Gabrielle deGouw is a self-proclaimed lantern addict. Ever since she saw the lanterns at the Quarter’s Arts Spring Equinox Parade about seven years ago, she’s been hooked. They may just be wire, paper, and a few light bulbs, but they’re magical. “I’ve been addicted ever since,” deGouw says with a laugh.
DeGouw took that wonder and excitement and became a lantern artist herself. She is always thinking about potential projects and ways to uplift the community with her work.
It’s the light that makes deGouw so fond of lanterns. “I really love the fact that it takes something that people don’t generally like, which is the dark, and really adds this beauty to it,” deGouw says. “When you come home from a long day and it’s dark outside — those long winters of Alberta — and your front porch light is on, it really tells you, you’re home…. And I think that’s what lanterns do for me all the time.”
Whimsical designs and bubbly character pieces are what speak to deGouw the most. That’s where she finds her inspiration. Her art ranges from a 30-foot whale lantern (one of her favourite projects to date), to a technically difficult Queen Bee lantern, featuring a bee perched upon her very own throne. Another of deGouw’s favourite pieces is a rainbow ice cream cone at Ono Poke Co., a Hawaiian sushi restaurant, that changes colours if you push the button. It’s both practical and whimsical: it lets staff know when a customer wants ice cream, and it brings lantern joy to restaurant goers.
Currently, deGouw is working on her dream project called “Connected Emergence.” The piece consists of 1,000 handmade butterflies and “it’s meant to represent our community coming out of COVID together,” deGouw explains. “We’re morphing into something beautiful and new, and who knows what it’s going to look like in the coming years, but we’ve changed.”
DeGouw has always known she was going to be an artist, but it hasn’t always been a reassuring career path. DeGouw frequently found herself thinking, “Oh no. I’m destined to become one of those poor artists. What have I done! Why couldn’t I (have been inspired) to become a doctor, or a lawyer?”
But deGouw loves the work that she does, especially when it comes to involving the community in her art. “I really love to (involve) different individuals from the community of different skill levels,” she explains. This year, she is leading a team of community lantern artists to create four new lantern floats for the Kaleido Aurora Lantern Parade, including a Chinese lantern-inspired trailer, a giant moth, and a glowing cloud with a rainbow. Her 30-foot whale will also make an appearance, with the addition of some new jellyfish.
Photo courtesy of Brett Boyd