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
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.
I 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.
Art/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…