Canadian Native Art
Native Art in Canada
Canadian Native Peoples
First off, Native peoples in Canada are often referred
to as one group, but actually reflect many different
cultures. Just like we understand that people from
different European or Asian countries have different
traditions, languages, histories and cuisines, the same
is true for Native peoples. Canada is a huge country
which is home to many different groups of Native
peoples. This also means that there are many different
types of Native art.
Native Art in History
Historically, to the native people, art was only
one aspect of their lives. Art played a special
role in their religious ceremonies. In some
societies it was an important part of their
political and social organization; and it helped
to make useful objects attractive.
Wampum Belt
Wampum was used by the
native people as currency and
to record treaties and settle
Shaman’s Charm
Shamans were expected to contact
the spirit world by dancing and
singing, so drums and rattles were
important in their rituals. These items
were often carved to represent their
spirit helpers or painted with scenes
of the shaman entering the land of the
Interactions with Europeans
The greatest change brought by Europeans was in
technology. Indians were particularly keen to trade
furs for glass beads and metal tools. Beads were far
simpler to use for embroidery than porcupine quills.
Before long, Indian women were using beads in all
shapes and colours and quillwork became a skill of
the past. Woollen cloth, too, was easier to obtain than
skins and hides. On the Northwest Coast, metal tools
caused a flourishing of wood carving for some years
during the 19th century.
decorated with
porcupine quills
Native Artists Today
Today, most native artists are painters, sculptors, and
makers of prints and jewellery. Although they may
use many of the traditional myths and styles in their
art, they do it in new ways and with new materials.
There are three main schools of contemporary native
artists: Inuit art, West Coast Native art and the
Woodlands school of "Legend Painters."
Inuit Art
The first "school" to rise to prominence was contemporary
Inuit art, with sculpture appearing in the late 1940s, and then
Inuit printmaking in the late 1950s.
Inuit sculpture and prints remained the most popular and most
successful in the marketplace during the 1960s and into the
1970s, when original drawings by individual Inuit artists came
to be more fully recognized and valued.
Contemporary Inuit sculpture, prints, drawings, and textiles
may often employ Western artistic techniques and cater to an
outsider market. At the same time, contemporary Inuit art
exhibits numerous points of continuity with traditional Inuit
culture, values, and world view.
Kenojuak Ashevak
Kenojuak Ashevak, was born on October 3, 1927, at
Ikerrasak, Baffin Island, N.W.T. Kenojuak is one of
Canada's most popular printmakers. She grew up in a
traditional Inuit family, living off the land and moving
camp as the seasons changed. She had many children,
several of whom died in infancy. In the late 1950s, James
Houston encouraged her and her husband, Johnniebo, to
make some drawings for the new printmaking shop at
Cape Dorset. Since that time, about 200 prints have been
based on her work. She is best known for her drawings
of birds, which are colourful and composed with a strong
sense of design. Her most famous print, The Enchanted
Owl, was reproduced on a postage stamp in 1967. She
also carves in soapstone, and she and Johnniebo (now
deceased) have been honoured with many awards,
including the Companion of Canada, a National Film
Board film, and a book about her work, and major
exhibitions in galleries across Canada. In 2002 her work
was featured in the exhibition Kenojuak Ashevak: To
Make Something Beautiful at the National Gallery of
Canada. She was awarded a Governor General's Award
in Visual and Media Arts in 2008.
Wolves in
The World Around Me
The Enchanted Owl
West Coast
In the late 1960s and early 1970s a "renaissance" of Northwest Coast art in
British Columbia occurred, with the appearance in abundance of traditional
forms of woodcarving, metalwork, painting, prints and textiles at first
among the "northern" nations (Haida, Tsimshian, and Kwakiutl) and more
recently among the "southerly" Nootka and coast Salish.
Famous artists include Tony Hunt and Robert Davidson who are skilled
carvers of totem poles and masks. William Reid is famous for his sculpture,
jewellery, and prints as well.
Contemporary art is produced on the coast today for use in Native villages,
but more often such traditional items as masks, rattles, boxes, bowls,
textiles and jewellery are adapted to EuroCanadian techniques, materials,
and functions for sale in Native art shops.
Use of formlines and the use of shapes
referred to as ovoids, U forms and S
Media were wood, stone, and copper;
since European contact, paper, canvas,
glass, and precious metals have also been
Common colours are red and black, but
yellow is also often used, particularly
among Kwakwaka'wakw artists.
Patterns depicted include natural forms
such as bears, ravens, eagles, and
humans; legendary creatures such as
thunderbirds and sisiutls; and abstract
forms made up of the characteristic
Northwest Coast shapes.
Wooden Moon Mask
Soul Catcher
Totem Poles
Bill Reid
William Ronald Reid, was born on January 12,
1920, at Victoria, B.C. He died there on March
13, 1998. Bill Reid did more than anyone else to
revive interest in Northwest Coast Native art and
to create new art forms within the old traditions.
