Those who have visited Ormstown in the last decade or so have likely seen Loraine Lamb Lalonde’s work – the huge murals celebrating the town and the annual fair are hard to miss. Lamb Lalonde doesn’t only immortalize people and places in her hometown, however; in 2022 she worked on murals in The Dalles, Oregon and Mount Barker in Western Australia, hitting the road with Ontario artists Elaine Wallis and Noella Cotnam.
The artists who paint large-scale murals on the walls of buildings were traditionally called “walldogs,” and the term has come to be associated with a group of artists from across the globe who, about once a year, choose a city and gather to paint 10 to 20 murals there over just a few days. Like so many other things, these Walldog meets were paused through 2020 and 2021, but the cities of The Dalles and Mount Barker were ready to welcome the artists in 2022.
In August, hundreds of Walldogs, including Lamb Lalonde, arrived in The Dalles to grace the town’s walls with paintings celebrating its history. At these meets, there is generally a mix of “out-of-towner” Walldogs and local artists and volunteers, with artists getting to the meet on their own steam and their own dime, though they are hosted by the community once they get there.
In The Dalles, Lamb Lalonde worked on a mural featuring Jeanne B. Hillis, who, when a nearby valley was to be flooded by a hydroelectric company, worked to preserve petroglyphs carved into rock walls there before they became covered in water. Though it was clear that Hillis was an inspiring character, it was when her son provided some photos of her in action (she passed away in 2015) that inspiration was sparked for the mural. Her son said that in order for Hillis to preserve the petroglyphs, which she did by creating rubbings on bedsheets, his father would hold her by the ankles so she could reach the markings down the rock faces. “She was quite the character,” Lamb Lalonde says, adding that Hillis also flew her own Cessna. Despite the oppressive heat (clearly the “walldog” days of summer), the team created a beautiful tribute full of movement and colour.
The process of creating the murals has many steps. Long before the artists arrive, the subject matter for is chosen by a core committee, and the design for each piece is created and presented to the committee by each team leader. The team leader designs their mural with the skills of those to be involved in mind – some artists might spend time on a variety of murals at the same event so that their special skills can be used in multiple works. The Walldogs arrive and on the first day their design is either projected onto the wall surface or marked using the pounce-pattern technique. The following morning, Lamb Lalonde says, you “start painting and don’t stop until it’s done!”
Lamb Lalonde also hasn’t stopped making art since she began. “I always drew,” she says, “from the time I was a little kid.” Like many artists who went to Chateauguay Valley Regional High School, she says, “I have to mention Mr. Tilley … he was very influential.” After going on to study art at St. Lawrence College in Cornwall and then Concordia University, Lamb Lalonde would start her sign-painting business, which would lead her to the Walldog movement. After 18 years, she says she “left the sign business, but didn’t leave the mural painting behind.” Currently, she says, she is “fascinated” with barns and sheds, as she is drawn to “old buildings and the stories they tell.”
After telling stories through the mural in Oregon, Lamb Lalonde hadn’t planned to attend another Walldog meet in 2022, but Cotnam and Wallis had a meet in Mount Barker in Western Australia in their sights, and she says, “I couldn’t let them go there without me … how could you turn that down?”
The meet down under was very similar to those Lamb Lalonde had participated in in North America, she says, apart from the artists unofficially being dubbed “Wall Dingoes” instead of their usual “Walldogs.” The passion for the art was the same, and she says she was amazed at how quickly the artists fused into a bonded team – “The universe gifted us with super-talented local artists.” The mural she worked on honoured Dr. Olivia Walker, a doctor who in the 1930s recognized the need for a dedicated ambulance service for the rural community. Having seen many injured people brought in by farm truck, Dr. Walker donated her own vehicle as the first ambulance for the service.
Once the murals were complete, Lamb Lalonde and the rest of the Canadian contingent carried on to see a bit of the rest of the country, spending some time with a couple who fostered orphaned kangaroo joeys, touring Albany and Perth, and going on to spend a week in Tasmania. When asked about what is next for her in terms of Walldog meets, the Ormstown artists says that once again, she “thought this was going to be my last one…” but goes on to say that the 30th anniversary of the Walldogs movement will be celebrated this year in Allerton, Iowa. Lamb Lalonde says it is very meaningful to “go in and leave something behind … It is such a feel-good thing for the community and the artists.”