A 21stCentury Guide to the Woodland Art Movement
R.R. Sinclair © 1999/2006
The world is going through a fascinating transition. We find ourselves suddenly involved in a far different situation than we might have imagined. Invariably, we must meet the future without the benefit of history to give us economic insight and political foresight.
Things have fundamentally transformed to such a degree that there is no returning to the cocoon of 20th century thinking. The needs of the world are as evident as is the potential we share as a collective force to take care of them. The Globalization of economies, and the emergence of new media technologies, have surmounted the traditional industries of commerce. Many major institutions have been undermined to such an extent that they are no longer effective in achieving their purposes. Included are government and religious organizations as well as the dinosaur energy industries. Even cultural boundaries are disintegrating as borders are economically eclipsed by multi-national corporations.
The result of this transition, we hope, will be a better world for all of us. There can be no doubt that extensive education and better communication tools are assisting us in the creation of a truly global culture. The ride will be rough for most of us. That need not be so for you.
The opportunities to enrich your life are overwhelming. There are only two interrelated requirements to fulfillment. The first requirement is "security". The second is "freedom". Many would say that there is no freedom without first security. The inverse; that there is no real security until there is first freedom, may also be true. The freedom to choose and to be responsible are fundamental.
Today's economic portfolios are a hodge-podge of herd investments. If
the ship goes down, we all go with it. Choice has been taken away. The playing
field for the lay person, from an investment perspective, is greatly diminished
and subject to variables beyond his control. The experts have speculated for
us, creating deep wells of debt throughout the globe. The economic ground is
shaky and we all know it. For years we have been warned by these very experts,
"Don't put your eggs in one basket; diversify your investments!". It is clearly
evident that economies are becoming increasingly inter-dependent. During the
DOTCOM boom, we watched merger after merger take place as trans-national corporations
diversified their portfolios, leaving all of us with still less real choice.
The end of this equation will mean more for fewer, and less for most.
This book presents Woodland Art
as a "gold nugget" investment option.
A financial life raft
that will provide you with tangible security
and economic independence from market fluctuations.
Gold, historically signifies wealth and is the foundation of the global monetary system. Gold used to be the sure investment. The wealthy who collected it kept the markets strong by keeping it in demand. To the man in the street, from virtually any country of the world, a gold necklace, a gold tooth, or a gold ring, were financial security itself. With gold safely stored, one had wealth. When paper money became worthless, gold was still good.
The beauty of gold is in its actuality. Today, money flows into speculation and paper investments. It hides in house-of-card companies and cardboard governments. Today, only the very wealthy, and the very poor, depend on gold for their security. The aristocratic demand is there as it ever has been, but gold has lost its lustre as an investment. Global debt alone outweighs global gold reserves.
The equivalent to gold, and the foundation of the ancestral First Nations traditional monetary exchange system, they called "wampum". Wampum were beads or shells. Their value, like any collectible, depended upon rarity and quality. Wampum however, were more than a simple form of exchange. Collections of wampum beads were put together to symbolically depict the terms of a treaty or contract. The value of a wampum belt, therefore, went well beyond the total value of the individual beads used to create the belt.
Rare beads were sought after for belts and for other ceremonial items in a similar fashion to the way Kings and Pharaohs would collect treasure. This kept objects of allure in demand, galvanizing whole populations to believe in their value. From the Kings came money, symbolizing the treasury of the Kingship. Gold, like money, carries a base value, but when transformed into a symbolic object like a ring or necklace, increases in value. Rarity is created out of uniqueness and purpose symbolically crafted and communicated.
The paintings of the Woodland Artists are essentially wampum belts. Using paint instead of beads they depict archetypal contracts that resonate with power. They are collectible treasures that are like bonds in that they appreciate over time, but they are better in that they are guaranteed by society, rather than governments who are subject to structural forces. The value of Woodland Art differs from paper money and gold in that it can be utilized to create still more wealth during the period of appreciation. As an investment, Woodland Art carries with it the positive attributes of other securities, while itself remaining unaffected by the negative characteristics of the global marketplace.