He was the son of a Haida mother and a white
father, but it was not until he was in his late
teens that he learned anything about his native
heritage. He worked as a broadcaster for 16
years, and in 1948-49 he took courses in
jewellery-making in Toronto. He also began to
study Native art in museums and books, and
made his first trip to the land of his ancestors,
the Queen Charlotte Islands. Before long he was
recognized as an authority on Haida art and
Reid carved totem poles which contained
complicated clan and family histories, but he
also created simple sculptures which could be
easily understood by people from other cultures.
His huge wooden sculpture, Raven and the First
Humans, at the Museum of Anthropology in
Vancouver, tells the old story of the trickster
raven who discovered the first Haida men in a
giant clamshell; but Reid had given each a man a
different expression as he peers out into the
world or steals back into his shell .
Bill Reid (Cont.)
Bill Reid also worked in nontraditional materials. Outdoor
sculptures, such as the Killer
Whale, which rises from its own
pool outside the Vancouver
Aquarium, have been cast in
bronze. He made exquisite
jewellery and boxes in gold,
silver, and argillite which were
engraved with Haida designs. He
was one of the first artists to use
silkscreen prints to portray native
art. And he wrote and illustrated
many books about the culture and
myths of his people. In 1986 Reid
built a traditional dugout canoe
for display at Expo 86 in
Nanasimget Bracelet
The Raven and the First Men
Sockeye Salmon Pool
Killer Whale
Wolf Drum
Grizzly Bear Necklace
Woodlands School:
The Legend Painters
The Woodlands school has been influenced by Norval
Morrisseau, a self-taught Ojibwa artist who was the
first to paint the secret legends of his people. The
Woodlands school gained recognition in the 1970s
with Morrisseau’s rise to fame. The majority of
Woodlands artists working from the 1970s into the
1980s have been inspired and influenced by
Morrisseau and as a group are also known as Legend
Painters for their depiction of imagery taken from
spiritual and mythological traditions.
Thunderbird Dreams
Norval Morrisseau
Norval Morrisseau was born on March 14,
1932, at Sand Point Reserve, near
Beardmore, Ont. He died on December 4,
2007, at Toronto, Ont. Morrisseau, or
Copper Thunderbird as his name means in
Ojibwa, was a self-taught artist who
recorded the beliefs and legends of his
people. He had little formal education, but
had a close relationship with his grandfather,
who taught him Ojibwa traditions. He
developed a style of painting known as
"Woodland Indian art" which combines
features from both Indian rock painting and
European art. In the 1960s, he was the first
artist to break the barrier between native and
European art in Canada. Using simple bold
lines and strong bright colours, his "x-ray
paintings" show the outside of bears,
thunderbirds, and people as he sees them
and their insides as he imagines them to be.
Morrisseau (Cont.)
The paintings, like the legends they are based
on, are full of symbols and opposites - good and
evil, human and animal, night and day. By
exhibiting these sacred images to non-Indians,
Morrisseau broke a tradition of secrecy and at
first met with strong opposition from Ojibwa
elders. He is now accepted, and many other
"legend painters" have followed his style of
painting. Through his writings and his art,
Morrisseau hoped "to reassemble the pieces of a
once-proud culture ... to show how dignified and
brave my people once were. We were once a
great people."
Self Portrait of Artist – Astral Projection
Mother and Child
Fish and Loons From Lake Nipigon
This Is The Way It Is
Self Portrait
A Vision To Its Soul
Artistic Influence
Native art influenced many non-native artists.
Two famous artists influenced by native
artwork and artistic styles are Emily Carr and
Ted Harrison.
Emily Carr
Emily Carr was born on December 13, 1871, at Victoria,
B.C., and she died there on March 2, 1945. Carr, who
lived and worked alone on Vancouver Island, is one of
Canada's most famous artists. Although she decided to be
an artist early in life, it was only when she was 57 years
old that she began the paintings and writing for which she
is remembered.
She studied art in San Francisco, in England, and visited
France in 1910-11.
1908 she recorded the culture of the Northwest Coast
native people, to paint their totem poles and carved log
Carr returned seriously to painting in 1927 when her work
was exhibited in a national show in Ottawa.
On her trip to the east, she met members of the Group of
Seven, and Lawren Harris in particular encouraged and
inspired her. She continued to paint Indian themes, but
turned increasingly to nature. Her skies and forests are
alive with energy, movement, and shimmering light.
Indian Raven
Indian Hut, Queen Charlotte Islands
Indian Church
Ted Harrison
Edward Harrison was born on August 28, 1926,
settled in the Yukon in 1968.
He taught high school
His paintings, many of life in the Yukon, have
been shown in exhibitions across Canada.
Harrison's first two children's books, Children of
the Yukon (1977) and A Northern Alphabet
(1982), use vivid colours to depict the rugged
scenery and the variety of human activities in the
The Blue Raven (1989) is the story of a heroic
journey a Native boy makes to find help for his
suffering people.
Harrison has also illustrated Robert Service's The
Cremation of Sam McGee (1986) and The
Shooting of Dan McGrew (1988), two famous
poems about the gold rush days of the 1890s.
Library Day
The Boat
Whale Frolic
Emily’s Place

Canadian Native Art - Visual Arts Penetanguishene