A 21stCentury Guide to the Woodland Art Movement
R.R. Sinclair © 1999/2006
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To answer this question, let me tell you a tale...
There once was a young native artist who lived deep in the peaceful Northern Ontario forests. More than anything he loved to paint the ancient symbols of his people that had been passed down to him by his Grandfather.
As a youth, the artist exhibited a profound understanding of the spiritual significance of colour and design. From his Grandfather he learned the secrets of native symbology and colour interpretation. For example he learned that the colour gold must be used sparingly as it was a sacred colour that symbolized the power of the sun and the soul.
When the boy reached school age he was taken, like all those his age, to learn in a boarding school. While there, he was indoctrinated into Catholicism. When in church he would often daydream to pass time. One day, while gazing at a beautiful stained-glass window, he noticed that the craftsmen had liberally used gold on the haloes that illuminated the heads of Jesus, Mary and the Saints.
Recalling his Grandfather's teachings,
he was deeply impressed.
During summers he would return home where he continued to learn the native ways with his Grandfather. During these times he also grew close to his Grandmother, who was a devout Catholic and shared the young artist's interest in Christianity.
He grew up to be a strong young man and found work in a local gold mine. He moved into a cabin nearby and began to paint during his time off. While at work he met a medical officer stationed at the mine who was fascinated with ancestral lore and enjoyed painting as a hobby. They became fast friends and would often venture off together to explore ancestral rock glyphs and paint. Their mutual love of painting and tribal history greatly inspired the young native.
Native artistic depictions and ceremonial artifacts had always been painted in the few pigments that were local and abundant, such as "black slate" and "red oxide". Yellow and blue were rare colours, and therefore used sparingly. The young native artist was haunted by beauty of the colours he witnessed in the stained-glass windows of the church. Over time this influence became evident as more and more colour appeared in his art. With the assistance of his new found friend and manufactured materials, he soon began to create native paintings exhibiting a wide range of colour.
As he matured as an artist
word spread throughout the region.
One autumn morning he was disturbed by a number of people from the nearby town who were excitedly making their way up the trail that led to his cabin. They brought with them news of a "fine art dealer from the city" who was visiting town on a lecture tour and had shown a keen interest in the young artist's work. The dealer wanted to see more of his artwork. This inspired a parade of townsfolk to trek to the cabin, eager to escort their fledgling celebrity to town.
The artist decided to invite the art dealer over to his cabin to look over his new pieces. Once inside the sparse home of the artist the dealer could hardly maintain his composure. Before him lay an extraordinary array of dazzling images painted on various grades of paper, birch bark and animal hide. Like a hieroglyphic language they spoke of the history and legends of the Ojibwa people. Out of the many beautiful pieces scattered throughout the cabin the dealer picked out ten of his favourites. The dealer paid the young artist a bountiful sum for his work before proposing that they hold a future exhibition at his gallery in the city.
Six months later, 1000 miles due south, in the metropolitan city of Toronto, a modern master introduced himself to the western world of art. This introduction marked the beginning of the odyssey of a people in the act of becoming a source of creative inspiration to the new global village of humanity.
You and I can share in the fruit of that experience. We can claim our share of the treasures that flow from that source. We can partake in our share of the 'Pot of Gold at the End of the Woodland Rainbow'.
All you need do, is read on....