Category Archives: winnipeg art gallery

Why Are All Those Holes in the Ceiling?

Young visitors to the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s new addition Qaumajuq sometimes ask me why there are so many holes in the ceiling. I can’t be sure what the architect Michael Maltzan had in mind when he designed the building but Maxine Angoo an Inuk from Whale Cove Nunavut said in an interview that the ceiling’s many skylights remind her of seal holes in the Arctic ice.

I tell the children who visit the gallery that the Arctic Ocean is home to six kinds of seals- harp, hooded, ringed, bearded, spotted, and ribbon. In autumn and early winter, the seals must make breathing holes in the ice so they can come up for air regularly.

Some seals have claws up to 2.5 centimetres thick that help them make breathing holes. I have read that some seals use their teeth to make holes in the ice and can also butt against the ice with their heads or breathe on the ice to melt it.

The Inuktitut word for a seal hole is aglu. Seals remember where they have made their aglu’s so they can revisit them.

Unfortunately for the seals, polar bears also know about the seal holes and can be waiting at the edges of them when the seals come up for a breath.

Some visitors to the gallery have told me the holes in the ceiling remind them of the holes in the tops of igloos that allow for ventilation.

Of course, the holes which open to the sky and flood the new addition to the art gallery with natural light illustrate its name Qaumajuq which means ‘it is bright-it is lit.’

The stunning architecture of Qaumajuq is an artwork in and of itself that will always be on view even as the installations change in the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s new addition.

Other posts……..

It is Full of Stars

An Animated Whale Hunt

Seal Skin Astronaut

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Dog Transportation

Fort Garry 1879 by Lionel MacDonald Stephenson- Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery

If you had been living here in Winnipeg in the 1870s there is a good chance you would have received your mail via a dog team. Mail from England came to York Factory by boat and then was transported by dog sled to Fort Garry.

Dogsled team carrying fursfrom the Glenbow Museum collection

Dog sledges were also used routinely in the fur trade here in the Red River Settlement beginning in the late 1700s. Dog sledges carrying furs travelled in convoys of up to twenty-five with each team following the track of the sled in front of it. Teams could pull loads of up to four hundred pounds.

In summer the dog teams were sometimes used to transport bison meat using a travois.

Dog sled team at the Fort Garry gate in 1879

The Metis who were the primary residents here in the Red River Settlement were very proud of their dog teams and often dressed them in an ornamental way.

A collection of ornate dog sledge regalia is currently on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in their exhibit – A Hard Birth. Check out the gorgeous dog saddle with its intricate Metis beadwork and row of bells.

A Dog Cariole – 1825 by Peter Rindisbacher

Dog sleds could also carry people. Passengers sat in a cariole and passengers wrapped in furs glided in comfort over the prairie. Dogs could eat up to a pound of pemmican a day and were sold for as much as $20. A good dog could be more expensive than a horse.

In this 1848 painting by Paul Kane called Wedding Party a train of dog sleds are transporting guests for a prairie wedding.

Dogs responded to the driver’s whip for direction changes. In this alternate view of the Metis dogsled regalia currently on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery you can see the whip in the foreground and the driver’s gloves to the side.

If you had lived here in Winnipeg/The Red River Settlement a hundred and fifty years ago you might have seen dogsleds on the street instead of buses, cars, trucks or bikes.

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Between Dog and Wolf

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A Jacket With A Story Comes Home

A gorgeous beaded jacket is part of the current exhibit A Hard Birth or Kwaata-nihtaawakihk  at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. According to the Twitter feed of Will Goodon a representative of the Manitoba Métis Federation he found the jacket for sale on Etsy a few years ago and bought it from an estate collection in the Cotswold area of England. It has been dated to between 1870 and 1910 and is from the Red River area.

Photographed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

One can only speculate as to how the jacket landed up in England. We know hunters came to Manitoba to shoot bison for sport in the 1870s. Did one of them buy it while they were in the area?

Photo of the jacket from the Twitter feed of Will Goodon

Many people from England came to settle in Manitoba. Did visitors from their home in Great Britain come to see them in the Red River Settlement and buy the jacket as a souvenir or receive it as a gift from a relative living here before heading back to England.

