Medicine Man In The Shaking Tent by Daphne Odjig | Image Source: McMicheal Canadian Art Collection
Jackson Beardy (Cree), Eddy Cobiness (Ojibway), Alex Janvier (Dene, Saulteaux), Norval Morrisseau (Ojibway), Daphne Odjig (Potawatomi, Odawa), Carl Ray (Cree) and Joseph Sanchez (Pueblo, Spanish, German). These are the Indigenous visual artists that make up the historical Professional Native Indian Artists Incorporation (PNIAI) and who are now recognized as The Indigenous Group of Seven.
Michelle Lavallee (Ojibway) has curated 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc to honor the work that this trailblazing group has accomplished, which is currently on display at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, ON until September 7, 2015. The exhibit then will be displayed at the Art Gallery of Windsor from October 2, 2015 to January 17, 2016; and the Art Gallery of Alberta from March 4, 2016 to June 5, 2016. The focus of the exhibit is to exemplify the diversity and range of each artist’s work produced in the 70’s. Although some members of the group were part of the “Woodland” style movement, Lavallee points out that, “the artists who did adhere to the style were still very unique in what they did.”
The Group informally got together in the early 1970’s, meeting in Beardy’s or Odjig’s studio where they often shared their frustrations with the prejudice they faced within the Canadian art establishment while also discussing art and critiquing each other’s works. In 1974 they formally incorporated as a group to fight for the inclusion of Aboriginal artists in Canadian mainstream galleries and museums.
It took seven years for Lavallee to research, collect and develop the exhibition that features 100 pieces at McMichael alone. Lavallee was inspired to curate this exhibit as an artist concerned about what was being taught in relation to the history of First Nations and First Nation artistic production. “The exhibit is an extremely important part of Canadian history,” she says, “it’s bringing long over due attention back to this group and the important and significant impact they had on the history of Indigenous art in Canada.” MUSKRAT Magazine presents The Indigenous Group of Seven:
1. Jackson Beardy (1944–1984)
Born on the Garden Hill Reserve (Island Lake, Manitoba) he was a residential school survivor and also studied at the Winnipeg Vocational School and the University of Manitoba. Beardy’s art can be described as “flat areas of warm colors and curving ribbons of paint.” His illustrations were published in John Morgan’s book, When the Morning Stars Sang Together and also designed the cover art for Leonard Peterson’s, Almighty Voice and Basil Johnston’s, Ojibway Heritage.
2. Eddy Cobiness (1933–1996)
Cobiness was born in Warroad, Minnesota and raised on Buffalo Point Reserve, Manitoba. He served in the United States Army where he developed his artistic skills during his leisure time. His work evolved from realistic scenes to more abstract. Cobiness’ use of “gentle flowing lines helped define contemporary Native Canadian art,” which were inspired by fellow artist Benjamin Chee Chee. His art has been collected by prominent figures such as former Prime Minister, Jean Chretién and Queen Elizabeth II. Cobiness also published his illustrations in two books: Alphonse Has an Accident and Tuktoyaktuk 2-3.
3. Alex Janvier (b. 1935)
Born in Cold Lake First Nations, Alberta, Janvier was sent to Blue Quills Residential School at the age of eight where he was encouraged by the principal to pursue his artistic side. Later, he received his Fine Arts Diploma with Honours from the Alberta College of Art in Calgary. His masterpieces are described as an, “eloquent blend of both abstract and representational images with bright, often symbolic colours.” Janvier considers, Morning Star, an abstract mural on the dome of the Museum of History in Hull QC, as his major career highlight.
4. Norval Morrisseau (1932–2007)
Raised on the Sand Point Reserve near Lake Nipigon, Morrisseau is a self-taught artist who founded the Woodland School of Art. His first solo exhibition at the Pollock Gallery in Toronto, 1962 was met with huge success and the sell out of his paintings. Morrisseau’s artistic career is described as an unstoppable “progression from simple graphic narrative to rich harmonic structures within structures [which] has given the world a breathtaking libretto of Ojibwa legends and sacred imagery, within unsurpassed orchestrations of colour.” He wrote and illustrated Legends of My People, The Great Ojibway and co-authored Norval Morrisseau: Travels to the House of Invention.
5. Daphne Odjig (b. 1919)
Odjig was born on Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island. She was admitted to the British Columbia Federation of Artists in 1963 and in 1970 she established Odjig Indian Prints of Canada Limited in Winnipeg. Odjig has been the recipient of several awards and honours, including an Eagle Feather on behalf of the Wikwemikong Reserve in recognition of her artistic accomplishment, an honour previously reserved for men in 1978.
6. Carl Ray (1943–1978)
Ray was born on the Sandy Lake Reserve in Ontario. He was mostly self taught, but apprenticed under Norval Morrisseau. “His work stands out in the flat 2-dimensional Anishnaabe school for the implied third dimension he gave each creature and for the graceful curves and original compositions.” Ray completed commissioned work alongside Norval Morrisseau for the Indians of Canada pavilion at Expo 67. He illustrated James Stevens’ book, Sacred Legends of the Sandy Lake Cree, and the cover of Tom Marshall’s book, The White City.
7. Joseph Sanchez (b. 1948)
Born in Trinidad, Colorado, Sanchez is an artist and a curator. He is the only non-Canadian artist of the PNIA. Sanchez served in the United States Marine Corps, before he moved to Canada and now resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 2010, Sanchez retired as Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (formerly the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum), where he had worked since 2002. In 2011, Sanchez was the Contemporary Curator of the exhibition Native American Art at Dartmouth: Highlights from the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Michelle LaVallee (Ojibway, Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, Neyaashiinigmiing / Cape Croker) is a curator, artist, and educator. Since 2007, her curatorial work at the MacKenzie Art Gallery has explored the colonial relations that have shaped historical and contemporary culture through exhibitions including: 13 Coyotes: Edward Poitras (2012); To Be Reckoned With… (2010); Blow Your House In: Vernon Ah Kee(2009); Captured: Portraiture and the Permanent Collection; and Miss Chief: Shadow Catcher – Kent Monkman(2008). She is a recent participant in the Canadian Aboriginal Curators delegations sent to the 2011 Venice Biennale and the 2010 and 2008 Biennale of Sydney, and a recipient of the 2006 Canada Council for the Arts Assistance to Aboriginal Curators Grant for Residencies in the Visual Arts.