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14.7: First Nation Group of Seven

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    Native Group

    Daphne Odjig


    Jackson Beardy


    Alex Janvier

    Dene Suline/Saulteaux

    Eddy Cobiness


    Norval Morrisseau


    Carl Ray


    William Ronald Reid Jr.


    Founded in 1973, the Indian Group of Seven (Professional Native Indian Artists Association) was a group of professional artists from Canada. Daphne Odjig started the group after a successful joint exhibition with other artists in 1972 based upon the art of the indigenous peoples. The work in the exhibition was named with treaty numbers based on the Numbered Treaties between the Canadian government and the native groups. She invited Alex Janvier, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Norval Morrisseau, Carl Ray, and Joseph Sanchez to create an artistic community. Bill Reid, a Haida artist, was added later.

    Using an impressionistic style of painting for their Canadian landscapes, the group held successful joint exhibitions but only stayed together as a group for three years. They had joined forces to promote Native Peoples art in the Western art world wanting to move from just indigenous art to a recognized modern artistic value. They created funds that allowed artists to paint as a career and developed a marketing strategy to sell art, traveling to far-flung communities to encourage young artists and establishing trust funds and scholarship programs for young artists. In a short time, they brought indigenous peoples art into the more significant part of the Canadian art world and helped pave the way for younger generations.

    Daphne Odjig (1919-2016) was an Ojibwa and the founding member of the Professional Native Indian Artists Association (Indian Group of Seven). Her first breakthrough work was pen and ink drawings of the native Cree people. She explored erotic themes in some of her work, which was very unusual in First Nations artwork. Odjig opened the first Canadian gallery to represent First Nations art exclusively.

    Jackson Beardy (1944–1984) was an Anishinini whose works depicted Cree legends and stories he learned from his grandmother. He painted specific legends about the balance of nature and the interdependence of all things. Beardy used oil, acrylic, and tempura in a graphic style with defined areas of curving ribbons of paint and flat areas of warm color.

    Alex Janvier (born 1935) of Dene Suline and Saulteaux descent and considered the first Canadian native modernist painter. He created his visual style based on the cultural and spiritual traditions of the Dene people in Alberta, Canada. Javier's work was abstracted, and he painted large scale works.

    Morning Star (14.40) is painted in the dome of the Canadian Museum of History, a dome seven stories above the floor covering 418 square meters. The painting presents a guide to find directions, and each of the four areas of distinct colors represents a period in Native Peoples' history. The yellow quadrant depicts a time when First Peoples were in harmony with nature, the Great Spirit, and each other. The blue quadrant shows the weakness of the Native culture because of the influx of European culture. The red quadrant is the time of new optimism and struggles as the First People try to define their way, and in the last quadrant is the return to harmony through reconciliation, healing, and renewed self-respect.

    Morning Star
    14.40 Morning Star

    Eddy Cobiness (1933–1996) was an Ojibwa who portrayed scenes from life outdoors and nature. Cobiness belonged to the Woodland School of Art and was a graphic designer. His work started realistically and moved to a more abstract style working mostly in ink and watercolor.

    Norval Morrisseau (1932–2007), an Ojibwa, also known as Copper Thunderbird, and some considered him as the Picasso of the north. His paintings depicted legends of his people, especially the political and cultural tensions between European and native Canadian traditions. Morrisseau used thick black outlines in his painting with bright colors filling in-between the lines. He used any material he could find to paint on, especially moose hide or birch bark. Initially, he painted about the myths and traditions of the Anishnaabe and transitioned to his struggles.

    Carl Ray (1943–1978) was a Canadian First Nations artist and a woodlands style painter. Ray was a member of the Cree community in Ontario and known as Tall Straight Poplar, a native name given to him as he was 6'4" tall. He painted scenes of sacred belief and stories of the Cree as well as wildlife and landscapes in a European style. Ray created powerful images with two or three colors, mostly brown, blue, and black, frequently mixing ink and watercolors. In his landscape paintings, he often used hues of electric blue to create the beauty of the Sandy Lake area. Sometimes he combined the two styles to paint images of Cree legends in electrifying color.

    William (Bill) Ronald Reid, Jr. (1920 –1998) was born in Canada, his mother, a member of the Haida people from a region on the coast of British Columbia. He learned about the Haida heritage from his grandfather, also a Haida artist. Reid began making jewelry and then branched out into more significant works made of red and yellow cedar using concepts from Haida folklore and creating figures and animals in scenes to reflect his family traditions.

    14.24 Spirit of Haida Gwaii
    14.41 Spirit of Haida Gwaii

    One of Reid's most well-known works is the bronze sculpture, the Spirit of Haida Gwaii (14.41), representing the First Peoples heritage of the Haida region. He made one in a green bronze placed in the Vancouver airport and one in black located at the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C. The dugout canoe is six meters long and about four meters high, weighing 5000 kilograms. The canoe carries The Raven, a trickster; Mouse Woman sitting under Raven's tail; Grizzly Bear who is at the front and looking at Raven; Mother Bear, Grizzly Bear's wife, and the cubs Good Bear and Bad Bear; Raven's uncle, Beaver; Eagle; Frog; Wolf; a human paddler; and the main focal point, a Shaman who wears traditional Haida clothes. The variety of passengers in the canoe represents the Haida tradition of interdependence in the natural environment; they are not always in harmony but depend on each other in the world.

    The bronze sculpture of the Bear Mother (14.41) represents the well-known Haida legend about a woman who disrespected the local bears and was forced to marry the bear’s chief, a story and image frequently found on totem poles. Carved from a large piece of yellow cedar, Raven (14.43) is a powerful creature of a myth that plays tricks on the world.

    Bear Mother
    14.42 Bear Mother
    The Raven
    14.43 The Raven

    This page titled 14.7: First Nation Group of Seven is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .