Category Archives: Art


One area of the current Kent Monkman exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is titled Incarceration.

Reincarceration by Kent Monkman 2013

This large painting in the section depicts Manitoba’s own Stony Mountain Penitentiary founded in 1877. It is the oldest federal penitentiary still in use in Canada. In the painting wooden, puppet-like figures emerge from the prison, walk through the water and then come to life to take part in a dance or pow-wow on the other side of the river.

Big Bear to the left of the man in the middle and Poundmaker to his right in Stony Mountain Penitentiary

The wall adjacent to the painting features photos of Sitting Bull and Poundmaker, indigenous leaders who were incarcerated at Stony Mountain Penitentiary for treason after the Northwest Rebellion.

Minimalism by Kent Monkman- 2017

The exhibit includes this installation of Kent Monkman’s alter ego Miss Chief in a prison cell, on her knees, watching the sun rise and set through a window. She is holding a piece of braided sweetgrass in one hand and a feather in the other.
In his commentary, Kent says he wants to draw attention to the large number of indigenous people in Canada’s prisons, particularly on the prairies. At Stony Mountain penitentiary nearly 65 % of the inmates are aboriginal but indigenous people represent only 18% of the province’s population.

Artwork featured in Minimalism by Kent Monkman

On the outer walls of the cell are pieces of artwork by prisoners and a set of letters written to Kent’s mother Rilla from a woman named Lisa Peltier, who is in prison. In one of the letters, she talks about her father Leonard Peltier and how she hopes President Obama will give him a pardon.

Letter to Kent Monkman’s mother from Leonard Peltier’s daughter

Leonard Peltier is a 75-year-old man who was convicted of taking part in the murder of two FBI officers at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. Pine Ridge is home to Wounded Knee, the site of a massacre of 200 Sioux men, women and children by the American army’s 7th Cavalry in 1890.  

Peltier was a member of the American Indian Movement and was part of a nearly three-year occupation at Wounded Knee. It tried to bring attention to the unfair treatment of First Nations people in the United States. A virtual civil war had broken out between the American Indian Movement and traditional First Nations leadership. The AIM said the leadership was corrupt. It was backed and supported by federal agencies including the FBI.

FBI officers came to Pine Ridge in 1975 to arrest a robbery suspect and were met with a torrent of rifle fire. Peltier was given two consecutive life sentences for his participation in the murders. Three other AIM members who went to trial for the murders were acquitted. Peltier maintains his innocence to this day. 

Leonard Peltier in the prison art studio – photo CBC

Desmond Tutu, Jesse Jackson, Amnesty International, Robert Redford and Oliver Stone have all advocated for Leonard and asked he be released immediately from prison. Leonard is elderly and has health problems. His supporters maintain there were many errors and inconsistencies in the way his case was handled. Some of these are highlighted in Peter Matthiessen’s best selling book called In the Spirit of Crazy Horse.

Peter Matthiessen’s book tells Leonard’s story

When Barak Obama was leaving office there was hope he would give Leonard a pardon and Lisa, Leonard’s daughter refers to that in her letter to Kent Monkman’s mother Rilla. Obama decided not to pardon Leonard.

There is another case of an indigenous person’s experience with the justice system included in Kent Monkman’s Incarceration exhibit.

Handcuffs and Leg Irons from the collection of the Museum of Vancouver

These handcuffs and leg irons are artefacts from Canada’s only lynching. Louie Sam was born in 1870 a member of the Fraser River Salish First Nation. When he was 14 he was accused of the murder of James Bell a shopkeeper just across the Canadian border in Nooksack Washington. Two men told the Nooksack sheriff they had seen Louie near Mr. Bell’s store on the day of the murder and so the American sheriff came to British Columbia to talk to William Campbell the local justice of the peace at the time. On February 24 Campbell rode out to Louie Sam’s home and arrested him. He put him in handcuffs and leg irons.  Louie was taken to the home of a hastily deputized local citizen named Sam York to spend the night. The next morning Louie was to go to New Westminster some fifty miles away to stand trial.

Drawing of Louie Sam from an Annick Press book trailer

During the night an angry mob of Americans, who were in costumes- some wearing women’s clothing and others with their faces painted with Indian war paint crossed the border into Canada, stormed into the York house and captured Louie Sam. They hung him from a tree close to the U.S. border.

