Historical ‘Rumblings’: Kyaiyi-stamik Sketch on January 28, 2015

Another beautiful evening at the Rumble House!

Big highlight for me was seeing the positivity in our ‘regular’, Enriquito.  Having slipped on ice last week, he suffers from two fractures, a wrist on one arm and an elbow on the other.  But, instead of complaining or being despondent, Enriquito was out to the Rumble and being very supportive of everyone.  I can’t even believe he offered to carry my stuff four blocks to my car for me.  We paused…facing one another at the time, and then both broke out laughing.  I asked, “Do you see yourself? Good Night, Enriquito!”

From Enriquito's Archives

From Enriquito’s Archives

I like the Rumble because of the diversity of the people who attend.  I encourage you, if you haven’t been out yet, to come down to the Rumble House on Wednesday evenings.  Something about this experience feeds your heart.  I really like it.

Last night, Jess Szabo won my painting at auction.  She’s always been encouraging and has often bid on my work, but never won…last night, finally, she did.  Thanks, Jess!

There’s an immediacy about painting in this setting. Over their shoulders, artists feel the gaze of wandering ‘audience’ members.  Now and then, a question comes out…or a comment made.  Connections are quick, but treasured.  Tonight, my friend, Georgie, from the East Village showed up and like a flash, she was gone again.  Georgie was a little sparkle of magic as I dug deep to find the lines I was searching for. In two hours, something of some substance and creativity needs to be completed and then, like a whirl, that piece of art, swooshes out of your hands…no longer a composition to consider, a problem to resolve, a technique not completely explored or an answer discovered.  It is a swirling whirling lit up moment.

Whenever I have opportunity, I like to share a bit of the history of our First Nations.  I also like to explore the subject in my sketches and paintings.  We can all benefit from learning more about historical references.  It’s a difficult thing to enter into a conversation when you haven’t any knowledge on a subject. I think it’s good for Albertans and Canadians to learn the difference between what is called the Blackfoot Confederacy and the “Blackfoot” People/Siksika Nation.  The following information comes from here.

“The Blackfoot Confederacy or Niitsítapi (meaning “original people;” c.f. Ojibwe: Anishinaabeg and Quinnipiac: Eansketambawg) is the collective name of three First Nations in Alberta and one Native American tribe in Montana. The Blackfoot Confederacy consists of the North Peigan (Aapátohsipikàni), the Blackfeet or South Piegan (Aamsskáápipikani), the Kainai Nation (Káínaa: “Blood”), and the Siksika Nation (“Blackfoot”) or more correctly Siksikáwa (“Blackfoot people”). The South Peigan are located in Montana, and the other three are located in Alberta. Together they call themselves the Niitsítapi (the “Original People”). These groups shared a common language and culture, had treaties of mutual defense, and freely intermarried”

I am first to acknowledge that this is not my narrative to share, but I am filled with a deep sense of reverence for the history of our First Nations.  I think that things, at so many points along our communal time line, went so very wrong.  I abhor every situation that led /leads to injustice cast upon other human beings.

Last evening, I wanted to capture a depiction of Chief Bear Bull or Kyaiyi-stamik.  Unlike many other photographs of the same time period, Edward S. Curtis left the background of this particular photograph; warm and understated.  The photographer’s motives and art leave one steeped in a form of controversy, as do, I suppose, my own sketches, drawings and paintings of these beloved ancestors of our First Nations.  My interest lies, mostly, in the fact that photographers of the day had an insatiable appetite for taking photographs of ceremoniously dressed men, women and children, set before a romanticized back drop of a painted forest landscape including such natural elements as the waterfall and soft light bathing dappled foliage.  I feel a sadness as I consider this. With colonization, home was taken from these peoples, in this case, living on the plains…in the archival efforts of the times, it seems an irony to me that the natural landscape was perversely returned for the purpose of a ‘sitting’.  I’m wondering what my readers think.  While it is a wonderful thing to have these references in existence, I wonder the initial motivation for the production of such an archive.  Much to consider.

A very short audio tape can be accessed here, speaking, in short, about a member of this confederacy, Kayne-ina Bear Bull.  I am left wondering more about Chief Bear Bull as I discover small parts of his personal story through my reading. Such a great man, he must have been, given that he was a carrier of a Medicine Bundle.

While I did not capture the power of the photographic image…I did get a sense of the noble figure.  The piece of wood was 1/2 inch thick.  This made a difference for me.  There were beautiful markings in the wood itself that informed the piece.  To the left of the profile, I included the words from the book, The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler


Jess's Photo

Jess’s Photo

DSC_2073“When Imagination walks, she writes letters to the earth . When she runs, her feet trace postcards to the sun. And when she dances, when she dances, she sends love letters to the stars.”

Photo below of nice guy taking photos…never caught his name, but grateful that he bid on my work.

DSC_2057Thanks, Louise and Elena!  You know I’m excited!

Thanks to Andy…and get better, Jenn.

Some day, Aaron!

Georgie…such a beautiful person!

Paula!!  Finally we meet and I’m gettin’ me one of those caddies!


Gorilla House LIVE ART: September 4, 2013

There’s just something about making the anonymous – known.  There’s a lot to be said, also, for seeing the ‘special’ in the minute, seemingly-insignificant flotsam of  life.  Minutia is interesting to me…and I like the process of returning minutia to families who have long forgotten the connection they have with those particular objects.  All of a sudden, the object has tremendous meaning and represents something more.

I’ve sought out the family of Ruby J. Campbell.  I hold onto her bible for them.

I’ve looked for photographer, P. Mason and have not yet found him/her.

