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Artist Spotlight: Dan Houghton

Dan Houghton posing in from of Operation Presence-Mali crest (Courtesy of The Steel Spirit

How a military member utilized artistic expression in between deployments

Dan Houghton, originally from Saskatoon, sought out on an adventure and journey, to see life as he had never seen it before. In 2004, Dan joined the Royal Canadian Navy where he became a Naval Electronic Sensor Operator, and was posted to HMCS St John’s, in Halifax. However, there was one element of Dan’s life not yet fulfilled.

When Dan’s three-year commitment to the navy concluded, he returned to Saskatoon to catch the butterfly in his heart, Christine. Their relationship blossomed, they fell deeply in love, and married in 2007.

Still, Dan missed military life. In 2009, with Christine’s support, he enrolled into the Royal Canadian Air Force as an Aviation Technician and was posted to 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Edmonton.

Silhouette wire shaped as a self-portrait of Dan and Christine (Courtesy of The Steel Spirit)

Christine knew in words what military life would be, and she recognized the dynamic journey that military members and their families travel. Dan and Christine’s family then grew – between Dan’s deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali and Operation Lentus’s (the Canadian Armed Forces response to natural disasters in Canada).

Dedicated to each other, Christine became the springboard and motivation in Dan’s art. To celebrate their annual nuptial, he has honoured their commitment to each other by creating traditional gift art work in theme with that anniversary year.  The first year’s bestowal is paper. Dan learned calligraphy and wrote a book of poems dedicated to Christine.

Since then, he has experimented with different mediums and discovered favourites along the way. 

The tree of life fashioned from steel wire into the shapes of a willow tree, symbolizing the growth of his family on his fifth wedding anniversary (Courtesy of The Steel Spirit)

Prior to their third anniversary, Dan was deployed to Afghanistan. When bits of spare time were available, he created a tooled leatherwork for Christine. During his out of country reunion with Christine, he was able to present this gift in time for their anniversary.

Dan and Christine were married in the month of December, and the fourth traditional gift is flowers. Dan painted a red rose set on a backdrop of snow. This work reveals remarkable shading, stark contrast, and detail. It was this piece of art that Dan articulated expression through the complex movement of paint.

On their fifth anniversary, he created a tree of life fashioned from twisted wire. In year nine, Dan created a stained-glass willow tree, symbolizing the growth of his supportive family.

A fellow technician, Nicole Reid, wrote, “I met Dan on a deployment to Gao, Mali in 2018. Being my first deployment, I learned a lot from Dan and respected how he could communicate with all sections. I viewed him as a mentor to better myself as a technician, so it came as a complete surprise for us to learn that we both love art. That mutual enthusiasm has fostered an ongoing wonderful friendship and was an outlet during our tour.”

Dan’s rose in the snow painting for him and Christine’s third anniversary (Courtesy of The Steel Spirit)

Dan’s service to the Canadian Armed Forces is drawing to a close and he, Christine, and their children will remain in the Edmonton area. His schedule is less hectic, he is able to spend more time with his family – and is able to pursue fresh art ideas, such as portrait and figure drawing with charcoal.

Dan’s most meaningful gift to Christine is titled “Coming Home,” following his last deployment to Mali. It is a self-portrait of him and Christine, in a silhouette of wire, contained within a shadow box. This challenging project bares the sentiment of returning to a loved one after being away far too long.

Welcome home, Dan!

Written by Brian Lintner

The Steel Spirit is a platform for artwork submissions by military, first responder, and hospital practitioners. The collective is always looking for new and emerging artists, with and without art experience, from every background and every age. For more information or if you would like to be involved, visit: www.thesteelspirit.ca.