This morning I am giving my first tour at the Winnipeg Art Gallery since the pandemic began and I will certainly spend time focusing on this stunning artwork by Michif (Metis) visual artist Christi Belcourt. Her family is originally from the Metis community of Manitou Sakhigan (Lac Ste. Anne) Alberta.
Using hundreds of thousands of tiny painted dots the artist has tried to recreate the look of the beadwork of her Metis ancestors. This piece called Water Song is a perfect fit for the current exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery- Naadohbii– To Draw Water.
Water Song is on loan from the National Gallery in Ottawa.
Christi Belcourt’s colorful canvas fairly bursts with deep scarlet reds, royal rich blues, eye-popping yellows, and a myriad of green shades from dark and lush to verdant and bright. She invites us to closely examine plants and animals and insects who all depend on water in some wayand to think about how all these living things are interconnected.
You can spot downy woodpeckers, warblers, barn owls, northern flickers, and nuthatches perched on plants and leaves.
Check out all the marvelous details you can see here. The warbler bursting into song at the top of the section, the pinecones just beneath her, the spider webs down and to the left of the pinecones, and the chokecherries over in the right-hand bottom corner. Can you find the maple leaves, the thistles, and the bursting flying seed pods?
I think gallery visitors of all ages will have a great time looking for monarch butterflies, wild roses, maple and oak leaves, trilliums, milkweed plants and fireflies.
Although not perfectly symmetrical one can almost draw a line of symmetry down the center of the canvas because creatures and plants that appear on one side of the work are usually mirrored on the other side.
This is only one of a myriad of canvases in the same style by Christi Belcourt that are displayed in public places across Canada. You can see more of them on her website.
I can hardly wait to see what my tour participants will find interesting about this fantastic art piece this morning.
This week I got called back to work at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I’ve been a guide there since 2012 and when they laid me off in March of 2020 guides were assured we were still staff members and our lay off was temporary. Of course, we had no idea tours would be canceled for such a long time or that the gallery itself would be closed for so many months.
Exciting things have happened at the gallery since I left and I admit I got lost on Monday my first day of work as I tried to find my way around the beautiful new Inuit Art Center called Quamajuq.There are many things I have to learn before I give my first tour this coming Tuesday but I am ready and eager to study and prepare.
I loved my job at the WAG but I haven’t visited the gallery since I left because honestly, I thought I would cry the whole time I was there. I suspected just being in the space would make me miss my job so much I might not be able to hold it together.
I feel safe going back to the WAG where they have mask mandates, vaccine mandates, and practice social distancing.
Those of you who have been following my blog for a long time know that I love to write about the pieces at the WAG and so be prepared to start seeing posts about the artwork I am learning about and talking about with WAG visitors.
For me, this is one step forward towards a little more normalcy in my life. I couldn’t be happierand while I have learned like everyone else that pandemics are crazy unpredictable things I have my fingers crossed that my return to work will be permanent.
The Gift a new sculpture by Inuit artist Goota Ashoona, was a gift from the Manitoba Teachers Society to the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s new Inuit Art Centre called Qaumajuq.
The teachers of our province help impart the gift of knowledge to young people and Goota Ashoona illustrates that idea of sharing knowledge in her beautiful piece of art.
On this side of the sculpture, you can see a mother teaching her daughter to do Inuit throat singing.The mother’s face has traditional tattoos and I love the way she rests her head against her daughter’s as she passes on the knowledge of an important Inuit art form.
Storytelling is another way of passing on knowledge and that is illustrated on the other side of the sculpture which features Sedna or Nuliajuk. Sedna is the main character in a traditional Inuit story about a girl who drowns while fleeing an unhappy marriage. She becomes a mermaid who is responsible for the creation of all the animals of the northern seas.
Artist Goota Ashoona says in this video that it was her grandmother who told her the story of Sedna or Nuliajuk. It’s a story that has many different versions and I shared it literally a hundred times or more with groups of visitors during the eight years I gave tours at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Just check out all the marvellous details Goota Ashoona has included in her sculpture made from Verde Guatemala marble. Can you see the mermaid’s tail to the left? Goota Ashoona shows Sedna or Nuliajuk’s fingers prominently because in the story those fingers get cut off and become all the northern marine animals. You can also see her long flowing hair. In some versions of the story of Sedna, shamans dive down into the sea to comb Sedna’s tangled hair when they want to make her happy and ask her for a favour.
