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Indian Art

Donna Pinay, FSI Reporter

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      OCTOBER 1974      v05 n08 p46  
Indian art is fast becoming the important and major force of Indian culture it once was years ago. Today many Indian artists are becoming well-known in art circles and galleries throughout Canada and the world.

Many concerned Indian people feel Indian art should be part of any program designed to instill self-pride and awareness in Indian children. This need has prompted Sarain Stump to develop and initiate a course for Indian Art Instructors at the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College in Saskatoon.

Less than two years ago, the Indian Art Program was a one-man operation. It has expanded to now include a full-time staff of three and a student body of nine.

The art department, in its one-man stage, involved visits to various schools with Indian enrolment. Sarain's visits were quite informal but informative and they caught the interest of student and teacher alike. In the short period of time involved in each visit, Sarain attempted to bring about an understanding and knowledge of Indian Art and what it had contributed to Indian culture.

One or two visits to each school could only offer a limited amount of instruction and Sarain saw the need for a more steady and regular teaching format. In order for the students to obtain a deeper understanding and detailed instruction, they would require steady visits or a staff instructor.

Although Gerald McMaster, a young artist from North Battleford, was hired to assist Sarin in his visits, the work area was large. Gerald later decided to further his education in the field of art and enrolled at the Institute of Indian Art in Sante Fe, New Mexico.

Art is us with our frustrations and hopes, with all of our good and bad feelings. Through art we can make ourselves clearly understood beyond the barriers of time and space ... beyond the inhibitions of language. Our art is us as the Indian people and its rebirth will be one of the major forces for our people's rebirth.

-Sarain Stump

The Cultural College decided it could best serve the needs of Indian students by training a number of qualified instructors in Indian art. As the art instructors program developed an assistant-coordinator was hired. Harry Lafond of Muskeg Lake Reserve joined the program earlier this year. His duties involve mainly administration and coordination, which allows Sarin more time for teaching.

Tom Severson, an accomplished potter and print-maker, has studied quite extensively in universities both in Regina and Italy. He was hired to teach the future class in his fields. Archie McGillvary of the University of Saskatchewan's Fine Arts program was hired to teach on a part-time basis. His field would involve the history and art forms of the non-Indian cultures.

The applicants for the course were from various parts of the province. Most applicants have had previous art experience or interest. The course was open to anyone completing grade ten or 18 years of age with good writing and reading ability.

All those accepted in the class have proven themselves to be potential artists with varied interests. Everyone has had the opportunity to explore various art media and work on the one they most enjoyed. This has resulted in a varied and different selection of art.

Classes were underway in February and since then the activities of the class have been numerous. They have lived outdoors for several months, had guest artists as resource personnel, and travelled through some parts of the United States to see other Indian cultures and their art.

The academic portion of the class has included the study of Indian and non-Indian people and their history, art and culture. They have learnt of the many different art forms used by ancient people as well as modern-day techniques. Many tribes or cultures tend to retain the ancient methods, designs and forms in their present-day works.

In some aspects, the class has been one on Indian history. The students have learnt about the Plains culture as well as East Coast, West Coast Woodlands, and many others. The clothing, economy and history as well as the art of these

Indian Art

Donna Pinay: FSI Reporter

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      OCTOBER 1974      v05 n08 p47  
people were studied.

Study also involved a look at the many different art techniques of various Indian cultures. Included in this study were hide painting, beadwork, pottery, weaving, wood carving and others. Wherever possible the students were able to work with available materials to make articles of their own. The work is excellent and many of the students especially enjoyed one area and specialized in this. As a result, there are intricate pieces of beadwork, painted and designed pottery, colourful hide paintings and sculptured wooden masks. Baskets woven from plant materials, birch bark articles and wooden articles are also to be found.

The staff of "Indart" felt it would be beneficial for the students to participate in an outdoor living environment. Indian artists of the past and present have had a very unique and meaningful relationship with nature and much of their work reflects this closeness. It was felt the students of Indart would benefit from living outdoors for a period of time.

Pottery work by art
Pottery work by art students.
Artwork by Eddy Poitras

Moose Woods Reserve provided excellent outdoor accommodation for the class. The land was quite beautiful with hills, trees and the nearby Saskatchewan River. With the use of four teepees, the class moved out to Moose Woods in May. In the next few months the students were able to swim, fish, ride horseback and live outdoors as well as continuing their studies in Indian art.

Teepee - raising instruction by practical experience was one of the first lessons the students learned. For many it was the first time they had ever set up one. No one is perfect as this experience proved.

Under Sarain's instruction the students learned how to set up and participate in a sweat-bath. They also learnt how to play the hand-game and often enjoyed themselves in this ancient Indian form of entertainment. They also had traditional Indian singing lessons.

With many natural materials readily available from the land, the class was able to use many of these for their work. Birchbark, roots, sage, and wood were to be found in and around the campsite.

One of the teepees were painted by staff and students. Using colourful paints and traditional designs the results were quite eye-catching

Indian Art

Donna Pinay: FSI Reporter

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      OCTOBER 1974      v05 n08 p48  
and artistic.

Classes were held either outdoors or inside the teepees. Occasionally everyone moved to the riverbank where a break from class could be spent swimming. The staff attempted to obtain resource personnel whenever possible to come out to the camp to demonstrate and explain their art work to the class.

The students had the opportunity to watch one of Canada's best wood carvers make one of the masks that have made he and his people famous. Walter Harris, a master carver of the K'san Indian carving, was at Moose Woods for three days to demonstrate and explain carving to the students. His visit was enjoyable and very informative and proved useful as many of the students are working on similar carving projects.

A young artist originally from Ontario was also a guest at the camp for over a week. Wilma Simon is a Chippewa Indian from Sarnia, Ontario, who now studies at the University of Montana. She was at the camp to explain the many uses of natural materials in the manufacture of dye. Plants, roots and flowers provide many natural colours which can be used on any dyeable materials. Collecting the available materials, boiling them and use of the dye was demonstrated to the students.

Outdoor classes
Outdoors provides excellent classroom for Indart.
Teepee painted by class
Teepee painted by class.

Earlier in the year, Mrs. Virginia Eagle of the Moose Woods Reserve came to the class to show the students her art. Mrs. Eagle is experienced and talented in making many different beaded articles. She explained and demonstrated the many different types of beadwork and some of the designs. The class undertook the making of many different things from belts to moccasins.

An attempt to obtain affiliation with the Banff School of Fine Arts was unsuccessful as the officials of this institution felt some institutions may be offended if the class received out-of-province affiliation before asking local institutions. However, a teacher exchange program was worked out to everyone's satisfaction. If Indart requires any resource personnel to teach in their class, the Banff School will provide these. And the Indart class will visit Banff if they require any instruction in Indian art or history. There will be no charge involved and the hosting institution will only be responsible for travel and living expenses.

This teacher exchange program is bound to benefit both Indart and Banff. There are many qualified instructors in many different fields at the Banff School of Fine Arts and all are sure to be useful and interesting. The instruction offered by Indian people in the art program is bound to make a more positive impression about the capabilities of Indian people.

The Indian Art first-year students are expected to complete the course at the end of October. They will be receiving certificates of completion and hopefully employment.

In most cases, the class has been a success. For one thing, it has made nine individuals more aware of their people's art and history. It has given these nine an opportunity to explore traditional and modern forms of Indian art and a chance to develop their own skills at traditional forms of art.

If the program goes as planned these individuals will in turn reach a part of the Indian population and share whatever knowledge and skills they have learnt. Any meaningful program designed for Indian children should include cultural aspects and art is one of the foremost.