Although more than five thousand lynchings happened in the United States during the post Civil War period Louie Sam’s is the only Canadian lynching on record.

A subsequent investigation by Canadian authorities strongly suggested that Louie Sam was innocent and that the likely murderers were two Americans who were the leaders of the lynch mob. They were William Osterman, the Nooksack telegraph operator who took over Bell’s business, and David Harkness, who at the time of Bell’s murder was living with Bell’s estranged wife. Neither man was ever prosecuted.

The Lynching of Louie Sam a novel by Elizabeth Stewart tells Louie’s story for a teen audience

It has been interesting to discuss the case of fourteen- year old Louie Sam with the teenagers who visit the Kent Monkman show. I ask them why they think Kent chose to include Louie’s handcuffs and leg irons in his exhibit.

Minimalism by Kent Monkman- 2017

Incarceration is just one area of nine in the current Kent Monkman exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. As you can see each area is rich in meaning and well worth multiple visits to explore. Hope to see you there.

Other posts……….

Kent Monkman is From Winnipeg


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She’s Done It Again

It was my friend Esther who several years ago convinced me to take a drawing class. After she and I had signed up for the weekly sessions Esther bought all the supplies I would need to take the class. She gave me a couple of introductory tutorials where I got a little braver about drawing and after the course was over she continued to meet me for regular drawing sessions. Thanks to the encouragement she gave me to try my hand at art I began exploring books like The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and The Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert that claim too many of us have been wary about expressing our thoughts, ideas and feelings with visual art because we assumed we had to be experts to do so. They say that’s nonsense. 
Now, once again Esther is encouraging me to try something new in art. For my birthday this year, she bought me a set of watercolour paints and a pad of paper for watercolour paintings. I looked online and there were lots of tutorials to get you started with some simple watercolour landscapes. I tried one the other night and you can see the result at the beginning of this blog post.
Thanks, Esther for being such a good friend and encouraging me to step outside my comfort zone.

Other posts……….

Meet You at the Folio

Artists In Action

When Did You Stop Drawing

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Hutterite Artists


Now You Are All Cleaned Up- Linocut- by Victor Kleinsasser- Crystal Springs Community

There are one hundred and seven Hutterite colonies in Manitoba and those colonies are home to a talented enclave of visual artists.  For my birthday my friend Esther took me out for lunch and then to the Mennonite Heritage Village Gallery on the campus of Canadian Mennonite University to see a new exhibit of artwork by members of some of Manitoba’s Hutterite communities.  

We Are Best Friends by Laura Gross-Acrylic – Millshof Community

When I worked as a columnist for the Faith Page of the Winnipeg Free Press I was invited to spend a day on a Hutterite colony. What an enlightening experience that was! Many of my preconceived ideas about Hutterite communities were dispelled. But that was a decade and a half ago and in an article in the Winnipeg Free Press last year I discovered that Hutterites colonies have continued to change.

Making Apfel Platz- water colour- Sofia Maendel- Fairholme Community

There are different kinds of colonies. Some remain more conservative and don’t encourage much interaction with the outside world whereas others are much more progressive, offering comprehensive education programs, and a give and take with the wider community around the colony.  

Won’t Let You Fall- Digital Art by Renae Stahl -Odanah Community

One change is that some colonies now allow access to computers, as this digital art piece illustrates.  While televisions and radios are forbidden in Hutterite communities, computers have been necessary to keep the various business ventures of colonies competitive and are found in many colony schools. The Crystal Springs community near Ste. Agathe allows families to have home computers and cell phones. There is even a Hutterian Brethern website that provides lots of great information about Hutterites and their various communities in North America. 

Soccer Game – plasticine-by Grace Waldner-Decker Community

Since 1995 some Manitoba colonies have been sending members to the University of Brandon for teacher training so that by now there are more than eighty Hutterite educators qualified to teach the provincial curriculum in colony schools. 

The Little Ones by Leah Mendel- pottery- Oak Bluff Community

The exhibit currently on display at the Mennonite Heritage Gallery was organized by Jesse Hofer of the Silverwinds Community. It includes work by both school children and adult artists and offers the viewer a chance to see what life in a Hutterite community is like from a unique perspective.