I love the way the face of the older woman can be seen on this side of the sculpture as well. For me at least it alludes to the fact that Goota Ashoona heard the story of Sedna or Nuliajuk from her grandmother.
Inside the Winnipeg Art Gallery, you can see an entire gallery with dozens of artistic representations of the Sedna or Nuliajuk storyincluding this gorgeous 2009 sculpture by Goota Ashoona.
The dedication for The Gift says it is for the teachers all around us in the land and in our lives who reveal the truth, wisdom, and beauty that connects us all.
Don’t you just love that? I could write another whole blog post just about that gem of a statement.
Why not take a close look at the sculpture yourself? You can find it on the corner of St. Mary Avenue and Memorial Boulevard.
If you have walked by the old Hudson’s Bay store in downtown Winnipeg recently you might have noticed this mural in one of the windows.
The original mural which is in the permanent collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery was made with oil sticks byElisapee Ishulutaq when she was 90 years old. For five days in 2014, Elisapee slid along the floor in her apron, sealskin boots, and knitted sweater with her wire-frame glasses perched on her nose to create a vibrant scene that records the history of her home community of Pangnirtung in Nunavut.
You can watch a video and see how Elisapee gets out of her wheelchair, kneels down on the floor, and fearlessly starts to draw marks with her oil sticks on a long piece of paper to make her mural.
Elisapee’s mural features things from the past like sleds, sealskin tents, and kids playing tug of war games with animal bones. She also includes things from the present like all-terrain vehicles, wooden buildings, and kids playing hockey.
In the video, you can hear Elisapee describing in her native language what life was like in Pangnirtung. Her narration is interspersed with laughter and song.
She laughs heartily as she talks about the games children played long ago in winter. She demonstrates how windows were made with seal skin intestine and describes the seal skin tents people lived in.
One side of her mural shows summer scenes and the other depicts the winter months in Pangnirtung. Elisapee wanted the old way of life in the north to be remembered by future generations and hoped that her art could do that.
Elisapee Ishulutaq was a renowned artist, who was awarded the Order of Canada. She is known for her expressive, autobiographical images of daily life in Canada’s Arctic. She died in 2018.
Elisapee said that in this section of her mural the bright blue building was the Hudson’s Bay store in Pangnirtung. Now Elisapee’s mural is being displayed larger than life on another Hudson’s Bay store. I think that’s pretty neat!
I LOVED the dress our new Canadian Governor General wore when she was sworn into office on July 26th.
The navy dress was designed by Victoria Okpik, originally from Quaqtaq, Nunavik, in northern Quebec. Victoria was the first Inuk graduate in fashion design from Montreal’s LaSalle College and has more than twenty years of experience as both a seamstress and designer. When Mary Simon requested that Victoria make her dress for the swearing-in she had just twenty days to complete the task. Lots of e-mails with measurements, designs, and colors flew back and forth between Mary and Victoria as the dress took shape.
The beading on the dress was done by Julie Grenier who comes from the same small community as Mary Simon. She created a motif with flowers she used to pick as a child and colors that reminded her of Mary’s character and personality.
Julie and Victoria said it was a great honor to work on the dress. Since they had such a short time to make it both women put in long hours to get the dress ready on time. Julie and Victoria represent a long tradition of Inuk fashion creators.
Inuit fashion is not something new as I learned when I worked at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and we had an exhibit called Our Land which featured all kinds of remarkable fashion items made by Inuk women. Everything from unique jewelry to stylish headgear to gorgeous parkas also called amautis.
During another exhibit in 2018 called SakKijâjuk, I was privileged to listen to a talk by some of the Inuk womenwho were preserving the art of making kamik. Check out the use of floral beading on the kamik like the beading on Mary Simon’s dress.
Mary Simon paid tribute to a long tradition of fashion in her culture when she invited two Inuk designers to create the dress for her swearing-in ceremony as Governor-General.
The dress she had designed for her investiture into office as Governor-General is the first thing I love about Mary Simon. Check out my blog post tomorrow to find out what the second thing is that I love about Mary Simon.
