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Native Artist Sydney Kirkness

4 May

I return with enthusiasm to my discussion of the fine art and career of Native artist Sydney Kirkness, whose paintings I discovered during my Artists in the Schools residency at Joe A. Ross School. A close reading of his paintings reveals the mystery of creation at work and a mature artist at ease with composition, colour, and spiritual symbolism.

"January" by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

“January” by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

In the image he created for January, Sydney employs a delicate sense of movement as the wings of the realistically rendered Snowy Owl follow the circular shape. The subtle, pale colours and cool palette contribute to the sense of the lonely and lovely depths of winter, while the owl reminds us that life and the hunt that is necessary for survival go on all year. As well, from a mythical perspective, the owl is a liminal bird who exists at the threshold between one world and another, between one year and the next, a visionary being who sees into the past and forward into the future. Behind the owl, we see the vast stretch of snow and the edge of the snow-covered forest. As a keen observer of the natural world, Sydney paints the white orb of the sun surrounded by an ice halo, otherwise known of as a nimbus, icebow, or gloriole, a phenomena produced by ice crystals or ice diamonds in very cold weather. A circle within a circle within a circle…

"February" by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

“February” by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

February in Manitoba’s north is a frigid month. Sydney paints a spirit face that reminds the viewer of the ancestors, those who have gone before, who have become part of the land on which they once tread. Or the face might be Old Man Winter, winter being the time of the year associated with old age. Again, Sydney employs the subtle pastel palette with a representational perspective. There is a mist before the forest, a natural phenomena created by the warmth of the rising sun on the cold air, emphasizing spiritual presence.

"March" by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

“March” by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

For the month of March, Sydney chooses an earthy, vibrant palette of warm colours, deep oranges, browns and blacks in the background that leads to the white orb of the sun at the centre, all of which emphasizes the return of the sun and warmth to the Northern Hemisphere. The swirling movement of the two beautifully rendered eagles is created as Sydney paints the eagles in such a way that they (and the viewer’s gaze) follow the circle in a spiraling spiritual flight toward the sun, toward the sacred centre, toward the unknown spiritual Great Mystery at the heart of all life.

Discussing the evolution of Sydney Kirkness’s art, writer Andrea Geary in “Arborg business owner promotes talents of local artists” outlines how Sydney serendipitously brought art in for framing to Sylvia Gislason, who then went on to become his agent, promoting his work in a career that “snowballed,” with his work selling nationally and internationally. He sold up to one hundred paintings a year.

Sydney and Agnes Kirkness met in 1977. They married and raised a family together; Agnes watched her husband’s career evolve. As Agnes Kirkness confirmed in her 2013 conversation with me, Sydney liked to paint at night when the children were in bed and the household was quiet, painting into the wee hours. He painted from nature and his dreams. Agnes recalled that he would say to her “I can see the picture already,” and he would go on to give her a description, but Agnes let me know that she couldn’t visualize what Sydney saw in his mind’s eye. “I don’t have that talent,” she added, with humour. “But my grand-daughter does!”

In my next entry, I will conclude this blog sequence with musings on the last months of the year, as painted by Sydney Kirkness…

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The Sacred Circle

1 Dec
"April" by Moses Bignell

“April” by Moses Bignell

When I saw that the paintings done by Sydney Kirkness and Moses Bignell were circular, a favorite passage from Black Elk Speaks, first published in 1932, came back to me. Before I carry on with Sydney Kirkness’s story, I wish to draw readers into the compelling and beautiful world view implied by the circle. As Black Elk tells us:

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living centre of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance….”

"May" by Moses Bignell

“May” by Moses Bignell

Black Elk continues: “This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours….”

"June" by Moses Bignell

“June” by Moses Bignell

Black Elk explains further: “The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were….”

"July" by Moses Bignell

“July” by Moses Bignell

Black Elk reveals more to his listeners: “The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children (Black Elk Speaks, as told through John G. Neihardt, a Bison Book, University of Nebraska, 194-196).”

"August" by Moses Bignell

“August” by Moses Bignell

Walking through Joe A. Ross School every day, as I proceeded to classrooms to teach students, I was gently affected by the circles of the seasons, created by the two native artists, Moses Bignell and Sydney Kirkness. The children of the school, whether they think consciously about the art or not, are likewise affected. As I read onward in the articles about Sydney Kirkness’s art, I found that once he returned to his path and to the creation of art, he also returned to the culture that had been taken from him. Journalist Jim Mosher pointed out that Sydney now saw “art as a medium to communicate that heritage to others, aboriginal youth in particular (The Interlake Spectator, Dec. 12, 1994).” Every day, students take in the vision of their cultural heritage.

