“I was the first baby,” she pipes up, like any good eldest sibling.
The third baby, one-year-old Eden, is at home with his dad.
But the second baby, Zachary, isn’t here. Not physically, anyway. When Chute was 25 weeks pregnant, Zachary was diagnosed in utero with a heart tumour. Chute gave birth to him on Oct. 14, 2010, and held him for a few precious minutes before he died in her arms.
The staggering loss has informed every part of her art – indeed her life – since.
Through her highly-read blog about Zachary, Wanted, Chosen, Planned, Chute has connected with dozens of parents who have lost babies.
She listens to their stories and shares her own. She’s breaking the painful silence that surrounds babies who have died – a taboo subject for too long.
“We keep great figures in our history alive by talking about them,” says Chute, so it’s how she keeps Zachary – a great figure in her history – alive, and honours him as part of her family.
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“The beautiful thing about people who have lost a child is, they want to find healing. So part of it makes me feel that there’s so much good that has come out of his death.”
Chute has based her latest art show, The Quiet Rebuild, on the idea of renewal after a forest fire has destroyed everything, photographing people who have come through pain among bark and tree branches.
Wood sculptures Chute has created out of children’s building blocks adorn her studio wall.
“Some of them are real Jenga blocks because I like that idea of something falling down and then building it back up, even though it’s never going to be quite the same.”