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‘He’s taught me so much’: Winnipeggers raise funds for homeless artist’s funeral

Dozens of people are contributing to an online fundraiser for an artist who died in July so friends and fans can pay their respects.

Christa Guenther, left, says the work of Winnipeg artist Daniel James Martin was perfect for the walls of her restaurant. Martin, right, died on July 28, 2019, from complications of cancer. (Submitted by Christa Guenther)

Dozens of Winnipeggers are helping to pay for a funeral for a homeless artist who found solace drawing wild animals in a traditional Anishinaabe style.

Christa Guenther met Daniel James Martin more than three years ago the way many did; on the streets in downtown Winnipeg, where he sold his traditional pen-and-paper drawings, sometimes for as little as $20.

At the time, Guenther had just begun renovations at what would become the Feast Cafe Bistro on Ellice Avenue, and she needed art for the Indigenous restaurant’s walls. Daniel’s work, depicting animals such as loons, turtles and caribou in vivid, primary colours, was perfect.

“We just started a friendship then and 3½ years later he’s still one of my best friends,” she said

“He’s taught me so much about just being thankful for the little things.”

Much of the work by artist Daniel James Martin was traditional and depicted animals. (Submitted by Christa Guenther)

Daniel died on July 28 from complications related to cancer. He was 62. As far as Guenther is aware, he has no close family. She was listed as his next of kin at the hospital where he died.

Daniel was raised at Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation until the age of eight, when he entered residential school system and later the foster care system.

His life shifted for the better when, at 24, he met a fellow First Nations man in Selkirk, Man., who taught him to draw, said Guenther.

His natural talent was plain to see. 

“Reconnecting to his culture through art was what really helped him in his life and in his healing, and that’s what he was most proud of,” said Guenther.

Daniel struggled with solvent abuse but he had been sober for the last 20 years, she said. He lived at the Salvation Army and Main Street Project before his death.

Daniel James Martin frequently sold his drawings at Portage Place and other locations downtown. (Submitted by Christa Guenther)

The government covers roughly $6,000 for a basic casket and burial, said Guenther, but not much else. 

She’s raising money through GoFundMe to pay for a proper goodbye — a church service followed by a reception where she plans to dish out his favourite food, apple pie.

Dozens of people have already donated to the campaign online. Many posted messages.

“I bought a lovely painting of two loons from this kind and humble man. I sincerely hope his journey in the afterlife is easier and more enjoyable than his life on Earth,” said one fundraiser contributor.

“Daniel was a faithful artist at the Manitoba Hydro Indigenous marketplace. I bought a lot of his artwork and I will treasure it always,” wrote another donor.

Guenther, who says she and Daniel bonded over a shared Christian faith, used to joke he was her guardian angel.

“People like Daniel can actually help us to be better people,” Guenther said.

“Daniel would be considered a displaced individual among our community and what I want people to know is, if you’re passing by somebody like Daniel on the streets — they could be asking for change or they could be trying to sell a bracelet or something they made — I just want to encourage our city to make a friend.”

Any extra funds raised for the funeral will go to the Main Street Project and the Salvation Army, said Guenther.

Daniel’s service takes place Aug. 15 at 11 a.m. at First Lutheran Church in Winnipeg and will be followed by a luncheon.

Winnipeggers raise funds for homeless artist’s funeral. 2:06

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