"September" by Moses Bignell

“September” by Moses Bignell

All of the above images, of April, May, June, July, August, September, are the beautifully rendered work of Moses Bignell. Like Black Elk, he honours the changing seasons. I note the ties at the edge of the circles in April and June, like the ties of the drum that delivers the heartbeat of Mother Earth. In April, the geese come flying back, while snow lies on the ground. In May, the pond comes to life, and frogs swim again. From roots in the earth come flowers, and the generative force is in action. By June, geese are nesting, and into their circular nests comes the new life that is evident in July, where baby loons swim with their parents in the watery world. Moses paints August with an enigmatic symbolism, a goose with the sun at its heart, the sacred circular centre, the vibrant life of summer, around which leaves circle. September, and the greenery of summer begins the transition into fall colours, burgundies, rusts, browns, tans, while the moose, the big animals, traverse the rugged terrain. Such are the gifts that Moses Bignell brings to students and staff at Joe A. Ross school.

In my next entry, I will carry on with what I learned from reading on the art of Sydney Kirkness….

Sharing a Tale of Transformation

9 Nov
My Illustrated All-Ages Fairytale, Tiktala

My Illustrated All-Ages Fairytale, Tiktala

Another highlight of my visit to Joe A. Ross School was that I was able to read and share my all-ages fairy tale, Tiktala, with students in the three Grade Five classrooms who were good listeners and kind and receptive as I read to them. I told students that Tiktala started from a dream and the creation of Tiktala involved a five year process from the beginning dream to the finished published book.

Opening Page in Tiktala with Beautiful Illustration by Laszlo Gal of Inuit Homes and Northern Lights

Opening Page in Tiktala with Beautiful Illustration by Laszlo Gal of Inuit Homes and Northern Lights

To acquaint my blog readers with Tiktala, as the story opens, the elders of the village have called a meeting because the people are forgetting the old ways. We learn there are many soapstone carvers who sell their work for high prices but who don’t care about the animal spirits who enter the stones. Tiktala, an Inuit girl, lets the group know that she wants to become a soapstone carver. She is not like her mother who believes in spirits and she is not like her father who has lost his belief in everything.

Tiktala Lets the Villagers Know She Wants to Become a Soapstone Carver

Tiktala Lets the Villagers Know She Wants to Become a Soapstone Carver

Tiktala has her own reasons for wanting to carve—to be famous and admired, to make money to buy things, and above all, to gain her depressed father’s attention. While some villagers think she is too young, Iguptak, the wisest woman of the village sends Tiktala on a spirit quest.

Little would Tiktala have imagined it to be possible but she is transformed into a seal. Another seal appears, Tulimak, who is supposed to take Tiktala on the journey north for summer fishing. We discover that Tulimak is angry and hates humans for what she has suffered. Without a way out, Tiktala and Tulimak make the challenging expedition north together. What transpires is that Tiktala goes on a life altering journey, undergoing the artists’ task of learning to care about what she wants to create.

As it turned out, at Joe A. Ross School, the students were captivated by the story, and the teachers decided to purchase a class set of Tiktala books and my Tiktala Teacher’s Guide (Available on my Teachers Pay Teachers site. Readers can press on my link to find it. Tiktala can be purchased too through popular booksellers such as Amazon and Chapters and McNally Robinson (online and otherwise))

Tiktala Teacher's Guide

Tiktala Teacher’s Guide

My Tiktala Teacher’s Guide is a rich resource that explores First Nations concepts such as the connection to nature, shamans, vision quests, humans’ connections to animals, and spirit guides. I was so delighted to know that Joe A. Ross teachers would bring students through this study. As well, the guide allows teachers to explore with students the many deep themes in Tiktala: the hero journey, the development of the artist, revenge and forgiveness, environmental awareness, parent/child relationships, transformation, and human creativity vs. destructiveness. A further joyful aspect of the guide is the in-depth exploration of Laszlo Gal’s illustrations, after which students create their own illustrated transformation tales.

In my next entry, I will share with readers an unexpected pleasure I received during my visit to Joe A. Ross school, as I learned about captivating art created by a local native artist…

Creative Immersion

7 Nov
Evening on Clearwater Lake

Evening on Clearwater Lake

As artists, we are always interpreting our world, perceiving the beauty that surrounds us at any given moment. During my visit to Joe A. Ross School in The Pas, Manitoba, I helped student create with joy during the school day, after which I was immersed in the beauty of my surroundings on Clearwater Lake—a pattern lived everyday by teachers in the area!

