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For eight years Red Deerians have been fascinated by a painting on the alleyway door of the downtown coffee shop, Dose. The colourful portrait of a woman is a frequent background in Instagram photos, a spot everyone knows.
The image was created in 2013 by Red Deer artist Bronson Wilson. A year later, Wilson died from cancer at 27 years old.
Last Monday, someone unscrewed the painting from its mount during the night, with staff finding the door bare in the morning.
“It just was so shocking that someone was able to get it off, and that they wanted it so badly, to take it away from everybody else,” said Sydney Schur, co-owner of Dose who knew Wilson. “It’s very, very sad.
“We were super heartbroken. And people are reaching out immediately — people that were like, ‘I was there when that was painted,’ or, ‘I’ve been friends with Bronson since I was a kid’. All of a sudden, people were just overwhelmed that it would be gone.”
One of Wilson’s two siblings, Demi Wilson, says she’s always understood that street art, her brother’s preferred genre, isn’t meant to remain forever, and public art does sometimes get painted over or destroyed.
This situation is different, she said.
“In an instance like this, where it’s taken from us, then, of course, we’re going to stand up and say, this is really important to us,” she said. “And it’s really important to the community. It’s been here for eight years, and this is where it should remain.
“We just want it returned to where its home is.”
Downtown Red Deer was important to Bronson, who based the portrait on an internet image of a woman he didn’t know but imbued it with the energy of a woman he’d had a relationship with, Wilson said.
The painting is the result of layers and layers of stenciling, a marriage of the unknown and the intimate, she said.
The mysterious portrait has attracted many admirers over the years, but no one has tried to remove it.
Schur remembers when Bronson Wilson sat down with Dose co-owner Rolland Forsland and came up with the idea for the painting over coffee.
For Schur, the painting serves not only as a memorial for Bronson, who is also memorialized in another piece of street art painted by fellow artist Jesse Gouchey, but also a reminder of the spirit of community and cooperation present in downtown Red Deer.
Schur’s message for the person who took the painting is simple.
“We don’t care why you took it or what any of that is about; we just want it back. I’m not going to get you arrested or whatever; we just want it back.”
Wilson’s sister says the family is planning to come up with a monetary reward for the return of the painting. She hopes to be able to walk by Dose in the future with her two-year-old child and show them how much the uncle they never met meant to Red Deer.
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