Young and Strong- seed art- Elaine Hofer – Green Acres Community

One of the things that delighted me about the exhibit at the Mennonite Heritage Gallery was the wide variety of mediums used. In this blog post, I have tried to show one piece of art from each of the many mediums on display, but I know I have missed several. There are watercolours, linocuts, acrylic paintings, digital artworks, coloured pencil drawings, seed mosaics, plasticine pieces, pottery, wood carvings, comics and graphite drawings.

Summer Breezes- coloured pencils- Rachel Waldner- Avonlea Community

There is also artwork in the exhibit from many different Hutterite communities in Manitoba and I tried to make sure each piece in this post showed work from a different community.

Chasing Rainbows- graphite-Alexandria Waldner- Maple Grove Community

The art pieces you see here are only a tiny sample of the wealth of wonderful work on view at the gallery. The exhibit runs till November 9, so you still have time to see it. 

Other posts………..

Could I Be a Hutterite?

Mennonite Floor Art

Lisbon by Design

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Starvation- Kent Monkman Style

Part of the Starvation exhibit area in the Kent Monkman show 

 Kent Monkman’s  Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience currently on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery presents endless avenues for exploration and learning. 

iron horse Kent Monkman
The section of the exhibit called Starvation features this painting Iron Horse created by Kent Monkman in 2015.  Iron horse is a term said to have been coined by the indigenous people of North America in the early 1800s when they first saw a steam locomotive. 

779px-The_Procession_of_the_Trojan_Horse_in_Troy_by_Giovanni_Domenico_Tiepolo_(cropped)Monkman’s inspiration for his Iron Horse came from a 1773 painting by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo called The Procession of the Trojan Horse Into Troy. 

Tiepolo’s painting illustrates a story from Homer’s Illiad about a battle between the Greeks and Trojans over the kidnapped Helen Queen of Sparta. The Greeks left the Trojans a gift of a huge wooden horse outside the walls of their city.  The Trojans thought it was a victory present and hauled it into Troy. Later that night Greek soldiers who were inside the horse came out and opened the city gates to let in the other Greek troops hiding nearby.  The Greeks won the war.

Because of The Illiad story, a Trojan horse has come to mean something that looks good but has a much darker purpose or impact. And a Trojan horse is exactly what the railroad was for the First Nations of Canada.

Numerous plates made by Kent Monkman on a long table in the Starvation exhibit are decorated with bones and artwork of settlers with their piles of buffalo bones beside the railroad tracks.  

The indigenous people were told the railroad would be a good thing bringing riches and progress but instead, it brought disaster as settlers shooting buffalo from the train literally decimated the herds on the prairies which had served as a key food source for First Nations. 

The china plates illustrate how the railroad helped decimate the prairie bison population and leave indigenous people to starve. In a talk he gave at Queens University Kent noted that often bison bones were used to make china. 

I read that in order to force indigenous people in Saskatchewan and Alberta to leave their land along the rail line and move to reservations the Canadian government instituted a plan of famine and starvation.  Treaty 6 signed by the government with the Assiniboine, Plains, and Wood Cree people guaranteed food in times of famine but instead, the government used food as a way to ethnically cleanse a vast region from Regina to the Alberta border in order to facilitate the building of the railroad.

This china plate featuring the Fathers of Confederation on the table in the Starvation exhibit references the fact that Sir John A Macdonald and his fellow politicians deliberately starved indigenous Canadians

Sir John A. Macdonald, acting as both prime minister and minister of Indian affairs during the famine, even bragged in Parliament that he was keeping the indigenous population on the verge of starvation when he was criticized for using too much money to build the railroad.  

Sharps model 1874 rifle from the Glenbow Museum collection

There’s a rifle from the 1800s on display in the Starvation Exhibit.  I read an article that said this model was one of many used to decimate the buffalo population on the prairies within ten years. 

Bison Study by Albert Bierstadt from the Glenbow Museum collection

The exhibit also includes a bison painting by German artist Albert Bierstadt.

The Buffalo Trail by Albert Bierstadt -1867- Boston Museum of Fine Arts

A closer investigation of Bierstadt’s paintings of bison in the North American west allows viewers to see how Kent Monkman was imitating Bierstadt’s style covering most of the canvas with a grand landscape and including small figures only at the bottom of the painting.


