To create a work of art, some artists prefer acrylic or watercolor paints on canvas, while others sculpt clay or chisel stone. For Matthew MacInnis, owner of MMI Roofing and Carpentry, his preferred medium is shingle.
The Antigonish, Nova Scotia-based roofing contractor has earned a reputation for creating colorful works of art with intricate layered shingles on top of roofs, and most recently turned its talents toward honoring the brave men and women who serve in the military.
The idea came not long after MacInnis recreated the elaborate Nova Scotia flag on a 55-foot by 24-foot roof on top of one of his warehouses. The province gave him overwhelmingly positive feedback, which MacInnis said was partly due to completing it in a time where the province was grieving over a mass shooting in April that killed 22 people.
Due to the positive reaction, MacInnis said he wanted to do something special for the other half of the roof.
“After doing something like that, I couldn’t just put an armadillo or something on the backside, so what else resonates with the world?” MacInnis said. “A tribute to the veterans would be the ultimate thing.”
The design features the silhouette of a soldier at a grave marker set against a hilly green background. On the right side is a stylized poppy, which people will recognize as the logo for the Legion in its Poppy Campaign to raise funds that support veterans and their families. On the bottom of the design in bold letters reads, “Lest We Forget.”
MacInnis said it took him and his crew two full days and six different colored shingles to pull off the design. The artwork caught the attention of the Legion, and pictures of the art now hang in the Nova Scotia Legion. Along with honoring veterans, the tribute has a special meaning for MacInnis, as his family history includes members of the military.
“My grandparents actually met in the war,” MacInnis said. “My grandfather was a soldier and my grandmother was in operations, and they met, fell in love, got married, and here I am.”
One-of-a-Kind Shingle Art
The concept of shingle art began in 2013 when MacInnis had the idea to put his company’s logo on the roof of his own home. When asked about his technique, the shingle artist didn't want to give away all the secrets, but said each design begins with a conceptual drawing, and from there becomes a full-sized stencil laid out in his shop. To execute the final product, MacInnis said it involves cutting and assembling multiple layers of shingles so that it’s not only watertight, but conveys the design properly.
MMI Roofing’s shingles of choice are IKO Roofing, though the company does outsource to other companies in order to find the right colors. The company has designed everything from the Canadian flag to a turtle that decorates the roof of a shed on MacInnis’ property.
“It’s got nine different colors and four different layers in the turtle, so that was a challenge,” he said. “We’ll use whatever we have to use to get the right color.”
He and his team even created a Canadian flag that replaced the traditional maple leaf with a red marijuana leaf for a customer who is a licensed medical marijuana producer.
“I look at it for how well the job’s done, not the content,” he said with a chuckle.
The art projects have the added benefit of boosting the morale of MMI Roofing’s crews, as they look forward to taking on the challenge and showcasing their talents, though opportunities are few and far between. MacInnis said he ran out of his own properties to decorate, and he doesn’t want to create artwork on a roof that can’t easily be seen by others.
“It’s a hard thing to sell because you need the right roof facing the right way with the right pitch with the right design,” he said. “One fella, he wanted a beach scene with palm trees, but the way that his house is oriented you couldn’t see it. I said, ‘Well, you can do it, but no one is ever going to see it unless you got a helicopter.’”
Logistical concerns aside, MMI Roofing is always on the lookout for its next opportunity, even if it means putting aside some biases.
“Someone wants us to do a Boston Bruins logo, but I don’t know, they’re crazy,” he said with a laugh. “But I’ll do it, I’ll do whatever anybody wants — it’s not as good as my Montreal Canadiens one, obviously.”