This is a self-portrait by Cape Dorset artist Pitaloosie Saila. Isn’t she incredibly lovely? The portrait shows the artist as a young woman. Although in reality Pitaloosie’s face was not tattooed, she has portrayed herself with tattoos because she remembered her aunts having tattoos like this. Pitaloosie has put her portrait on an ulu, a traditional Inuit woman’s knife. Pitaloosie had a large personal collection of different kinds of ulus.
I was so very sad to learn of the death of Pitaloosi Saila last Saturday. She was the creator of some of my favorite pieces of art on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery during the eight years I worked there. Pitaloosi was 79 when she died and had been contributing to the Cape Dorset print collection for over 60 years.
I had the privilege of meeting Pitaloosi Saila in person in October of 2017 when she came to the city for the opening of an exhibit featuring 32 of her stunning prints curated by Susan Gustavison and Darlene Wight.The prints told the story of Pitaloosie’s life.
In this lithograph, we see four generations of Pitaloosie’s family. On the far right is her great-grandmother chewing a seal skin to soften it. In the middle is Pitaloosie’s grandmother with a more modern hairstyle and clothing. On the far left is Pitaloosie’s mother. She died when Pitaloosie was only two years old so the artist never really got to know her mother but she has dressed her in an even more modern way than the other two women. There is little Pitaloosie in the amauti in her mother’s parka.
After Pitaloosie’s mother died she was raised by her grandmother. In this print, she has shown her grandmother dancing a reel on one of the whaling ships that came into Cape Dorset.
There is a sad story behind this gorgeous watercolor of Pitaloosie and her sister. As a child Pitaloosie was sent south to hospitals for seven years because of a back injury and complications from tuberculosis. While she was gone her dear sister Aqsatunnguaq died. Pitaloosie didn’t find out till she returned home to Cape Dorset. Like many other Inuit children who were separated from their parents and taken to southern hospitals, Pitaloosie lost her Inituktuk language and couldn’t even talk to her family when she returned home.
Pitaloosie began doing artwork in the 1960s and in her lifetime produced close to 1,500 pieces. Her print above Arctic Madonna was featured on a UNICEF greeting card in 1983.
One of her art pieces Fisherman’s Dream was featured on a Canadian stamp.
This is my very favorite piece of Pitaloosie’s. Three generations look forward and one looks back.
Pitaloosie’s art told the story of the past and provided a forward-looking vision for a younger generation. One of Pitaloosie’s granddaughters is also an artist.
I was very sorry to hear about the death of Pitaloosie Saila. We are so fortunate to have her beautiful artwork that gives us an intimate and personal look at the life of a remarkable Inuit womanand artist.
Note: Except for the stamp all the images in this post were ones I photographed during the Pitaloosie Saila exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2017
The painting The Scream has been all over social media since the recent discovery of a mass grave at a former residential school site in Kamloops. Unfortunately, the Canadian artist Kent Monkman is often not credited in these postings for his stirring and graphic portrayal of children being torn away from their families and taken to residential school.
As a tour guide, I had the privilege of introducing The Scream to hundreds of visitors who viewed the painting when it was on exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2019-2020. Although the images in the artwork speak volumes on their own, people were interested in learning more about the painting.
Did you know that………
1. The artwork is dedicated to Kent Monkman’s grandmother Elizabeth Monkman who was a survivor of the Brandon Residential School in Manitoba. The first time she spoke about her experience at the school was on her deathbed.
2. The artist who created The Scream Kent Monkman spent the early years of his childhood on the Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba where his parents were Christian missionaries. His father Everet Monkman was a member of the Fisher River First Nation and his mother Rilla Unger was of Anglo-Irish descent. The family moved to Winnipeg when Kent was six. He lived in River Heights and he went to school there graduating from Kelvin High School. He took art classes at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
3. One of Monkman’s inspirations for The Scream was an artwork from the 17th century by Peter Paul Rubens called Massacre of the Innocents. It depicts a Biblical story where King Herod slaughters all the baby boys in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus.
