Tag Archives: Travel

Celebrating Native Artists’ Visions

12 May
"October" by Sydney Kirkness

“October” by Sydney Kirkness

In the image created for the month of October, Sydney Kirkness paints a sturdy lone bull elk against a scene rich with fall colours—a foreground of gold, salmon, orange, and rust with a sprinkling of falling leaves leading to the blue spruce and pine of the forest. In the latter part of the year, the life cycle enters maturity for which the elk is a fitting animal representative, the essence of noble strength and stamina that brings us far in life. Above the warm fall colours, Sydney paints the cool blues, suggestive of oncoming winter, emphasized by the black silhouettes of geese flying south for the winter.

"November" by Sydney Kirkess

“November” by Sydney Kirkess

For November, Sydney brings the viewer into oncoming winter with a cool palette, all shades of blue from the deep blue of the towering forest pine to the white-blue of the snowy landscape. The only warm colour is in the deer’s reddish winter coat and in tan tufts of grass about to be covered over in the driving snow. The scene seems to be just before the ice forms, the trees reflected in the last of the frosty open water. The deer, alert, caught in the moment, looks ready to head for the cover of the forest.

"December" by Sydney Kirkness

“December” by Sydney Kirkness

The last image, created by Sydney for December, shows an absence of animal life in the world of wintery slumber. Sydney paints the scene in the cool blues, as the blanket of snow covers the earth. The band of sky above the forest is a pastel purple, adding depth to the quiet scene. Life hibernates, as the year comes to a close. The circular form of the image reminds us that the seasons are cyclical and that the whole pattern will begin again.

Such are the wonderful images painted by Sydney Kirkness and Moses Bignell for the staff and generations of students of Joe A. Ross School in The Pas, Manitoba. During my Artist in the Schools visit, I was fortunate to pass by these paintings over the course of two weeks as I taught. I feel honoured to have had the chance to reflect on the fine work of these wise and talented native artists’ and to celebrate the gifts their paintings continue to bring to viewers.

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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….

Refilling the Well in the Creative Process

8 Nov
Clearwater Lake--TheThird Clearest Cleanest Lake in the World

Clearwater Lake–TheThird Clearest Cleanest Lake in the World

In my novel, The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach, the mentoring elderly woman artist, Cassandra Beech, takes twelve year old Munro and Alison to paint at the sand cliffs. After they paint for the morning, she takes them for a walk on the shore and tells them not to speak, but just to listen. What Munro hears is the sounds of rolling waves, of wind rustling in the clifftop trees, of birds and gulls. The passage in the novel goes on:

“So the three travelled down the cliffs and along the beach, listening to the slapping waves and the crying gulls, all the while being absorbed into the beautiful dream of the day….Finally, the Beech Nut turned around and made her way back to Munro and Alison. Munro felt exhilarated, filled to the brim with everything around him.

The Beech Nut spoke to her two young apprentices. ‘That,’ she said, ‘is one of the most important parts of painting—of making art of any kind. When we pour our creative energy into our work, we have to take time to be refreshed. I call it refilling the well.’(74).”

During my visit to Joe A. Ross School, where I taught my novel, The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach and students engaged in anti-bullying activities from my accompanying guide, I was so fortunate to have my well refilled. Friends from my visit to the Pas last year, Barb McLeod and Tim Williams, invited me out onto Clearwater Lake for a picnic and picturesque ride on their pontoon boat. Like Munro, we were absorbed into the beautiful dream of the day…

Looking into the Water from the Boat

Looking into the Water from the Boat

Following the Shore

Following the Shore

Shoreline Down from The Caves

Shoreline Down from The Caves

Tim steered the boat toward The Caves (otherwise known of as The Crevices), a unique provincial tourist destination, deep crevices that formed when rock masses split away from the shoreline cliffs. To leap from rock to rock, up one boulder and down another, amidst high cliffs and slices of rock, all the while peering into cool dark recesses leading into the earth, is an exhilarating experience.

