Friday, October 7, 2016

Moccushions© and Trapper Hats

The Metis are the first Canadians – meaning the hybrid people created from the unions of First Nations and the initial immigrant Europeans settlers. The Metis evolved into a distinct, thriving indigenous people. During Canada’s fur trade period, the Metis women would bead articles for sale to participate in their household economy. Items beaded ranged from saddle bags and gun holsters to coats, mitts or moccasins.

Moccushions - Little Red Riding Hood Re-interpreted

Despite the prolific popularity of these beaded items, they were never attributed to Metis women at the time. Reasons for this include the market demand for authentic items from "real Indians" (the Metis were not yet recognized as an indigenous group), and Metis families who were trying to blend in to a largely racist settlement society did not want to be found out as being of mixed blood by European community members or even the local Indian Agent.

Trapper Hat - Canadian Shield

The traditional Metis design style is distinct. It is a blend of early First Nations geometric beading and highly detailed European floral designs. The mix evolved into a very stylized, colourful floral design. Due to the range of items that Metis women beaded, they popularly became known as the “Flower Beadwork People”. The distinctive Métis art, which is the blending of First Nations and European art forms into a new art form, is considered the first Canadian art form.
The piece shown above, the Moccushion, is a pillow (or cushion) but its construction is based on the traditional Metis-style moccasin. Materials used for the Moccushion are also common to the moccasin. Leather, fur, Melton wool and beads are used to handcraft the piece. The beadwork that makes moccasins so distinctive is used to decorate this hybrid cushion but is also used to symbolize a certain story or theme. The Trapper Hat (shown left) is based on the traditional construction of the type of headgear that was worn by Metis Voyageurs but redefined to suit a modern market. Beadwork has been added to the top of the hat thus turning into the wearer’s crown of sorts. Just as with the Moccushion, the beadwork is inspired by a theme or some aspect from the wearer’s personality.

Source:  “The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America”, edited by Jacqueline Peterson and Jennifer S. H. Brown, The University of Manitoba Press, 1985, ISBN: 0-88755-617-5.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Student projects

Every once in a while I'm contacted by a teacher or parent of a student asking if it would be OK for them to contact me so they can do a school project about me and my art. I'm always surprised and flattered by this. I love helping students with their education so this is a real treat for me. Sometimes the students are doing essays (especially in the higher grades). The younger ones usually do artwork. I'm thrilled when they send me copies or photos of the work they've done so I had to share a couple of the recent ones I've received this year.

The Postcard Project was done over a period of a couple of months. The idea is that a student choses a picture from a selection of various locals artists (which the teacher has prearranged with the artists). The student then creates an image in response and sends it in post card format to the artist. The artist then creates a post card size response to the student.

This year's Postcard Project to help teach about residential school. Having never been to residential school, I could only send in an image of what going to a catholic school felt like to me (which I explained to the teacher beforehand). So I sent in the image with a little trepidation but, ultimately, I think the artful conversation was thoughtful and genuine. I love the whole concept behind the Postcard Project. It doesn't take a lot of time or expense and I believe it does a great job connecting kids to the language of art.

This photo shows the painting that was studied by a grade 2 student for art class. She chose to study one of my landscapes entitled "I can hear my heart beating in the still morning sun" (2014, oil/canvas). On the right is her interpretation of the piece. :)

Monday, November 23, 2015

I Will Not Give You My Hate

This latest piece is something I needed to get out of my system. Technically, this isn't my best piece. I just wanted to get an image out. In any event, you get the idea. I don't really even know what to say about it anymore...

"I Will Not Give You My Hate"
20" x 10", oil on canvas

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thoughts From the Blind

I think about death a lot. Not because I’m rushing to get there or out of fear. But it’s something that all living beings face at some point. It’s also likely because I hunt that death is often top of mind.

Before I left for the first hunt of the season, the Syrian conflict was hitting mass media. The photo of a drowned young Syrian boy reflected in my mind for days. Even as I sat there in the woods, no one around but me, a couple of chipmunks and a squirrel, the image of that young boy represented all the things that are wrong with humanity. In the days following, I learned a respected community member and arts advocate had suddenly died. I was shocked at the news even though I didn’t know her all that well. But we’d had a discussion once about the demise of the Beothuks. I was impressed with her knowledge of indigenous culture and her empathy towards this group that suffered genocide at the hands of European settlers. I was immediately reminded of the lengths humans will go to for what they want.
And yet, here I was, waiting for a bear to show up to kill it so I could continue to live. The conflict is undeniable.
Death Mask of a Bear, 2015
12"x12", Acrylic, Gallery Canvas
For me, the value of a life is the same regardless if it’s for a human or non-human animal. I don’t consider myself on any rung of some food chain. I’m simply a part of the ecosystem I live in. However, all through school and even in university, we’re taught about hierarchies. It’s embedded in our psyches that humans are at the top of a pyramid, and some humans are close to divine. I’ve found that this concept is especially held by people who believe in some sort of god, regardless of religion. I wondered if maybe that was the problem. Not so much the belief in god but this idea of hierarchy and “food chains”.
It’s impossible for me to have an objective opinion on all this. Aside from thinking of myself as an active player in my environment, I also don’t believe in god or any kind of creator or spirit realm. I believe in the laws of thermodynamics (1 & 2) and that, when it’s my time to die, my body will become a part of the ecosystem I’m buried in. I don’t think anyone can really have an objective opinion when it comes to religion, beliefs, politics, life or death either. It’s just too close to us. That said when do we collectively stop to ask ourselves what the hell we’re doing to each other in the name of humanity? Where is the fine line between fear and offense?