4. In his notes about The Scream Monkman says the painting tells us in a visual way what was found in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. Monkman says that report enlightened many Canadians who didn’t know about the devastation wrought by residential schools. Thousands of children never returned home because they were dead or missing. Thousands were sexually and physically abused, some starved, most forced into free labour and some used in medical experiments. Children were required to sever their ties with their language and culture during their time in the schools.
5. The title of Monkman’s The Scream alludes to an iconic painting by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.
6. Monkman created The Scream by bringing actors into his studio in Toronto who dressed up in costumes and acted out the scenes we see in painting. Thousands of photographs were taken and then some were selected, edited and cropped and finally projected onto a canvas where their silhouettes were traced and then painstakingly filled in with layer after layer of colour. You can learn more about Monkman’s processhere.
is reminiscent of the face of the woman in Dorthea Lange’s famous photograph Migrant Mother.
8. There are hundreds of details in The Scream that careful study can reveal. Almost every time I took a group of gallery visitors to see the painting someone would find something new or come up with a new idea of why something had been included in the painting.
9. The actual painting The Scream is 7 feet by 11 feet. It was purchased by the Denver Art Museum in 2017.
10. Kent Monkman has done a painting related to The Scream called The Scoop. The Sixties Scoop is a name given to the practice in Canada from the 1950s to 1980s of taking, or “scooping up”, Indigenous children from their families and communities for placement in foster or adoptive homes.
It is understandable why Kent Monkman’s The Scream has become the signature image for illustrating the tragic truth uncovered at the residential school in Kamloops. I just wish people knew more about the artist and had more information about his moving and thought-provoking masterpiece.
I read the heartbreaking news about all those little bodies found in a mass grave on the grounds of the residential school in Kamloops just before I read the second of two revealing articles in the Winnipeg Free Press about conditions at the Stoney Mountain Federal Penitentiary. And it made me think about how we started locking away Indigenous people over a hundred and fifty years ago and how we still do that.
We took away the land Indigenouspeople lived on and locked them away on reservations. Most couldn’t leave without a pass from the Indian agent in charge of their reserve. They needed a pass to visit their children in residential school, take things to sell at local markets or attend cultural celebrations on other reserves.
Reserves were often located on less favourable land where it was hard to farm or make a living. Canadian laws made it difficult for residents to hunt and fish. Today there is often not enough land on reserves for people to have adequate housing and since many reserves are isolated some don’t have basic services like clean wateror good education and employment opportunities
We locked Indigenous children away in residential schools taking them forcibly, if necessary, from their parents when they were as young as four years old and keeping them till they were sixteen. We know now that residential schools were places where children often lacked nutritious diets, were separated from their siblings, were forbidden to speak their Indigenous languages, were subject to harsh punishment and sexual assault, exposed to contagious diseases, received inadequate medical care, did unpaid labour in unsafe work environments and had their traditional cultural practices vilified. Families today still suffer from the long term impact of residential schools the last of which shuttered its doors in 1996.
And we are still locking Indigenous people away in our prisons. Here in Manitoba, 75% of the people incarcerated in our correctional facilities are Indigenous even though they only represent 15% of our population.And as the Free Press article pointed out the conditions in which they live in the Stoney Mountain Federal Penitentiary are far from humane. In the last four years, there have been 23 inmate deaths there caused by suicide, drug overdose, gang violence and “apparent” natural causes. Half of the inmates contracted COVID-19.
The building is old without many of the modern features that would make for greater safety and there aren’t adequate medical and mental health resources for inmates. Many are housed in century-old cells that prison reformer Agnes Macphail claimed at the time they were constructed were already dangerous and unfit for human habitation.
How do we make retribution for how we have locked away Indigenous people in the past? How do we change things so the practice doesn’t continue? I think we need to ask Indigenous Canadians to tell us how we do that and then we need to listen to what they say.
This marvellous 1989 sculpture on the rooftop of the Winnipeg Art Gallery by Manasie Akpaliapik is called Inuksuk. But I learned after I had worked at the art gallery for a couple of years that it actually wasn’t an inuksuk at all. It was an inunnguaq. What’s the difference?