Mount Adams Washington by Albert Bierstadt – 1875

In a lecture at Queens University, Kent Monkman said when he first saw Bierstadt’s paintings he thought they were insane.  “You had these monumental paintings with these romantic vistas and you could see the presence of God basically shining out of the heavens, they felt kind of biblical in a sense. And you can see the players, Indigenous people, minuscule keepers of nature, just bit players in this large scheme of creation. So, I decided to really start putting my energy towards imitating these paintings because I thought, okay, this is a new challenge. This is really hard…..”

And that is just the very tip of the iceberg for everything you can see and learn and discover in just one section of the Kent Monkman exhibit.  Luckily Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience is on at the Winnipeg Art Gallery till February because you will want to keep coming back for more visits as you explore this rich and brilliant collection of art that offers a very different view of Canadian history. 

Other posts………

Kent Monkman – He’s From Winnipeg

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Walking Back in Time

I walk to the gym via Lily Street each day and have always been intrigued by these small pieces of metal art that you find all along the street. One morning I stopped to inspect and photograph some of them.  Each one represents a building that used to stand in the Lily street area.   When looking through the viewfinder the silhouette of the building aligns with where it once stood in the distance. A metal disc under each building silhouette tells you the name of the building and the date it was constructed. This piece, for example, shows Biggs Terrace. It was a housing unit on James Street in 1888.

In this photo from the Manitoba Archives, you can see how it looked over a century ago

Here are two buildings that stood side by side in 1903- Pellissier and Gobeils Soda Waterworks and Clark and Hughes Undertakers.

In this photo from the University of Manitoba Archives, you can see exactly how the buildings looked at the turn of the century.

A couple of the metal art pieces show the location of railroad lines. Looking through this sculpture’s viewfinder you can see where the Galt Avenue Spur Line of the Winnipeg Transfer Railway stood. This one shows housing in the area in 1890And here is the Amy Street Steam Plant in 1924. 

The lovely metal sculptures on Lily Street help us go back in time. They provide a link between present-day Winnipeg and pieces of Winnipeg’s downtown fabric that are long gone.

I searched in vain online for a description of these lovely little silhouettes or their history. I couldn’t find anything not even the name of the artist who made the pieces or when they were erected.  I’d love to hear from any blog reader who may have more information about these gems of public art.   

Other posts

Half-Empty or Half-Full?

A Thirty Foot Pregnant Woman

Bloody Sunday

Cocktails in a Stable



Filed under Art, History, Winnipeg

He’s From Winnipeg

Kent Monkman – Photo by Samuel Engelking- from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

I am so excited about the Kent Monkman exhibit Shame and Prejudice coming to the Winnipeg Art Gallery in just a few weeks. Kent Monkman lives in Toronto, has exhibited on three continents, and has an international reputation.

But did you know Kent Monkman grew up in Winnipeg and has many childhood connections with the Winnipeg Art Gallery? He’s always loved to draw and was sketching and painting horses before he was five.

Monkman started studying art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery when he was one of two kids chosen from his school to receive free Saturday morning classes at the WAG. In an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail, he says, “I felt such a sense of belonging at the Winnipeg Art Gallery because I spent so much time there as a kid, not just in the art classes, but walking through the galleries.”

In a lecture at Queens University, the artist describes how he felt a certain kind of ownership of the Winnipeg Art Gallery space especially after seeing the work of Anishinaabe artist Robert Houle exhibited there.  In an article in the Winnipeg Free Press Monkman talks about how fascinated he was to see an indigenous man who was “a contemporary artist making modern paintings.”  He was inspired by Houle’s work. 

Kent Monkman was born in St. Mary’s Ontario. His father Everet Monkman was a member of Fisher River First Nation and his mother, a schoolteacher Rilla Unger, was Anglo-Irish.  They were both devout evangelical Christians who met through their church connection. An article in the Toronto Life magazine says the Monkman family first lived in Shamattawa in northern Manitoba as Christian missionaries. Kent’s mother found it very difficult. She couldn’t speak Cree and their living accommodations were rustic.                

The Scoop 2018 by Kent Monkman from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

When Kent was in grade one his family moved to Winnipeg where his Dad did church work, drove a taxi, was a social worker and a bush pilot. He died in a plane crash when Kent was 21. His great grandmother Caroline Everett, who spoke only Cree,  lived with his family in Winnipeg till he was ten so he had a strong connection with his indigenous family history as a young child. His grandmother Elizabeth Monkman went to a residential school in Brandon, Manitoba but only talked about the suffering she had experienced there on her deathbed.

