Painting the North

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Artists in Baker Lake converged on the Jessie Oonark Arts and Crafts Centre last week to put their love of the North on canvas.

David Ford, left, Cheryl Cook and Sophia Cook helped to drop off supplies for an art workshop held at the Jessie Oonark Arts and Crafts Centre. photo courtesy of Jessie Buchanan

Using small six-inch canvases and high-quality acrylic paint, about 40 people created a scene that was special to them.

Jessie Buchanan, the artist who facilitated the workshop, said the finished products will be part of an installation in a mobile art gallery beginning Sept. 30 at Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Buchanan is an artist from Guelph, Ont., who works in both acrylics and oils. Her heritage is Anishinaabe and Euro-Canadian, both of which she says inspire her work.

The mobile gallery is part of a Canada 150 project called Art Express’d. The project has three routes: east from St. John’s to Winnipeg, run by artist Evin Collis; west from Alert Bay to Winnipeg, run by artist Becky Thiessen; and Buchanan’s Northern route.

“I asked the artists to basically show what they’re proud of from their community on the canvas,” Buchanan said.

“It turned out amazing. We had a lot of artists working there who were interested – it really was quite a success.”

The canvases will join about 160 others from four other Northern communities for Buchanan’s segment of the Art Express’d display, which includes Inuvik, Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Churchill. The name of the installation will be Voices of the Landscape.

Each community’s paintings will be grouped around the name of the community, with audio recordings available containing interviews with artists.

“That’s just to help get a sense of the landscape and to help give people a sense of what it is that (the artist) celebrates or how they feel connected to the land in that location,” Buchanan said.

“Each painting represents an individual voice, but all of them together represent the collective voice of that place too. It’s kind of a neat idea and I’m really lucky I was able to be a part of it.”

An unplanned visit

When Buchanan first signed on to facilitate the Northern arm of Art Express’d, she had planned to stop in Rankin Inlet instead of Baker Lake. But an explosion of interest in Baker Lake, coupled by a lack of interest in Rankin Inlet, meant she went a bit further Northwest than originally intended.

“We kind of made a last-minute decision to go,” she said.

“It was also really good because it’s the only in-land community there – it’s different from Churchill and Rankin. So it had a little bit of of a different vibe too.”

Baker Lake was also the only community where Buchanan had to revise the way the workshop was run. In each of the other communities, the project involved a shipping container being brought in as a mobile art studio.

“The rail line to Churchill was washed out, so that posed some problems,” she said. “We ended up just having to send me in with all my art supplies by plane.”

“I’d never been to Nunavut or any Inuit communities before on that side and I felt really welcome.”

But aside from experiencing the warmth of Nunavummiut, she says she was also struck by how much pride Northerners have in their heritage, community and land.

“I just really felt like they have so much to be proud of there. There’s so much beauty in the language, the landscape and the art – and they’re so talented. Every painting they did, even the kids were really talented,” she said.

“Everybody was enthusiastic to come out and represent their community.”