Ultimately, we’re killing each other for our beliefs. We’re killing each other so we can have our idea of a better life (or rest ourselves assured that is the goal). We’re killing each other out of fear, rejection, revenge, greed, or some other perverse desire to rid ourselves of each other so we could ultimately gain from the death of others. When you stop to put that in perspective, isn’t that what we’re also doing with the environment? We’re destroying land and rivers and air so we can have a few more conveniences. You simply have to look at the bags and bins piled up along a suburban street on garbage day as proof that conveniences are top of mind for most of us. The thing of it is, we’re not really killing mother earth. We’re killing ourselves.
I’ll be the first person to say that there are just too many people on the planet for my liking, that the earth would do well without us and that humans are really just a virus. (There’s proof in our DNA that we’re born of virus.) As much as I would prefer to live in the woods, off the land and never see another city, hear another political promise, or learn of another human-created disaster, I realize that there are other people who share this planet and who have just as much right to live in peace as I do. As much as I would rather people have the ability to thrive in their own countries, I also recognize that my moral compass includes empathy toward my fellow humans.  And even though I have my own cultural ties and preferences, I believe that others have every right to explore the cultural practices they were born in or exposed to.
The piece associated to this stream of thought is “Death Mask of a Bear”. The concept is based on old world practices of creating death masks of those who’ve departed, to keep them and their memory alive. It is adorned with Metis style floral embroidery designs. It was created in honour of the bear we recently hunted, to keep its memory alive even after we’ve finished consuming it for our continued existence.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What I Learned From A Wood Duck

As part of my quest to take responsibility for my food sources and eat a more traditional diet, I spend a few days’ duck hunting in the fall. This year, I shot a Wood Duck that had a band on its leg. It’s my first banded bird ever. Wood Ducks are all special, beautiful birds but what this band represents is something that we cannot get anywhere else: actual details about the duck’s life. I couldn’t wait to report it and find out anything I could.

The little 1 and a half pound male duck was hatched and banded in South Carolina and flew a 1600km migration each way (twice a year) for the five years of his life. Because of banding, science has learned so much about species populations and so it is understood that, 75% of the time, ducks will come back to the same breeding and wintering grounds each year. It’s fairly safe to say that this little Wood Duck probably loved my favourite marsh as much, if not more, than I do.
Am I sad that I killed this duck to feed myself? For me, hunting is very emotional. The killing part is not a part I enjoy but I would much rather take the responsibility of doing it myself, knowing that it died as humanely as possible of my own hands. But I’m also very keen on knowing how the animal lived. With the help of science and the banding programs, now I know more.
I already knew that “my” marsh provides a healthy place for Wood Ducks to thrive given the population that come back each year. Even though I knew about migrations, getting information from that little band really drives home the kinds of distances these ducks go to. It reinforces the very real importance of wetlands and other habitat all along the flyways. It greatly opens up my appreciation for the life I took in order to nourish myself. That little band has given me a whole new perspective on the Wood Duck and that is something I have never found, and likely never will, from buying my meat in a grocery store. I am thankful there is still a bird banding program in the US. It's the kind of science that overlaps and informs us on the environment and so much more.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Royal Canadian Mint Unveils Northern Lights Collector Coin in Canada's North

WHITEHORSE, Aug. 24, 2015 /CNW Telbec/ - The final coin in the Royal Canadian Mint's stunning silver coin series A Story of the Northern Lights was unveiled today in Whitehorse with local community and First Nations leaders. The coin features a soaring raven set against a dazzling holographic sky lit by the northern lights.