Reading My Illustrated Fairy Tale Pod the Wood Elf to Students

Reading My Illustrated Fairy Tale Pod the Wood Elf to Students

During my visit to Joe A. Ross School, I had single sessions with the Grades One to Five. I read my picture book, Pod the Wood Elf, to Grades One to Four and lead students in lively illustrations of emotions.

Artists at Work

Artists at Work

Careful Creators

Careful Creators

A Fine Illustrator of Emotions

A Fine Illustrator of Emotions

Artists and their Art

Artists and their Art

Cree Immersion Students and their Proud Teacher

Cree Immersion Students and their Proud Teacher

Artists Share their Work

Artists Share their Work

All Smiles

All Smiles

A Lively Display of Emotions

A Lively Display of Emotions

What a joy to work with students at Joe A. Ross School as they created illustrations of emotions with such care and creativity! In my next entry, I will share more about the creative process….

In Celebration of International Women’s Day

9 Mar
A Wall of Student Artwork at Henry G. Izaat School

A Wall of Student Artwork at Henry G. Izaat School

In celebration of International Women’s Day (a day late), I post this latest instalment of student letters of advice to Echo. These students reach back in mythic time to bolster Echo’s spirits and to give her the confidence to believe in herself instead of pining away over Narcissus. While students project their insights toward a figure outside of themselves, in fact they are finding out about their own inner wisdom and resources for self-sufficiency.

Echo is a part of every person’s psyche. We all have the capacity to undervalue ourselves and overvalue others, even when they are negative towards us. Writing these letters helps students to strengthen their own ability to achieve self-love. For women around the world, the ability to live with independence and pride is essential to the well-being of humankind.

An Engaged Student's Rendition of Echo in the Cave

An Engaged Student’s Rendition of Echo in the Cave

Letter One

Ms. Echo,
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

I’m so sorry that you got so let down that you’re hiding in a cave wasting away. But you should really go out and have fun. You could meet people and go out. Just leave the cave soon. You could go on a train and leave to go somewhere and have a party. You could also find another guy.

Yours Truly, L.

Letter Two

Ms. Echo,
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

I’m sorry about what happened to you with Narcissus. He is not worth your love. He is handsome but not kind. But to move on, you might want to try making a friend to help you get through it. Believe me, your friends will make you feel a lot better! Think about what you love to do, like soccer or dancing. Try to join some kinds of club, because I promise, doing what you want to do for once will make you feel a lot more confident. Try to think about what you’re good at and try to realize that there are many things that you are good at. You are very good at many things. I guarantee it.

Yours Truly, I.

Letter Three

Ms. Echo,
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

Echo, stop lurking and weeping in a cave. Go to your parents and get some friends. Don’t be fooled by looks. Narcissus is a handsome little demon. That’s all! He is MEAN!!

Find someone with a similar personality. That will most likely be the best choice. Now go and don’t just be a voice. Be a person. Have a happy life!

Yours Truly, C.

Letter Four

Ms. Echo,
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

Hello Echo. I’m Ch. I read your story. So tragic. You deserve better. Even though he was beautiful, it matters what’s on the inside. You’re pretty and forgot what matters.

I suggest what you would love to do. You could become a model because of your beauty. A beauty pageant contestant and you could just let someone love you for you!

Yours Truly, Ch.

Letter Five

Vibrant Student Color Work of Adorable Baby Narcissus

Vibrant Student Color Work of Adorable Baby Narcissus

Ms. Echo,
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

Please leave your cave! Find someone who really loves you! You are so much better than you think! Please join civilization! Find a group where you belong. Let me tell you this: hiding is not a good solution! Live your life! Enjoy all the good things that will happen if you leave your cave. Please, oh please, listen!

Yours Truly, N.

Letter Six

Ms. Echo,
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

You have to leave the cave and try to make friends outside or join a club. You always have to focus on yourself and not on Narcissus :). Don’t mind him. You just have to believe in yourself!

Yours Truly,  B.

Letter Seven

Ms. Echo,
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

Don’t you feel so lonely in your caves? Stop swooning over Narcissus. Get out there more! Go back to your village. Find some friends. Join a club. Just make sure you don’t spend all your time wasting away in those dark, cold, lonely caves.

Yours Truly, M. 🙂

Letter Eight

Ms. Echo,
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

I’m so sorry to hear that you have been hiding in caves.

I will give you some advice. You should try to make some friends. Stay out of caves and you will have lots of friends. Be more proud and believe in you. Believe you can achieve.