Kent’s family lived in River Heights where he went to Kelvin High School with kids from some of Winnipeg’s richest families. He was a popular student.  

Kent Monkman photo by Quin West from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook Page

In an article in the Montreal Gazette Kent says some of his most vivid memories growing up in Winnipeg were visits he made to the Manitoba Museum. The way indigenous life was portrayed in the life-size dioramas was so very different from what he saw on the Main Street strip of Winnipeg where poverty and suffering and the effects of dislocation were so clearly evident. At the museum, he saw proud indigenous people before the arrival of colonists and on the streets of Winnipeg he saw indigenous people tumbling out of bars. “I had to reconcile the idealized, pre-contact, frozen-in-time image in the museum with this reality of what the colonial project did. I remember kids looking at me and saying, ‘What happened to your people? What’s going on?’ I didn’t know how to answer them.”

A teen examines the Kent Monkman work The Deluge . Photo from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

During our 2017/2018  exhibit Insurgence/Resurgence at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, we had one of Kent Monkman’s works on display and it was a huge hit especially with the Winnipeg teenagers I took on tours.  I know they will be inspired by his upcoming exhibit Shame and Prejudice.  

Kent Monkman’s painting Death of the Female-2014 is set on the streets of Winnipeg- from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

One thing I want to be sure the teenagers on my tours know is that Kent Monkman is from their home city and that Winnipeg, and in particular the Winnipeg Art Gallery, played a role in shaping his art and launching him on his path to phenomenal success in the art world. I hope Kent Monkman’s work at the Winnipeg Art Gallery inspires a whole new generation of Winnipeg young people the way Robert Houle’s work inspired Kent when he was a teenager. 

Other posts………..

Old Sun and Emily Carr

Ojibwa in Paris

Art That Makes You Sick

She Is Gripped By Terror


Filed under Art, winnipeg art gallery

A Thirty Foot Pregnant Woman – Niimaamaa

I had driven my bicycle through this soaring art piece so many times but had never stopped to find out what it was all about or who had created it.  Last week as I cycled across Broadway and then biked the path up to the Forks along the river, I decided to take some time exploring it. The 30-foot high sculpture is called Niimaamaa (pronounced nee-ma-ma) and its creators say it is meant to be a figure of a pregnant woman representing Mother Earth and new beginnings.

A crowd gathers for the opening of Niimaamaa in November of 2018

There are seven cascading strands of hair on one side of the piece representing the seven sacred teachings of love, respect, humility, courage, wisdom, truth and honesty.  The figure gazes up at the sky and out onto the nearby river.  Niimaamaa means My Mother and is a word recognized by Cree, Ojibwe and Metis speakers.

I spent a long time looking at Niimaamaa trying to understand the way the river waters of the Red and Assiniboine are represented in the art piece as well as the seven-sister constellations also know as The Pleiades. The copper dress the pregnant figure is wearing is a symbol of prosperity and strength.

You can see your reflection in Niimaamaa

The highly polished metal invites viewers to see themselves reflected in the sculpture as a reminder of our responsibility to protect Mother Earth. 

Val Vint, K.C. Adams and Jaimie Isaac at the opening of Niimaamaa

When I read the sign at the site I discovered that the creators of the piece were Val Vint, K.C. Adams and Jaimie Isaac. Jaimie is the Curator of Indigenous and Contemporary Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery where I work. An amazing exhibit Jaimie curated along with Julie Nagam called Insurgence/Resurgence was on show at the WAG for seven months in 2017 and 2018.  Julie also provided curatorial support for the Niimaamaa project. 

We have frequently had K.C. Adamswork on display at the WAG. You may know K.C.  best from her series Perceptions. These duo portraits were seen all over Winnipeg in 2015. K.C. took stereotypical and racist references for indigenous people and turned them on their ear by showing accomplished and successful members of the First Nation community. 

I was excited to learn that K.C. Adams, Jaimie Issac and Val Vint will each have other works of public art on display in and around The Forks in the future.  These pieces will be completed and opened in 2020 and 2021. I look forward to seeing them too. 


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