Sandra Hanington, Royal Canadian Mint President and CEO, Ta’an Kwächä’an First Nation Chief Kristina Kane, the Honourable Elaine Taylor, Deputy Premier of the Yukon Territorial Government, and Dan Curtis, Mayor of Whitehorse, unveil the Story of the Northern Lights: The Raven $20 fine silver collector coin in Whitehorse, Yukon (CNW Group/Royal Canadian Mint)
"This new silver coin merges the old with the new, thanks to the Mint's unique achromatic hologram technology," says Sandra Hanington, President and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint.  "Our employees have used their world-renowned expertise to bring to life two themes that have marked the experience of those who have inhabited Canada for thousands of years: the raven and the aurora borealis." 
This amazing coin is only the third achromatic hologram coin ever to be released by the Mint.  Struck into 99.99% pure silver using nanotechnology, the holographic sky lit by the northern lights makes for a truly unique reverse design. Artist Nathalie Bertin's raven image is inspired by First Nations storytelling traditions of the Pacific Northwest.
With a highly limited mintage of only 8,500 and retailing for $109.95, this coin can be ordered as of August 25 from the Mint at 1-800-267-1871 in Canada, 1-800-268-6468 in the US, or online at Starting September 1st, the coins will also be available at the Royal Canadian Mint's boutiques in Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver, as well as through the Mint's global network of dealers and distributors, including participating Canada Post outlets.  
About the Royal Canadian Mint
The Royal Canadian Mint is the Crown Corporation responsible for the minting and distribution of Canada's circulation coins. An ISO 9001-2008 certified company the Mint is recognized as one of the largest and most versatile mints in the world, offering a wide range of specialized, high quality coinage products and related services on an international scale. For more information on the Mint, its products and services, visit.

SOURCE Royal Canadian Mint
Image with caption: "Sandra Hanington, Royal Canadian Mint President and CEO, Ta’an Kwächä’an First Nation Chief Kristina Kane, the Honourable Elaine Taylor, Deputy Premier of the Yukon Territorial Government, and Dan Curtis, Mayor of Whitehorse, unveil the Story of the Northern Lights: The Raven $20 fine silver collector coin in Whitehorse, Yukon (CNW Group/Royal Canadian Mint)". Image available at:

For further information: media are asked to contact: Alex Reeves, Senior Manager, Communications, Royal Canadian Mint, Telephone: 613-949-5777,


Monday, August 10, 2015

News & Updates: Summer 2015

Photo credit: Louis Li Photography

What a crazy, busy summer it's been at the studio! From upcoming news and products to completed projects, it's been a fun-filled, productive season!

First, I completed the Artrepreneur program that was provided by the York Region Arts Council in partnership with the Ontario Arts Council and several of York Region's arts groups and municipal business centres. The photo above is of me during the final presentation stage. Aside from the out-of-home studio I long to build, I am also determined to publish a follow up book to the "Indiginesse" exhibition I curated in 2014. Why a book? Books are simply more accessible to a wider audience. As much as I would love to bring the exhibition across Canada, exhibitions take a long time, a lot of work and a lot of money to plan, organize and produce. Plus the book will also feature twice as many artists as the exhibition did.

If you'd like to know more about my business plan for the studio or projects related to "Indiginesse", feel free to contact me by email or call 905-868-8372. I'm especially interested in speaking to anyone interested in sponsorships or partnerships.

A small piece I completed 2014 has found its way to Italy (and around the world), both in book form and as part of a large group exhibition in the 2015 Venice Bienniele collateral events. The book is Contemporary North American Indigenous Art, curated by Jennifer Karch Verzè. It is published by Imago Mundi as part of the Luciano Bennetton Collection. The Venice Biennale events are happening from August 28 - November 1, 2015, at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice, Italy.

Illustrations from the "How Beaver Got His Flat Tail" will be republished in new learning tools for Grade 1 school groups by Nelson Education. Also, my piece entitled "It Gets Hot On the Rocks by Noon" will be published in print and online in Pearson Canada's "THINK History: Canadian History Since 1914", a textbook for Ontario Grade 10 students.

Stay tuned for news from the Royal Canadian Mint on the last of three collector coins I designed for the Northern Lights hologram collection. A little bird tells me the release date is September 1, 2015. The others have sold out fast. Mark your calendars and check the Mint's web site if you want one!

Shown above: Left: Cover from "Contemporary North American Indigenous Art", Imago Mundi, Luciano Bennetton Collection; Centre: detail illustration from "How Beaver Got His Flat Tail", Nelson Education; Right: "It Gets Hot On the Rocks By Noon"

Happy to report that, aside from being published (see above), the original painting "It Gets Hot On the Rocks By Noon" (2014, acrylic on canvas) has sold in recent weeks. Other pieces that have found new homes include "Blueberry Picking" (2015, oil on canvas) and "Wedding Moccasins" (2013, acrylic on canvas), both shown above. Thank you to my valued clients and friends! I hope you enjoy these works for many years to come!

For more information on any of the items in this e-newsletter & other news, to view a portfolio, purchase any of the art on my web site or in gallery or have a commission made:

T 905-868-8372

The web site changes fairly frequently. Make sure you visit often!