Under the radar

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Local designer maintains low profile despite highly-creative works

A St. Albert designer is the mastermind behind some of the Festival of Trees’ most intriguing, quirky and inspiring artistic contributions.

Moriganagh McNally, 29, is possibly one of the city’s most creative forces. Yet she flies under the radar, content to let her innovative art pieces do the talking.

And they practically shout from the top of trees.

“She’s very visionary. Everything she does is contemporary, but it’s based on old world artists,” says Festival of Trees chair of the tree committee Joan Faulkner.

Diane Stokes, chair of the design committee who works closely with the festival’s art contributors, notes that McNally’s creative flair is bang on.

“She thinks outside the box. She has a great eye and she researches what she does. She’s creative and talented. She has a vision and can put it all together.”

To see McNally walking down the street, her eyes twinkling and ponytail swinging behind her head, she’s the picture of clean living. Not at all the image of a bizarre artist starving in a garret for her art.

“Yes, I am the quiet wholesome girl next door, yet my imagination explodes within and I always want to try new things,” she says.

Some of her festival designs have varied from a tribute to Picasso to a golden bling-studded elephant from the Serengeti in a salute to Cecil B. deMille.

The Brick founder Bill Comrie, estimated to be worth half a billion dollars, snapped up her 2002 papier mâché bird with legs made from hockey sticks and blades as wings. McNally had also hung old-fashioned Bauer skates around the neck and knitted the bird a maple leaf toque.

And in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina, McNally was inspired to fashion flamingos and palm trees, a joy-filled salute to the New Orleans’ Mardi Gras.

McNally first decided to donate one of her designs to the Festival of Trees in 2000.

“It was a take on James Joyce white-jewelled crane with hockey sticks for legs and a tree sprouted on its back. It won a gold ribbon and people’s choice award. I was amazed that somebody else saw what I saw. It was a shock to walk around and see your tree. When you’re creating, you don’t know if you’re touching somebody else and I’m grateful for every nibble I’ve gotten over the years.”

With more than 40 ribbons in the artsworks category, most of them first-place wins, McNally has established her reputation as one of the most sought-after festival designers.

Last year McNally diverged into fashion, presenting a 10-piece fashion collection of outfits and fascinators. Her vintage fashions represented all the decades from 1920 to the present day.

Using lace, netting, jewels, feathers and flowers, McNally stayed within the festival’s peppermint twist theme and designed a monochromatic collection based around red and white.

“At times my designs are classic. At times I want to go way out there and show what I can really do. That’s where the runway comes in. You can go more extreme,” she says.

Born into the floral industry, McNally was arranging flowers by the time she was two. Ten years down the road her floral baskets were commonly sold at hospital floral shops.

By Grade 8, she meticulously followed Princess Diana’s fashion sense. For her Grade 9 graduation, McNally designed a gold column dress in art deco style. By the time she graduated Grade 12 from St. Albert Catholic High, her fashion sense had heightened to an elegant Versace print with a train and 1,000 camellia petals.

After high school graduation, McNally attended Marvel College fashion program and was enrolled in the University of Alberta’s human ecology program until illness forced her to take a leave of absence.

McNally even took a stab at running her own business, McNallyopolis, a combination cafĂ©, ice cream and giftware store. Located in St. Albert’s downtown, it became a casualty of low traffic.

However, she’s found her niche working at the Enjoy Centre, exploring her horticultural roots.

Oh yes, she’s a big hockey fan, and her number one team is the Edmonton Oilers.

“I watch too much hockey for my own good,” she laughs, describing a Stanley Cup she has made out of pennies.

“I have backup teams too – Montreal, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Boston and L.A.”

One of her passions as a youngster was figure skating. But at 13 she was in a car collision involving a driver on a cellphone. It left her unable to skate but it never dampened her enthusiasm for ice sports.

“I can’t wait for the winter Olympics – the excitement, the drama. Salt Lake was pretty exciting, but wait and see. Canada has some good skaters this time around.”

But while waiting for the televised Olympics, McNally is putting her excitement towards this year’s festival creation.

“This year, it’s a secret. But I will tell you, it’s a tribute and reflection of a cousin that passed away.”

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Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.