Woodland Art speaks to the global population. It speaks a language that is not only respected, inspirational and educational; it is universal. Aboriginals are the predecessors of humankind. They are the bedrock foundation of the cultures of the world. Similarities in understanding, and experience join aboriginal tribes one to another. People who begin their personal search for solid ground will eventually find their way to their culture's ancestral roots. There they will discover the seed of their community; a tribal trust born of an inter-dependent truth.
Today, more than ever, "Nativism", the naturalist philosophy of the First Nations people, carries special credibility in the global marketplace. The reach of the Aboriginal vision commands cultural and commercial respect. The global village, which is now an economic necessity, may be realized in part because of the tribalization influences passed on by the Aboriginal people of the World.
Canadian natives are in the unique position of supplying the necessary
spark of leadership. They carry the peacemaker persona of Canada, and unlike
the American Indian, are not a conquered people. They are, however, isolated
and neglected. Morrisseau, his protégé's, and the inspired Ojibwa
people, have a visual vocabulary that can speak through a variety of media to
a world-wide audience. It is time that we let them.
The reasons for this have more to do with politics than art. When we explore the dynamics of the First Nations political struggle for recognition within Canada, we will better understand why things must change; and are changing, for the better. It is quite a testament to the merit of the work that Canadian collectors continue to deepen and broaden their personal collections of Woodland Art.
There are hundreds of collectors holding onto large collections, thereby creating a stable market base. These collectors never allow their chosen art values to fall below established market parameters because they are aesthetically inclined. They sell for a profit, or they wait. There are also thousands of minor collectors with small collections, along with many institutions with quality collections.
In Ontario, Morrisseaus are found in virtually every major parliament and cultural building. The Museum of Civilization in Quebec holds well over 200 pieces, and the McMichael Gallery in Ontario have a superior collection. Though market strength depends on demand, and there is only so much demand possible within Canada, Woodland Art continues to entice Canadians.
Since Morrisseau's retreat to the west coast of Canada, he has successfully marketed Woodland Art on the home turf of one of Canada's other aboriginal art movements; the Haida West Coast Natives. It is noteworthy that Morrisseau's penetration into the west coast market includes the wholehearted acceptance of the Haida people. He even signed a 99 year lease on Haida reserve land where he built a studio/home overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
"Co-operation before competition" is an aboriginal maxim and nowhere has it been better portrayed than here. It is also interesting to note that the Haida, though powerfully established west of Manitoba, do not penetrate the Canadian eastern markets of Ontario and Quebec. West Coast Art is essentially the "craft of a culture" and therefore draws its inspiration solely from traditional sources. The visual vocabulary between the two First Nations movements may be similar, but as Art the Woodland School stands alone as an artistic force in the truest sense.
There is nothing traditional about Morrisseau's work or his life. He was born to break barriers; not to keep them. The Woodland School of Art needs to be exposed to larger markets. When the larger markets respond, prices will quantum. The work of the Woodland School is not undervalued so much as it is under priced, because Woodland School Artists haven't been afforded the opportunities to share their art with the world. The question is why not?
Consider the following......
Norval Morrisseau is a cultural Icon whose paintings hang by the thousands throughout the land. He is a man whose name is a legend to the First Nations people throughout North America and a personality that the white man cannot ignore.
A master painter/ shaman/teacher with viable plans to establish the Woodland movement as a source of creative inspiration for future generations, by personally financing an art and artifact museum. A well read man who studies higher psychology as a habit, and utilizes what he learns to assist those around him.
A man with two 'Honorary Doctor of Law' degrees, that has been decorated by both the Assembly of First Nations, and the Government of Canada. Whether you see him politically, artistically, culturally or mythically, Morrisseau is a big fish in a small pond. How is it that he is not internationally acclaimed?
The political oversight of the Government of Canada, in ignoring the needs and rights of the First Nations people for generations, is an historic point in fact. When we understand why the First Nations have been so demeaned, and mistreated, we will likewise understand why the Woodland School hasn't been promoted internationally. The Canadian psyche is a fragile entity.