Back view of the jacket from the Twitter feed of Will Goodon

We know that after reaching an agreement with the provisional government in the Red River Settlement to make Manitoba a province, the Wolseley Expedition was sent here to enforce federal authority. There were British regular soldiers who were part of that group. Did one of them take the jacket back to England when their military service was over?

Pocket detail on jacket- Will Goodon- Twitter account

When I show this jacket to the people on my tours at the Winnipeg Art Gallery I ask them to speculate on how the jacket got to England and they come up with all kinds of stories.

Front piece detail on Métis jacket- photographed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

Since being purchased by the Métis Federation the jacket has been professionally restored by trained staff at the Manitoba Museum. The leather has been brushed and cleaned and every single bead has been cleaned by hand with small tools and brushes.

Eventually the jacket will be on display at the new Métis Heritage Centre, but for now visitors to the Winnipeg Art Gallery have a chance to see this treasure which after almost a century and a half has found its way back to its home.

Other posts……

15 Ways to Use A Métis Sash

Stepping on the Chain

That Noisy Red River Cart

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Stepping on the Chain

Yesterday I took a group of grade eleven students from a rural Manitoba community on a tour of A Hard Birth or Kwaata-nihtaawakihk in the Métis language of Michif. The exhibit tells the story of how Manitoba became a province in 1870. The exhibit is called A Hard Birth because the birth of Manitoba involved conflict and confrontation and wasn’t an easy thing at all.

One of the artworks on display is a perfect example of that conflict and confrontation and yesterday I think it was the students’ favourite part of the exhibit.

Survey Chain for Stepping On by Ian August

This survey chain piece was created by Métis artist Ian August. It references an incident that happened on October 11, 1869. The previous March the dominion of Canada had purchased most of the territory which now makes up the prairie provinces of our country from the Hudson’s Bay Company. In finalizing the transaction they gave little or no thought to the people like the Métis who were already living there.

In anticipation of a stream of settlers who would come to claim free land in the prairie region, the government of Canada sent out survey teams to create township grids for their newly acquired territory. But the land they were surveying had been home to the Métis for generations and the transfer of the land to the Canadian government was not yet complete.

On October 11, 1869, a survey team led by Captain Adam Webb began working on the Métis farm of Andre Nault. Nault called his cousin Louis Riel who arrived with about a dozen other Métis.

A 1985 painting by Bonna EQ Rouse shows the scene on the Nault farm.

Louis Riel told the surveyors they were on Métis land and put his foot on their surveying chain, demanding the surveyors stop working and leave. They did.

A sign on Survey Chain for Stepping On by Ian August invites visitors to “Be like Louis. Step on the chain!

The students I took on the tour yesterday had such a good time acting out the scene and then together they stepped on the chain the way Louis Riel had. All those kids stepping on the chain made a loud clanking noise that echoed through the gallery. They loved it!

Last week I took a group of seven and eight-year-olds through the exhibit. They LOVED stepping on the chain just the way the high school students did yesterday. Tonight I will take a group of adults through the exhibit. I hope I can entice them to do a little chain stepping too.

Other posts…….

15 Ways To Use A Métis Sash

What in the World Is A Wool Sack?

It’s Louis Riel Day

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15 Ways To Use A Métis Sash

Next week I start giving Winnipeg Art Gallery tours of A Hard Birth or Kwaata-nihtaawakihk the exhibit’s name in Michif, the Métis language. A Hard Birth tells the story of Manitoba becoming an official province of Canada 150 years ago.

One of the pieces I am excited to show young visitors is this sash. Saencheur Flayshii is its name in Michif, the Métis language. The sash is on display thanks to the National Gallery in Ottawa. They think it was made in the first half of the 1800s. This kind of sash was very popular in the Red River Valley and orginated with the voyageurs. They were French workers employed to transport furs for the Hudson’s Bay company.

The sashes could be up to three meters long and were made from brightly coloured wool. The one currently on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery has a popular flame design with diamonds at its centre.