I have located the family of artist, John D. “Sam” Crawford and will return drawings to them.

I hold on to three grade seven letters written years ago; students of mine…Kearston Constable, Chad Gilmet and Adam Hunt.

Well…you get the picture.

Recently, I’ve located Jordan Bearshirt.  I began looking for Jordan in January of 2012, when I decided to put a new professional frame on his graphite drawing.  I commissioned Jordan when he was my grade nine student at Holy Cross School.  This was some thirty years ago.  I had read a stack of books about the great chiefs of the plains…and couldn’t stop thinking about the life of Chief Crowfoot.  My gaggle of Junior High art students were typical…but Jordan sat to the side at his art table…silent and absorbed…but, forever-drawing.  He told me that to draw Crowfoot, he would have to work at home, so one day after school, he left my classroom with a large piece of white bond paper.

A few days later, he came into the art room with the meticulous drawing completed, but it was rolled and its edges, tattered.  When he unrolled the piece, Crowfoot was impaled with a hole.  I looked at Jordan and back down at the detailed drawing.  “What happened, Jordan?”

“My young sister/brother (I forget this detail) poked it with a pencil.”

“Where were you working, Jordan?”

“On the carpet.”

So, there followed a chat with Jordan about quality and care.  I talked to him about mark making/surface/edges/ and paper.  When I think about the Gorilla House-experience, this actually brings a smile to my face…but, I’ll continue…and yes, I WILL eventually get back to the titled post, the subject being LIVE ART at the Gorilla House.

A few days later, I bought a piece of arches heavy weight paper…something I purchased at an art supply store and I drove over to Jordan’s house.  As I passed the paper to Jordan, I asked him to work at a desk or table as this piece would be really really important to me.  The piece that was completed was exceptional.

Chief Crowfoot by Jordan Bearshirt

Chief Crowfoot by Jordan Bearshirt

Upon my return to Calgary end of July, I learned that Jordan passed away just two days before my beautiful mother, on May 29.  It was three days after his 45th birthday.  From the moment I learned of this news, I knew that I must return the treasured drawing to his family.  This would be an object of great affection for them, as it has been for me all of these years.  On September 4, I was contacted after what seemed an epic search, by Jordan’s father, J. Bernard Bearshirt. I need to express gratitude to Morley Redwood for assisting in my search. On September 5, I would have opportunity to meet Bernard and give Jordan’s gift to his father.  I will write about that meeting another time…for now, the motivation for the painting I produced in two hours on Wednesday evening.

Somehow my work would be a testament to Jordan’s life. I decided to paint an unknown/little-known Blackfoot man.  I found an archive of museum-grade studio photographs and chose a man with strong features and dark beautiful eyes, Kat-O-Capee of 1900.   I printed off a quick reference at home, packed up my gear and off I headed for the Gorilla House.

Kat-O-Capee Vancouver Archives, Blackfoot Circa 1900I began by creating a fairly dramatic and monochrome background for the piece, using black and silver acrylic and allowing the paint to drip freely into the white gessoed surface of the bottom third.  I spent the last hour watching the portrait emerge.  I thank Rebecca and Dylan for bidding on the piece and thank Rebecca for purchasing the piece at auction.

P1120536 P1120539 P1120543Art/writing/music/dance/theater provide the human spirit a way of exploring the notion of and illusion of permanence.  We learn, however, that the creation, itself, is ephemeral.  The dance ends.

“It’s no great secret we’re built to attach to things. But at least part of the strength with which we form attachments is mediated by the mistaken belief that we’ll always have the things to which we’re attached just as they are, supported by the additional mistaken belief that our ability to keep them as they are is also within our control.”

The painting of Kat-O-Capee represents everything I am trying to say…about Jordan…about my mother…about the family bible and the letters left behind by students.  Here was a man posing in a studio for a photographer in the day…a man pulled out from his familial environment, cultural practice, family, life’s work…to sit for a formal photograph.  And here…over one hundred years later,  an artist has explored that face again and caused a whole number of people to feel ‘something’ about that face.  The painting can not last.  But what is ‘forever’ about everything is the ‘fire’ of creation…that moment of awakening…the spirit of interaction and of crossed paths…the circle that connects us.  God…Divine Creator…

Where are you, Jordan Bearshirt?

I didn’t publish a post yesterday.  I’ve been trying, interspersed with the organizing of our household, to create a reading list of my favourite writers under the heading, I Read This.  It was while publishing a page about Hugh Dempsey’s writing this morning, that I thought of Jordan Bearshirt.  I would love to meet him again.

After teaching in Medicine Hat for a couple of years, I managed to snapple a job teaching junior high art at Holy Cross Catholic School here in Calgary.  It was during my first couple of years that I met Jordan Bearshirt in my grade nine art class.  He had a profound sense of line and a meticulous way of rendering his world.  He was a quiet boy and while so many other students were performing for attention, he was in a world of his own, using every moment of time in class to draw.  After learning that his ancestors were Blackfoot, I asked him if he would do a drawing of the great Chief Crowfoot for me.  I would provide him the best of papers and would pay him as a commission for his work.  He set about the task at home and brought the first of two drawings back to me, with disappointment.  After investing hours of labour, some damage had happened to the piece.

I asked Jordan if he had a desk to work on at home and he explained that “No, I am working on the floor”.  As I recall, I had a feeling that I needed to bring this young man under my wing.  He was such a meticulous artist and such a gentle spirit.

In the end, this is the beautiful piece that Jordan Bearshirt completed in graphite on arches paper.  It has been a family treasure ever since.  I hope and pray that this young man is well and that he continued with his art.  You are in my heart, Jordan.