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia inuksuit (the plural for inuksuk) also sometimes called Inukshuks have been found at sites that date from as long ago as 2400 BC. They are formations of rocks used by people across the Arctic as markers for all kinds of purposes- navigational routes, good kayak landing spots, good hunting and fishing sites, locations of celebrations and caches of meat. These markers can be in many different formations.
Inunnguaq on the other hand are shaped like human beings and can venerate a person, mark a spot for people to meet, or have spiritual significance.
So this symbol on the flag of the Canadian territory Nunavut is an inuksuk or inukshuk because although it looks somewhat like a human figure it does not have legs.
But in 2010 this symbol chosen for the Olympic Games in Vancouver was really an inunnguaq even though officials and the media regularly referred to it incorrectly as an inuksuk or inukshuk.
Piita Irniq, Inuit cultural activist, inuksuk builder, and former Nunavut commissioner, says it is important to distinguish between inuksuitand inunnguaqs because inunnguaqs have only been built in the last hundred years or so, largely by non-Inuit people, and are not authentic inuksuit.
There are inunnguaqs mistakenly called inukshuks or inuksuit all over the world.
This statue in Hiroshima Japan is called an inukshuk on the plaque at its base although it is clearly an inunnguaq.
I’ve heard Muriel Richardson’s name hundreds of times but realized recently I didn’t really know very much about her.
Muriel Richardson Auditorium at the Winnipeg Art Gallery
I’ve repeated Muriel’s name more times than I can count as I’ve directed guests to the auditorium named after her, or shown visitors the artwork in the auditorium’s foyer. But I’d never really stopped to think about who exactly Muriel was, and why the most frequently used room at the art gallery was named after her. So I decided to find out. I discovered that………..
1. Muriel was the first woman to run a large Canadian corporation. She took over the leadership of James Richardson and Sons Ltd. in 1939 following the death of her husband James Armstrong Richardson. She was fifty three years old at the time and continued to run the family company for the next twenty seven years.
2. According to an article in the Toronto Globe and Mail she was a trailblazer, pragmatic and full of common sense. She is credited with defining the essential character of both her family and the corporation.
3. She introduced a company pension plan and group insurance plan during her presidential tenure well before most other Canadian corporations had implemented such benefits for their employees.
Photo of Muriel Richardson from the Richardson Wealth website
4. She believed that to those to whom much is given, much is also required. In keeping with this principle she established a charitable foundation for the family firm which continues to donate very generous sums each year to worthy causes usually in a discreet way.
5. She was born in Ontario as Annie Muriel Sprague in 1890 and moved to Winnipeg in 1919 after her marriage to James Richardson. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography she was not only James’ life partner but also his business confidante which meant she was familiar with the complexities of the family business when her husband died.
An artwork showing five generations of the Richardson Family from the Winnipeg First website.
6. Muriel had four children George, James, Kathleen and Agnes. Agnes was the first female chancellor of Queens University. James served as a member of Canada’s Parliament. Kathleen accumulated a lengthy list of awards and honours for her charitable work most notably in support of the arts. George was his mother’s ultimate successor in the family business.
7. Muriel’s grandson Hartley who currently heads the family corporation tells a story about his grandmother’s pivotal decision to take over leadership of the family company. In 1939 just after her husband’s death she was on her way to a meeting to discuss the future of James Richardson and Sons. As she stopped to glance in mirror just outside the meeting room she overheard the men inside discussing how this would no doubt be the end of the company. How could they proceed without a leader? In an instant Muriel decided she would be the new president. She walked into the boardroom and announced her decision.
8. Muriel served on the Queens University board of trustees for nearly thirty years and was the honorary chair of many civic, provincial and national charities. She was the board chair of the Winnipeg Foundation a registered charity established in 1921 dedicated to the social improvement of the city.According to a Winnipeg Art Gallery timeline, in 1967 Muriel purchased the land where the current Winnipeg Art Gallery is located in order to help the building of the new gallery along.
9. In a June 1957 article Macleans magazine dubbed Muriel the shy baroness of brokerage. She was the first woman inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.
10. Muriel died on January 8th 1973. She is buried in the St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery.
In the future when I am in the Muriel Richardson Auditorium with Winnipeg Art Gallery guests, I will be sure to take a moment to show them a photo of Muriel and tell them something about the successful and accomplished woman for whom the auditorium is named.