My relationship with First Nations and Innuit Art began when, at the age of fifteen, during my first visit to Canada, I bought a Tony Hunt Print, Kwakiutl Kolus (147/200/1973) and a whale-bone carving, about which, sadly, I know very little.
Returning to British Columbia many years later, as we began to consider our move to Canada, I fell in love with Bill Reid’s work. I am so envious of a British friend who, also on an early visit, picked up two small Bill Reid carvings – beautiful and very recognizable.
My first encounters since arriving in Ontario were with the Woodland School/Indian Group of Seven, in particular Norval Morrisseau,whose work I find compelling but deeply unsettling, and Daphne Odjig, whose work I ultimately prefer – our summer 2013 visit to the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, where she was born, provided a greater sense of context.
The AGO has had a couple of wonderful exhibition of Innuit Art since we’ve been here, including a retrospective of the work of Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok, which I loved. I don’t think photos capture the spirit of the work – you have to see it and feel it! I am also continually fascinated by the Cape Dorset prints, drawings and sculptures, though I must admit that, as yet, I’m not good at identifying specific artists!
Our visit to Manitoulin introduced us to a number of new artists. We were so lucky to catch Ann Beam as she packed up for an exhibition in Owen Sound – she would not normally have been at Neon Raven Gallery at that time and we were on our way off the island! As I soaked up the very large works she was readying for transit, they seemed to seep into my soul. I am intigued by the distinct styles and yet strong lines of connection within the work of the Beam family and was delighted to discover all three artists.
Also on our way off the island, I picked up some cards by Michael Robinson – beautiful images, with wonderful spiritual poetry on the back as a bonus. I haven’t yet had time to explore further, but definitely intend to.
Tony Hunt, b. 1942, is a Canadian First Nations artist of Kwakwaka’wakw ancestry noted for his work carving totem poles.
Bill Reid, 1920-1998 – acclaimed Haida master goldsmith, carver, sculptor, writer and spokesman, was one of Canada’s greatest artists.
Neon Raven Art Gallery (Located in M’chigeeng First Nation, in Central Manitoulin Island)
- Ann Beam – an internationally known, multi-media artist, living and working in M’chigeeng.
- Carl Beam R.C.A. (May 24, 1943 – July 30, 2005), born Carl Edward Migwans, made Canadian art history as the first artist of Native Ancestry (Ojibwe), to have his work purchased by the National Gallery of Canada as Contemporary Art.
- Anong Migwans Beam – daughter of Carl and Ann Beam, Anong Migwans Beam is a painter, her main focus being the relationship between living beings, water, and the world they co-exist in through time.
Michael Robinson, 1948-2010 – Michael Robinson questioned history’s path to the future through juxtaposed images, fragments of time and by taking the viewer on an immense journey without a beginning or an end. Surreal landscapes come alive and the human realm is easily metamorphosed into the animal and the spiritual ones.
He wrote; “There is a great mystery hiding in the shadows of the every day world, weaving in out of what is real and what man thinks is real. I find myself drawn to the need to record this ever moving mystery, not to dissect it or label it, just to touch it with my brush or my words.” (Copied from his Website)
Indian Group of Seven -a group of professional Indian artists from Canada, founded in November 1973. These included
- Norval Morisseau, March 14, 1932 – December 4, 2007
- Daphne Odjig, September 11,1919 – October 1, 2016
- Alex Janvier, February 28, 1935 (see also Alex Janvier, Modern Indigenous Master – National Gallery of Canada)
Art truly is a universal language that can communicate any idea, any feeling, of anyone, regardless of their social standing, their religious beliefs or the language they speak. (Alex Janvier)
Leland Bell – An Anishinabe from the Wikwemikong Unceded First Nation on Manitoulin Island. He practices his creativity within the context of his Anishinabe being.
Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok, 1934–2012 – Innuit sculptor, one of the principal exponents of the austere minimalist style e associated with the community of Arviat.
Cape Dorset Artists – Since the 1950s, Cape Dorset, which calls itself the “Capital of Inuit Art”, has been a centre for drawing, printmaking, and carving. Even today, printmaking and carving are the community’s main economic activities.