The First Nations situation within Canada is unique in that they are not a conquered people. From the outset, the First Nations have been maligned by the European settlers, even though natives in Ontario and Quebec fought alongside the British and the French in creating and preserving the Dominion of Canada. The people of the First Nations were great believers in ethical relations between tribes. Wherever possible, they promoted tribal co-operation and sharing. In that spirit and attitude they made treaties with Canada that have since been ignored wherever possible. Successive governments have instead thrown money at them in the hope the Natives will continue to live hidden and quiet in the north country. For generations, Canadian governments have compounded the problem by remaining indecisive, inevitably putting such matters on the back burner for the next government to deal with. The problem is that sour deals were made between the First Nations and the fledgling Canadian government or, even worse for Canadians, not made.
The First Nations people have the same international human rights as you or I. Legally, most of Canada is still Native land. The one great stumbling block that Quebecers faced when they considered separation from Canada in the 1990's was the fact that more than two thirds of Quebec are probably legally owned by Natives. First Nations councils in Quebec jointly decided that, should Quebec separate, they would stay within the union of Canada and mount a legal challenge for their land. With the wind taken out of their sails, Quebec governments have conveniently set aside the idea of separation from Canada for now.
Legal challenges from Native bands across the country are organized, growing and provide increased pressure on every governmental front. The Canadian Government finds itself in a similar predicament to that faced by the South African Government. Unlike South African Aboriginals, Canadian Aboriginals remain a minority. Still, according to international human rights declarations, both have the inalienable right to what is theirs.
Many Natives, inspired by the likes of Morrisseau, have succeeded in educating themselves. The First Nations in Canada are now an activist population. Old Indian myths no longer hold water, yet to this day Canadians think of Natives as little more than savages. The common perception of rampant alcoholism, pregnancy, laziness, stupidity and filth could also be used to describe Canadian perceptions of homeless people. The age-old solution? Give them some money. Just enough to keep them quiet, but not too much as they'll just spend it on alcohol.
The problem Canadians now face is that Natives are no longer keeping quiet. The First Nations have a valid point and they are intent on being noticed. With the watchful eye of the United Nations looking at the Canadian treatment of Natives with scrutiny, the voices and vision of a frustrated yet motivated people will be heard.
It is interesting to consider the Government of Canada's recent recognition of Inuit rights. The Inuit have negotiated a treaty that gives them their own Territory they named "Nunavuk", along with the right to govern themselves. The Inuit culture has been left untouched since colonization for obvious reasons, making this the least complicated Native band to settle with. Like all other tribal cultures, the Inuit create ceremonial items. Concurrent with government recognition, the "art of the Eskimo" has broken through the Canadian art barrier to reach the international art community. They are led by a sculptor who created barely 100 pieces of art and died at 27 years of age. Though Inuit work is traditional and craft-orientated, the Canadian Ggovernment promotes Inuit art in the prestigious ambassadorial role, thereby stimulating dealer demand internationally. As a result, sales of Inuit art are skyrocketing.
The First Nations question is more than an embarrassment to Canada. Within Canada, it creates dissension and distress over land and resource issues. Abroad, it exposes the hypocrisy of Canada's humanitarian reputation.
Imagine the political dangers of exposing a leader the magnitude of Morrisseau to an international audience. Rather than permit this to happen, Morrisseau has been maligned with the typical native myths. He has been handed the yoke of a drunk, out of control, immoral Indian. Nothing could be further from the truth. The intelligence, mastery and prolific energy of Morrisseau hardly sound like the makings of a homeless derelict.
Moreover, his talent and value as an artist, and as a human being, have been consistently undermined by the Canadian art establishment. With the label, "Native Artist", they have defined his work as no more than a craft. In the past the establishment chose to consider Morrisseau, like Canadian nature artist Robert Bateman, to be a popular artist with the people, yet not a "fine artist".
The establishment of Inuit art internationally precedes a similar recognition for the Woodland School. The brilliant work of the Woodland School, with it's colourful embrace of natural themes, will inspire the international art community in the same way that it has captured the attention of Canadian art lovers for more than forty years.
There are three organized native art movements in Canada. All three are tradition based and flourishing, however only the Woodland School utilizes an original style that goes beyond the tribal to the artistic traditions and spirit that herald the emergence of great masters of the arts since time immemorial.