Shooting the Rapids 1879 a painting by Frances Anne Hopkins. The lead paddler is wearing a Metis sash.

Making a sash could take up to two hundred hours. Until the 1800s the sashes were handwoven and sometimes made with plant fibres. It was only later they were woven on looms with wool.

Once when I took a tour of the St. Boniface Museum the guide showed us the heavy bales of fur and told us how the sashes helped to ease the burden of carrying them

The sashes have been used for many things. Here are fifteen I found. There are probably more.

  1. As a support to your back while carrying bales of fur that could weigh more than a hundred pounds. This helped prevent hernias.
  2. As a tumpline to lash your canoe or supplies to your head during portage
  3. Firestarter bags, tobacco pouches, knives and first aid kits were tucked into the sash for carrying
  4. A tourniquet for broken bones
  5. A scarf for your face in winter
  6. A washcloth or towel
  7. A saddle blanket or emergency bridle for your horse
  8. You could tear off the fringes to get pieces of thread to mend your clothes
  9. You could tie keys to the fringes so didn’t lose them
  10. Storing pemmican or other foods
  11. A belt to keep your coat closed.
  12. A rope to tie up your canoe
  13. To mark a bison as someone’s property after it was killed
  14. As a gift to give someone
  15. A symbol of Metis pride at ceremonies and events
This statue on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature shows Louis Riel wearing a Métis sash
In Shelley Niro’s woodcut series Resting With Warriors she shows a woman wearing the traditional sash. I photographed this piece when it was on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in the spring of 2017.

Today the sash is worn by both men and women although originally only men would have worn them.


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What A Sash

It’s Louis Riel Day

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It is Full of Stars

It is Full of Stars by Glen Gear. Shipping containers play an important role in bringing supplies to Canadian Arctic communities. Studies concerning their environmental impact are underway.

Did you know there are are dozens of stories about how the northern lights were created? You can step inside a huge shipping container in the INUA exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery Qaumajuq and learn about one of them.

Detail from It is Full of Stars mural by Glen Gear

When the Thule people arrived in Labrador from Alaska more than a thousand years ago an elder took out spear to test the ground so he could dig a foundation for a house. He struck a rock called labradorite thus freeing the spirits within it which escaped and formed the northern lights.

Labradorite can be found in England and this beautiful piece is in the collection of the geology department of University College in London

Interestingly labradorite which was first discovered in Labrador can be found in many other countries worldwide AND when sliced open in certain ways can produce a colourful play of light across cleavage planes. This effect is called labradorescence. The intense colours range from blues and violets through greens, yellows and oranges. Some rare specimens display all these colours at once.

Glen Gear an artist from Newfoundland and Labrador has created what he calls a meditation pad inside a shipping container in the INUA exhibit and it includes an illustrated version of the labradorite origin story for the northern lights.

There are other neat things to see and hear inside the It is Full of Stars installation.

Images of how Labrador looked long ago
Images of how northern Labrador might look in the future
Photos Glen Gear took of how Labrador looks in the present
You can also see creative abstract images Glenn has created of ocean waves and the northern lights and you can hear their sounds
Glen Gear’s work is currently featured on the windows of the Hudsons Bay Store across the street from the gallery

During the pandemic winter the WAG featured cinematic work by It is Full of Stars artist Glen Gear on the outside of the art gallery and some of his work is displayed in the windows of the Hudsons Bay Store across the street from the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq.

It is Full of Stars is only one of the unique art pieces you can see in INUA an exhibit that will be on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery- Qaumajuq till February of 2023.

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An Animated Whale Hunt

Seal Skin Astronaut

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An Animated Whale Hunt

When many people think of Inuit art they envision soapstone sculptures but Inuit art is so much more than that as people learn when they visit the INUA exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery -Qaumajuq. It is photographs and murals, masks and dolls, rugs and wall hangings, jewellery and fashion, embroidery and beadwork and……….film.

Bringing the whale to shore

One of my favourite pieces in the INUA exhibit is an animated film by Megan Kyak-Montieth. It is called Whale Hunt: I Think Everyone Is Here.

