Famed Calgary Mona Lisa may get 2019 reprisal

Great artwork recreated with speech bubble passed along commentary on life in Calgary in the mid-90s to early 2000s

calgary mona lisa
Doug Driediger puts the finishing touches on the final Mona Lisa goodbye when the public art was dismantled more than a decade ago. (COURTESY DOUG DRIEDIGER / METROGRAPHICS)

Some might say we need Mona now more than ever before.

The oft-sassy Calgary piece of public art on the side of the Metrographics’ 11 Street and 12 Avenue SW building more than a decade ago had speech bubbles commenting on life in the city and province.

The Calgary design and advertising company, founded in 1981, hinted through their Facebook page that Mona still lives, and there may be a reappearance in the future.

Mona’s Calgary history

Doug Driediger, partner and creative director with Metrographics, said the Mona Lisa was his pet project for more than a decade, beginning in the mid-90s, with it coming down after the group moved from that location to make way for a redevelopment.

Driediger said at that time they were doing a lot of printing work and less public art, but they evolved where today they do little if any print work and more design and public artwork. There was a vacant lot next to their location, so they took advantage of an opportunity.

“When traffic was heading our direction, we knew that with that little piece of wall there was an opportunity to talk to people who were driving right by our front door,” Driediger said.

They’d considered putting the typical large letters talking about their printing and design, but he remembered a little sign by a dry cleaner’s on his way to work that changed the saying every couple days – “A little thought of the day,” Driediger said.

As a fan of both DaVinci and the iconic Mona Lisa painting, Driediger figured he take a shot at putting Mona’s likeness on the wall with a speech bubble that could hold a four-by-eight sheet of plywood with a message.

“We’d just wait for current events or politics or sports to make us angry or excited to craft something and put it up,” he said.

Depending on what was driving current events at the time, the sign would be updated once or twice a week.

Newspaper clippings fill a drawer Driediger has, all depicting a moment in time where the daily papers would capture some of Mona’s commentary.

“She was in the media a lot of different times,” Driediger said. Both local and national, he  said later in the interview.

“We were always, I think, fair and kind. She really tried to avoid being commercial. It was always talking about current events typically.”

He said they earned a healthy following; they were threatened with lawsuits twice for the content (they removed the pieces) and even used it for a mayoral campaign that was tied to raising cash for the Alberta Children’s Hospital through a pink Mona Lisa button sale.

And yeah, it was a marketing of sorts, Driediger said, but that wasn’t the purpose.

Mona’s history is filled with great stories, from the Metrographics staff jonesing for some chocolate (via Mona) and having scads brought in by passersby, or for the celebrating the birth of a staff member’s child and well-wishers bringing in small gifts.

Mona’s reprisal

“She’s very, very weathered,” Driediger said, noting he hasn’t really laid eyes on her for years.

“She does exist. She exists in my long-time business partner’s father’s garage in chunks of plywood against the wall.”

But, they’ve tinkered with the idea of putting her up again at their current location at cSpace King Edward arts incubator.

Driediger said he likens it to his experience as a marathoner. As his age advances, the training and time it takes to prep for a big race like the Boston Marathon becomes less and less endearing. But when you get to the finish and you realize what you’ve accomplished, it inspires you to do it again.

That’s how he feels about Mona.

“I remember thinking at the time when we were packing her up, some sense of relief because it was hard work, crafting clever things that can fit into lines with a one-inch wide black paint brush on a four-by-eight sheet of plywood,” he said.

“But even in these last few days, when we’ve been planning to temporarily resurrect her here at cSpace, I wonder if there’s a space to do this again, online or physically.

“Maybe it’s time. Because boy, there sure is lots to talk about right now.”

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About Darren Krause 219 Articles
Journalist, husband, father, golfer, writer, painter, video gamer, gardener, amateur botanist, dreamer, realist... never in that order.

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