A local artist who has been homeless for five years is gaining national attention for his artwork, and is getting help finding a home after one of his drawings was shared thousands of times on social media.
A Facebook post featuring Claudemier Bighetty’s artwork has been shared over 5,000 times, and resulted in a flood of support — including help trying to find him a home and reconnecting him with his family.
Bighetty said people are recognizing him in the streets now. “When I’m drawing something out there, they’re like, ‘you’re that guy, you’re that guy from Facebook!’ Like some total strangers,” he said.
Part of the credit goes to Jay Mousseau, who originally posted Bighetty’s pen drawing on Facebook after purchasing it off of him in a parking lot.
WATCH | Claudemier Bighetty and Jay Mousseau share their story
In his original post, Mousseau highlights Bighetty’s tremendous skill and refers to him as the Indigenous Picasso.
“Never judge a book by its cover … You never know someone’s skills or talent they have,” Mousseau said in the original post.
After that post gained widespread popularity, Mousseau set out to find Bighetty. He spent over a week searching for him until he was finally able to locate Bighetty under a Winnipeg train bridge, where he currently lives.
“I showed him his post. I seen his face glow and light up, and I seen how happy it made him,” said Mousseau.
Mousseau, his brother Joshua Mousseau and friend Brandan Campell have kept visiting Bighetty every day since they were first able to locate him.
“I love these guys, they are the best thing that has ever happened to me, they keep my head on straight,” said Bighetty.
The social media post currently has over 800 comments of support, but its impact goes well beyond likes and shares.
New fans of Bighetty’s artwork have dropped off canvas, art supplies, a working cellphone, food and have started commissioning original pieces.
Recently, Bighetty’s work has been auctioned off online. His first piece sold for $225 to a buyer in Ottawa.
Mousseau has also started organizing with the Galerie d’art Riverside in Wakefield, Que., which will be hosting five of Bighetty’s original pieces.
Finding family again
The post has done more than create demand for Bighetty’s art — it also reconnected him with family who’ve been searching for Bighetty but have been unable to locate him until now.
Bighetty’s son and brother reached out to Mousseau on Facebook, and was able to help reconnect the family members.
With the coldest months of the year approaching, Mousseau has started a GoFundMe campaign to help Bighetty find a warm home for the winter.
“I wanted to lift him up, because that’s what we do as Indigenous people,” said Mousseau.
He hopes that Bighetty won’t be on the streets for much longer.
Recently, Bighetty has also been approached by Ndinawe Safe House to help him find a place to live and provide him with culturally appropriate support.
Between help from Ndinawe and the GoFundMe, Mousseau believes Bighetty will be off the streets and in a hotel this week — a transitional step to finding a permanent home.
For the artist, he says it’s all a bit overwhelming, but he’s enjoying the positive support and says that he’s going to continue making art.
“I’ve been through it all. I’ve seen it. I’ve been in and out, and … because of my art work, it’s keeping me grounded,” Bighetty said.