An artist about town: Digby woman’s therapeutic mural creations aim to inspire communities across Nova Scotia

Tiffany Barrett is many things.

The 51-year-old from Digby, Nova Scotia is a single mom to her son Riley, works for the town of Digby as the elementary school crossing guard, is a part-time travel consultant at Maritime Trave and works as a merchandiser.

She is also one heck of a painter.

Barrett has never had any formal training in the arts, but says she has always been a bit creative, whether it was repurposing and painting furniture or another do-it-yourself project.

She attributes her talents to her family.

“I must have some good genes as I come from a very creative family,” said Barrett. “My mother was a painter, grandfather was an amazing carpenter and my brother is a stop-motion animator who has worked on many feature films and presently part of the extremely talented crew animating on Guillermo del Toro’s (film) Pinocchio in Portland.”

Tiffany Barrett attributes her artistic talents to her creative family.  Contributed photo - Contributed photo
Tiffany Barrett attributes her artistic talents to her creative family. Contributed photo – Contributed photo

Where it all started: Digby Elementary School

In 2014, when Barrett was the president of the home and school committee at Digby Elementary School, they were looking for ideas for teacher appreciation week.

“I offered to paint a couple of the teachers’ doors and it was an absolute hit,” she said. “So, I ended up painting every single door at Digby Elementary School.”

Then she progressed from painting doors to painting murals.

The following school year, Digby Elementary School’s principal Jonathan Ettinger thought it would be great if Barrett painted some murals with inspirational themes around the hallways of the school as well.

The mural that started it all.  The first mural Barrett completed at Digby Elementary School went viral on Facebook in 2018. Her son Riley who was in Grade 3 at the time poses in front of the mural, which features a quote by Bryan Skavnak.  - Contributed photo
The mural that started it all. The first mural Barrett completed at Digby Elementary School went viral on Facebook in 2018. Her son Riley who was in Grade 3 at the time poses in front of the mural, which features a quote by Bryan Skavnak. – Contributed photo

“So, I would come in and just paint on the walls — quotes about being kind, being a good person and having a good mindset,” she said.

Diversity and inclusion were popular themes in her work.

“It was during this time I painted the ‘be the nice kid’ quote by Bryan Skavnak that went viral on Facebook,” she recalled. “To this day, it has been seen millions and millions of times around the world and it still pops up on social media.”

Barrett said her style has changed a lot through the years. She has since actually painted over that first mural, covering it with the Digby Dragons school mascot.

The mural Barrett painted on the main wall upon entering the office at Maple Grove Education Center in Yarmouth.  - Contributed photo
The mural Barrett painted on the main wall upon entering the office at Maple Grove Education Center in Yarmouth. – Contributed photo

super therapeutic

Barrett gets a lot of her ideas from clients, teachers, as well as from Pinterest.

“I love painting so much and I find it super therapeutic,” she says. “It makes me so happy and I love seeing the final results and how people happily react to seeing my work.”

The feedback from parents, teachers, grandparents, kids, and the community in general has been amazing, she added, and makes her even more proud of her contributions to the town.

How many murals has Barrett painted to date?

“Hundreds,” she exclaimed. “I can’t even give you a number.

She has painted in nearly every school in southwest Nova Scotia on the Tri-County school board, from Digby as far as Shag Harbor and everything in between. This past year, she expanded to start painting in the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, painting at schools in Middleton, Annapolis Royal and Cornwallis.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Barrett ran a successful after-school art program at the Digby Elementary School. During the pandemic, she did weekly online Zoom paint classes with a group of school kids from New Zealand.

A rocking chair Barrett painted for teacher Krista Moore's Grade 4 classroom at Islands Consolidated School in Freeport.- Contributed photo
A rocking chair Barrett painted for teacher Krista Moore’s Grade 4 classroom at Islands Consolidated School in Freeport.- Contributed photo

Modern day Maude

In addition to murals, another of Barrett’s trademarks are paintings done on wood.

“When I moved into my house in 2013, I had scrap wood from the renovations and, when I did start painting, I hated seeing things go to waste,” she said. “So, instead of buying canvases, I just used the wood.”

It’s all she paints on now.

Barrett said her neighbor Karen once called her the modern-day Maude, in reference to Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis.

This mural at the Maple Grove Education Center in Yarmouth features an inspirational quote from Bee Stanton.  - Contributed photo
This mural at the Maple Grove Education Center in Yarmouth features an inspirational quote from Bee Stanton. – Contributed photo

Custom signs, logos and a flag

Barrett also paints a lot of custom signs for people, many examples of which can be seen on her Facebook page, CREAtiff Productions.

“People send me a request to paint signs for their chicken coops, for their pool, for their home, for gifts, etc.,” she said.

Barrett also has some of her signs at the Shoreline Restaurant and Gift Shop for sale in Digby.

Barrett creates lots of what she calls name signs, customized paintings revolving around themes like television shows, bands, celebrities and so on.  This one features phrases associated with the comedy series Seinfeld.  - Contributed photo
Barrett creates lots of what she calls name signs, customized paintings revolving around themes like television shows, bands, celebrities and so on. This one features phrases associated with the comedy series Seinfeld. – Contributed photo

She created the logo for the Digby Area Recreation Department, which is now displayed on t-shirts and mugs.

Barrett’s work is also featured on a flag that flies during the winter holiday season in downtown Digby.

“The flag that is downtown features a painting I did that was chosen by the Digby Town Council,” she noted. “The original painting featured on the flag now hangs at Our Farmacy, a wellness bed and breakfast in Bear River.”

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