Megan Kyak-Montieth- photo from her Facebook page

Megan Kyak-Montieth is a multi-disciplinary artist from Mittimatalik or Pond Inlet Nunavut. Pond Inlet is a small hamlet on the coast of Baffin Island. Born in Pond Inlet in 1997 Megan’s family moved to Nova Scotia when she was ten.

In 2019 Megan graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and already has an impressive body of work. An article in the Inuit Art Quarterly says about her place in the Inuit art world, “she is a star rising and burning bright.” Her work is deeply personal often revolving around childhood memories she pieces together so she can preserve them. Megan says she saw a whale hunt when she was a little girl still living in Pond Inlet. That inspired her film, Whale Hunt: I Think Everyone Is Here.

Hauling the whale into shore with a tractor

Megan wanted her film to document a whale hunt but also to show the strength of northern communities and how when a whale is killed it is shared with everyone and none of it is wasted. She created the images for her film with oil paint and oil pastels and then covered them with glass to film them. She used both time-lapse and animation techniques.

Harvesting the whale begins
The whale meat is laid out on a blue tarp and people from the community start arriving to pick up their share
Every single part of the whale has been used and the area for harvesting has been cleaned so you hardly know the whale was ever there

I have four tours of INUA booked with kids in the next couple of weeks and I am looking forward to showing them Megan’s film and having them tell me the story they see recorded in its frames.

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Transferring the Real to the Unreal- Kenojuak Ashevak

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Seal Skin Astronaut

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What in the World Is a Woolsack?

This red wool seat which currently is part of an installation at the Winnipeg Art Gallery once played an important role in Canada’s parliamentary system.

For nearly seventy years when the opening ceremonies for Parliament took place in the Senate this oddly shaped large stuffed cushion called a woolsack was placed in the chamber’s centre aisle and the seven judges of Canada’s Supreme Court sat on it while the Governor General read the Speech From the Throne.

Photo taken in the British House of Lords in April of 2021 with the Speaker of the House Lord Fowler sitting on the woolsack. – Photo by Roger Harris from Creative Commons

The tradition had its roots in a similar practice in British parliamentary tradition that dates back to the 1300s. The sack was made of wool because wool was the backbone of the British economy at the time, and the Lord Chancellor and later the Speaker of the House of Lords sat on it in the centre of the House of Lords to illustrate political impartiality. It is still used in Britain today.

But in 1953 the year I was born, the Canadian Senate voted to replace the woolsack with conventional hard backed chairs for each of the Canadian Supreme Court justices and the woolsack was relegated to the senate archives.

So what is that very same woolsack doing at the Winnipeg Art Gallery? It is part of an art installation titled Witnesser by artists Lori Blondeau and Theo Sims. Witnesser was created for a brand new exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery called A Hard Birth or Kwaata-nihtaawakihk in Michif a Metis language. A Hard Birth refers to the birthing of the province of Manitoba in 1870.

With support from a Canadian senator The Honorable Patricia Bovey who was once the Director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the woolsack was taken from the archives in Ottawa and transported to Winnipeg to become a part of Witnesser an exhibit that speaks to the efforts of reconciliation in Canada.

Around the woolsack are grandfather rocks collected by Lori Blondeau. Grandfather rocks are based on the understanding that rocks are really animate beings with memories and stories to share with those who are able to hear Indigenous ancestral voices. In Witnesser those voices surround a historic symbol of the Canadian government.

On one wall of the exhibit you can see an artwork done by Theo Sims which shows the woolsack in use in Canada’s Parliament during a royal visit.

On Monday I had the distinct privilege of listening to Cathy Mattes and Sherry Farrel Racette the curators of A Hard BirthKwaata-nihtaawakihk  introduce Witnesser to the art gallery guides.

You won’t want to miss seeing it or the other interesting and thought provoking pieces in this exhibit which will be on view till September.

Other posts……..

Discovering a Grandfather Rock

My Grandsons Teach Me About National Reconciliation Day

Acknowledgements Are Important

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Perfect Companions

When I give tours at the Winnipeg Art Gallery people sometimes ask me which painting in the gallery’s collection is my favourite. That’s easy. It’s Friends Rejoicing by Canadian Indigenous artist Daphne Odjig.