Yours Truly, M.

Letter Nine

Ms. Echo,
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

I am so sorry that you hide in caves, hiding from the world. But it does not have to be that way. If you want to live your life right, by caring about yourself more. Tell yourself that you are beautiful. Say that you can do anything that you try to do. And you could go to a town and try to make friends by entering a dance group or a dance competition. Those are some ways to be happy.

Yours Truly, M.

In my next entry, readers will find more letters to Narcissus, that mythological fellow whose lack of empathy is remarkable…

Letters of Advice to Narcissus

7 Mar
Students at Henry G. Izaat Write Letters to Narcissus

Students at Henry G. Izaat Write Letters to Narcissus

To recap the pertinent aspect of the Echo and Narcissus myth to which these next student letters refer—the nymph Echo was one of the many who fell in love with Narcissus in his teen years. When Echo went to hug Narcissus, he rebuffed her, uttering the cruel pronouncement that he would rather die than let her touch him. He went on scorning and shaming others, until the god Nemesis answered a victim’s prayer and gave Narcissus a taste of his own medicine, causing Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection. After days of not eating or drinking, and of wailing and crying, Narcissus died and was transformed into a flower.

Students at Henry G. Izaat came up with these letters of advice for Narcissus that run the gamut from stern compassion to silliness to cheeky suggestions that Narcissus should get a grip. I hope you enjoy these charming epistles as much as I did!

Narcissus Admires his Reflection As Echo Pines Away,
as Coloured by Student Artist

Letter One

Mr. Narcissus,
c/o 1 Watery Pool,
Ancient Greece

Dear Mr. Narcissus,

Stop bullying people! It’s not nice. People don’t like it. How would you feel if you got treated like that? Echo is hiding in a cave and doesn’t want to come out because of you. Good job. You ruined her life.
Yours Truly, C.

Letter Two

Mr. Narcissus,
c/o 1 Watery Pool,
Ancient Greece

Dear Mr. Narcissus,

Please don’t waste your life at the edge of the pond. Some advice is [to] start carrying a mirror around so you can leave the pond and go to the village to meet some new friends. And the second step is to get rid of the reflections. Get a picture of yourself and put it in your pocket. Once you feel sad or lonely, pull it out until you feel better. Have fun in town and I hope my advice was good.

Yours Truly, C.

Letter Three

Mr. Narcissus,
c/o 1 Watery Pool,
Ancient Greece

Dear Mr. Narcissus,

Why waste your time when you could be a butler until they find the Swiffer Sweeper and you end up in the basement with the broom and start singing that song that goes, “Who’s that lady? Who’s that sexy lady, who’s that lady.” Anyways, good luck at your modelling and think about others.

Yours Truly, M.

Letter Four

Mr. Narcissus,
c/o 1 Watery Pool,
Ancient Greece

Dear Mr. Narcissus,

You don’t [have] to be mean or a bully. How you treated people is so not nice. Do you even say that when you’re talking to your mom? Don’t do that anymore. Now that you saw your reflection, you may understand why people act like that around you. They love you. You should be nicer and more lovable. You made Echo feel terrible. She’s thinking [she’ll] just hide in her cave for a long time, maybe even forever. You’re lucky people love you, but if you act mean to them, that love goes away. On the other hand, if you’re nice and kind, you will gain a lot of friends, so don’t be mean. Be kind, nice, and positive. Write back.

Yours Truly, N.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

More Pleasing Student Colour Work of Narcissus by the Pool

Letter Five

Mr. Narcissus,
c/o 1 Watery Pool,
Ancient Greece

Dear Mr. Narcissus,

You need to get a grip on your life. You have been crying over your own reflection. You should learn from your crying over yourself and not being able to hug yourself. Imagine how Echo felt when you said you would rather die before she would touch you. She gave up her powers for you. You should apologize to her. Also, dry off. Eat some food and have some water.

Yours Truly, C.

Letter Six

Mr. Narcissus,
c/o 1 Watery Pool,
Ancient Greece

Dear Mr. Narcissus,

Stop being so beautiful. Get some plastic surgery to get ugly. Then put an L on your forehead and stop being so mean. Look in the mirror. You look ugly to me.

Yours Truly, Y.

Letter Seven

Mr. Narcissus,
c/o 1 Watery Pool,
Ancient Greece

Dear Mr. Narcissus,

Hi Narcissus. Some advice is to stop being so mean and selfish to others. Treat them the way you want to be treated. If you don’t want to talk to them, just politely ask them to stop. If you didn’t want Echo to hug you, you could have said something nicer than I would rather die than touch you. If you made some friends, then you wouldn’t feel so lonely and then you could love yourself again in self-love, not because you are beautiful. Then people would really love you and there wouldn’t be so much hate. You should take some class to help you be nicer and actually love yourself.

