Beloved downtown Vancouver mural of gold workers is no more

The six-storey high mural, which showed three goldsmiths in caps and robes in a workshop, was painted in 1993 but was recently covered up during renovations at the West Georgia building

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There have been a lot of murals in Vancouver. But there has only been one based on a 1698 engraving of goldsmiths by an artist in Regensburg, Germany.

The six-storey high mural delighted passersby at 555 West Georgia for the last three decades. But it recently was covered up during renovations at the building it was painted on.

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“The wall was completely damaged,” said Chris Cavelti of Cavelti Enterprises, which owns the building.
“We had to do some remediation on the wall, and there was no way to paint that thing again. So we painted it (back) the way it was originally.”

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The mural showed three goldsmiths in caps and robes in a workshop. One looks to be a master goldsmith, the others his apprentices. One of the apprentices is working with a small hammer, bent over on a workbench, another is showing a ring or piece of jewelry they’ve made to the master goldsmith.

The original etching was done on copper plate by Christoph Weigel, and was published in a German book showing various tradesmen at work. It was chosen for the building by jeweller Toni Cavelti, who purchased the art deco building in 1975 and had his store there for decades.

In the early 1990s, Cavelti did a heritage restoration of the 1929 structure, which is known as the Randall Building. Stephen Hinton was the project architect, and Cavelti asked him if they could do a mural on the eastern wall of the building.

“He showed Steve a little two-inch by three-inch picture of a copper engraving that had been done in the 17th century,” recounts Hinton’s partner Nicola Kozakiewkz.

“He came home to me and said ‘Guess what?’ So we looked at this little drawing and it was, ‘Oh my God how are we going to do this?’”

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Kozakiewkz and her friend Kitty Mykka painted the mural in only three weeks, working from dawn ‘till dusk.

“We were recruited to do it in September, which is not a good time to start painting murals on buildings,” said Kozakiewkz, now retired and living with Hinton in Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast.

“It was like a totally rushed job. We got a swing stage (scaffold) up there and gridded off the whole wall, six storeys, into one-foot squares. Then we gridded off the little print, we had it blown up.

“We got on the swing stage and slowly worked our way down from the top of the wall, from the elevator penthouse down the wall to the bottom.”

They chose to paint the mural a sepia and dark brown colour, because it worked with the engraving. But there was a catch: they had no perspective on how the mural was turning out while working on the scaffold.

“In order to check on our work, we’d pump the swing stage down six storeys, run down four flights of stairs, run across the street and look up at the wall to see what we were doing,” said Kozakiewkz.

The mural was tricky, because they were replicating a three-century old engraving. Essentially the mural was made up of a series of dots.

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“A lot of dots,” chuckles Mykka, who’s still an active artist in Vancouver. “We learned that altering the shape of dots helped the perspective come into play.”

Mykka remembers the fireplace bellows in the left-hand corner being tough to get right; Kozakiewkz said getting the expression of the master apprentice was daunting.

But they persevered, and had an admiring audience in nearby buildings.

“Everybody enjoyed watching it,” said Mykka. “(People in) the buildings across the street used to send us muffins and things every day.”

“It was a hoot, it was really fun,” said Kozakiewkz.

“It was (done) really fast, a total kind of adrenalin rush because we were so worried about the weather. We didn’t have to think too much about it being a daunting task, we just did it.”

It helped that they brought along a ghetto blaster to play music while they worked.

“We would put our music on and kind of dance to the dots,” Mykka said with a laugh.

The only real problem that arose was when the security guards in the building went home for the night and turned off the electricity.

“There we were, just at twilight, just as the light was fading, hanging halfway up the wall. And the electricity was turned off so we couldn’t get back down!” said Kozakiewkz.

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“We were close enough to Georgia Street that we could yell down, so we started yelling down to the passersby on the street. It took a little bit of doing, they thought there was these crazy people up there on the swing stage. But finally someone contacted someone and we made it down.”

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The mural at the side of 555 W. Georgia (side of Toni Cavelti Jewellers) in 1998. Photo by Mark van Manen /VANCOUVER SUN
Jeweller Toni Cavelti and his wife Hildegard with a Bill Reid mask he donated to the Reid museum in 2016. Malcolm Parry photo Photo by Malcolm Parry /Vancouver Sun

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