Friends Rejoicing by Daphne Odjig- photographed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

I love the rich and stunning colours of this painting that shows a group of friends rejoicing over the birth of a baby. I think the mother is the woman on the right her breasts filling with milk to feed the newborn. I love the people’s mouths. Are they open in surprise at the wonder of the child or are they singing songs of joy? I love the movement and light in the sky as if all of nature is rejoicing too because a new living being is on this earth. I love the way everyone has pressed together providing a close-knit circle of love and support for the mother and her child.

I follow a Twitter account called Canadian Paintings. Every four or five hours during the day they do a post about a work of art by a Canadian. There is no comment- just the artwork, its title, the year it was made and the name of its creator.

A few days ago they posted a painting by Daphne Odjig and I immediately thought it was the perfect companion to Friends Rejoicing.

In Tune with the Infinite by Daphne Odjig

Called In Tune with the Infinite the painting shows people gathered around a pregnant woman providing her with love and support before she gives birth and marvelling how the child about to be born reminds them of their connection with the divine. The colours are more muted than the ones in Friends Rejoicing and give an aura of peace and contentment. I love the way the trees in the forest above cover the people to show that nature is helping to provide protection and comfort to the mother, child and her friends who wait for the birth with her.

I think In Tune With the Infinite is the perfect companion and prequel to Friends Rejoicing.

In Tune with the Infinite is in the collection of the McIntosh Gallery at Western University and of course Friends Rejoicing is in the collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq. Wouldn’t it be amazing if someday the two pieces could be displayed together side by side?

Other posts……….

Picasso’s Grandmother is Canadian

Flower Power

Childbirth and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

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Seal Skin Astronaut

An artwork with loads of appeal for kids in the current INUA exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (Quamajuq) is Sealskin Spacesuit by Jesse Tungilik. The piece never fails to spark the imagination of young gallery visitors but adults will enjoy learning about it too.

Note the sealskin mitts and the fringe work on the jacket.

Iqualuit-based artist Jesse Tungilik created the unique artwork during a residency at Concordia University in Montreal.

The inspiration for Sealskin Spacesuit comes from Jesse’s childhood. His mother would sew him outdoor clothes made from caribou hide for Jesse to wear when hunting. As a kid however Jesse liked to imagine he was in a spacesuit when he wore his caribou outfit.

The clothing his Mom made for him was bulky and heavy and hard to put on just like he imagined a space suit would be.  As he walked outside on the tundra he could imagine himself exploring the surface of some yet undiscovered planet.

The beaded patches on the space suit were made by Glenn Gear. This one features the flag of Nunavut.
This patch on the sealskin spacesuit is much like the NASA emblem

Once he got the idea of creating a space suit out of sealskin Jessie paid a visit to the Canadian Space Agency for further inspiration. Then Jessie had to figure out how to make his sealskin suit. His friend Julie Alivaktuk helped him design the pattern and another Inuit artist Glenn Gear helped him sew it. Glenn also made the beaded patches for the space suit. In an interview with CBC Jessie said he really appreciated the fact that the final artwork was the result of a team effort.

Although Inuit kids today may get their space information from the latest Star Trek iteration on television or from movies like Dune and Captain Marvel, stories of the stars, moon, sun and even shamanic travel across time and space are part of a long tradition of Inuit storytelling.

Sealskin Spacesuit includes these hand sewn boots.

Jessie is hoping that his artwork will inspire Inuit kids to think about unique and ambitious career paths rather than relying on traditional employment opportunities in the north. As he sewed the suit he allowed his imagination to wander through an alternate reality where an Inuit space program was developed. Jessie said it was fun to imagine an Inuit space explorer discovering new worlds.

Besides Jessie’s inventive art piece there are many other beautiful works to explore in the INUA exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (Quamajuq). The exhibit will be on display till February of 2023.

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I’d Like to Own This Vest

The Four Seasons- INUA Style

Good-bye Pitaloosie

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