Yours Truly, S.

Letter Eight

Mr. Narcissus,
c/o 1 Watery Pool,
Ancient Greece

Dear Mr. Narcissus,

Stop. Loving. Yourself. You have much more to life than looking at yourself. And find a little lady that you love! You should be in a pageant! There, you can show off your “BEAUTIFUL” inner and outer self. You would win every time!

You could also take up a sport or a hobby. Get your mind off of that pretty face of yours and try and help some other people. You could give to charities or other organizations.

Yours Truly, K.

A Student Artist Colours the Transformed Narcissus

A Student Artist Colours the Transformed Narcissus

My next post ups the ante further as more students encourage Echo to believe in herself–a perfect entry for International Women’s Day!

Letters of Advice to Echo

5 Mar
Henry G. Izaat Students Writing Advice to Echo

Henry G. Izaat Students Writing Advice to Echo

The famous twin sister advice columnists, Pauline Phillips of “Dear Abby” and Eppie Lederer of “Ask Ann Landers,” would no doubt have agreed that the following student letters of advice to Echo are full of admirable common sense—with a welcome pinch of tongue-in-cheek thrown into the mix. Student art works are so pleasing too. Enjoy!

Poor Echo

Poor Echo, Illustration Color Work by Student Artist

Letter One

Ms. Echo
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

I feel sorry for you! So here is some advice: I think you should just forget about Narcissus and go do what you love. Maybe you should join an art club or a group of friends. Learn to love yourself!

Believe in yourself! Know that there is more to you than what Narcissus says. You’re beautiful and you already have lots of potential! So what are you waiting for? Get out of that cave and live your life the way you should!

Yours Truly, A.W.

Letter Two

Ms. Echo
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

I think that you should go back to your village and find someone else and eat instead of wasting away.

True love isn’t about looks. It’s about what’s on the inside.

Yours Truly, D.

Letter Three

Ms. Echo
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

I’m so sad to hear that you are hiding in caves. You are so beautiful and kind. You just need confidence. Some people think Narcissus is really mean. I think you let him control you too much. You shouldn’t let Narcissus control you. You are your own person. I think that you should go to the town and meet some people and make friends. You need to be confident.

Yours Truly, S.J.

Letter Four

Ms. Echo
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

I wish you weren’t hiding in a cave!!! We could be best friends or you could have met new friends. You could play hockey, or go into acting. Do anything to get your mind off of Narcissus.

All you’ve got to do is believe.

Yours Truly, T.

More Fine Student Color Work

More Fine Student Color Work

Letter Five

Ms. Echo
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

How come you always hide away in your cave? Go outside and find yourself a hobby you’ll enjoy! I’m sure you’ll find a great friend! You should really take a look in the mirror. You are really beautiful.

You are a sweet and kind girl with a loving heart. You had sympathy for Narcissus when he drowned. I hope you find true love again!

Yours Truly, M.

Letter Six

Ms. Echo
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

Echo! Come on, get out of that cave. Go outside. Meet some nice friends. Meet a guy that loves you for you, not like how Narcissus treated you. That was just mean and rude. And even though you got cursed to echo everybody, it doesn’t matter because it is not your fault. Go join some clubs, like dancing, hockey, rhythmic gymnastics. Eat! There is more than a million people in the world. That means that there will be a perfect match for you and that guy. Think of the positives, not the negatives.

Yours Truly, S.T.

Letter Seven

Ms. Echo,
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

Hello! I’m C. and I’m here to give some advice. Stop trying! He’s not meant for you! You’re B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L. He will most likely change you! I’m sure anyone would like you. They’ll date you. But he’s selfish and only cares about himself.

Well, BYE-BYE.

Yours Truly, C.

Letter Eight

Ms. Echo,
c/o 1 Echoey Cave
Ancient Greece

Dear Ms. Echo,

You have a great voice! You should be an auction person or you can be a news reporter. I feel bad that your heart got broken. You don’t have to hide in your cave. Go out and find a new man. It doesn’t matter about looks. It’s what’s inside the heart.

Yours Truly, B.

Narcissus as a Flower, More Fine Student Color Work

Narcissus as a Flower, More Fine Student Color Work

Now you’ve read some letters of advice to Echo, watch for the upcoming letters of advice to that narcissistic Narcissus!