Passing Close to Shore

Passing Close to Shore

Back on Land, The Sun Sets on a Lovely Excursion on Clearwater Lake

Back on Land, The Sun Sets on a Lovely Excursion on Clearwater Lake

Tomorrow, I will share with readers more about the creation of art at Joe A. Ross School…

Raising Anti-Bullying Consciousness

5 Nov
A Student's Experience of Bullying is Like the Realm Below the Surface of a Lake--Expansive and Largely Unknown

A Student’s Experience of Bullying is Like the Realm Below the Surface of a Lake–Expansive and Largely Unknown

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

When teaching students about bullying, we ask ourselves, what do students already know? They have all experienced the bullying scenario, as bully, bullied, or bystander. So often, bullying happens at home, with parents and siblings involved, while at the same time, bullying goes on among peers. A student’s experience of bullying is like the submerged iceberg or the realm below the surface of a lake—expansive and largely unknown. Our job as educators is to grow in our own understanding of bullying in our lives so that we can help students to bring to the surface of consciousness their own experiences of bullying in order to enact change.

Short-Listed for the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award

Short-Listed for the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award

The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach Novel Study and Anti-Bullying Guide makes this process of growing self awareness thoughtful and joyful, given that students become experts on the bullying actions of the characters in the book. To gain understanding is a life-enhancing process.

The Grade Six students at Joe A. Ross School engaged in several activities meant to enhance their understanding of the bulling scenario in The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach and in their own lives. One such activity involved brainstorming their understanding of bullying definitions, including bully, bullied, bystander, witness, as well as physical, verbal, and relational bullying. After students came up with their definitions, we expanded on more ideas and wrote those down. Then, students illustrated scenes where Munro was being bullied in order to underscore the concepts visually.

Involved Learners

Involved Learners

Classroom Reading with Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon

Classroom Reading with Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon

Immersed in the Story

Immersed in the Story

Teacher Crystal Ross and Students

Teacher Crystal Ross and Students

Students with Author

Students with Author

Student Illustrators

Student Illustrators

Busy Creating

Busy Creating

Involved Artists

Involved Artists

At Joe A. Ross School, students created admirable artwork, each drawing advancing students’ knowledge of characters in the book. The facial expressions on some characters reveal personality, while clothes reflect 1970’s fashion.

Wonderful Student Art

Wonderful Student Art

Tomorrow, I will share more student art…

Ethereal Mirror

4 Nov
Cottage on Clearwater Lake

Cottage on Clearwater Lake

Imagine teaching by day and staying in a lakefront cottage by night. Such was my experience when visiting Joe A. Ross School in The Pas, Manitoba.

After school, I hopped in the car and drove twenty minutes to my cottage lodgings where every evening I was immersed in the beauty of nature and the shifting fall weather.  Stand with me on the shore to take in the view.

Far Shore on a Windy Day

Far Shore on a Windy Day

Moody Autumn Colours
Moody Autumn Colours

Twilight

Twilight

Warming the Cottage at Night

Warming the Cottage at Night

Part of the experience of artists in the Artists in the Schools Program is that we encounter a great variety of beautiful settings throughout the province. Looking up, down, around, myriad images bring the viewer into greater awe at the mysteriousness and poignancy of the natural world.

A Bird Peers Back

A Bird Peers Back

Looking Up

Looking Up

Reflections

Reflections

Serenity

Serenity

Far Shore on a Calm Evening

Far Shore on a Calm Evening

Ethereal Mirror

Ethereal Mirror

In my next entry, I return to the richness of the teaching day…

Creative Anti-Bullying Immersion

3 Nov
Pillars Representing the Stages of Human Life from Infancy to Old Age

Pillars Representing the Stages of Human Life from Infancy to Old Age

In my post yesterday, I wrote about how I visited Joe A. Ross School in The Pas, Manitoba, and the architecture of the building beautifully embodies concepts significant in Cree spirituality. In such a meaningful setting, I was privileged to teach enthusiastic students from Grades One to Six.

Vibrant Sky and School

Vibrant Sky and School

A highlight of my visit was that students in the three Grade Six classes began my novel, The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach, and the accompanying Novel Study and Anti-Bullying Guide, with the help of three skillful teachers, Crystal Ross, Myrna Ducharme, and Michelle Edwards. Together, over the two weeks we engaged in a variety of activities. We read the first five chapters which immediately engaged students as every kid has experienced the bullying scenario, whether as bully, bullied, or bystander, a major theme in the novel. A big plus is that the book is humorous, which draws in more young readers, and there is social intrigue and romance, always captivating themes.

Teacher Myrna Ducharme Reads The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach to the Class

Teacher Myrna Ducharme Reads The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach to the Class

More Students Involved in  the Reading and Listening Process

More Students Involved in the Reading and Listening Process

The World of Big Water Beach Comes to Life in the Mind's of Students

The World of Big Water Beach Comes to Life in the Minds of Students

The following synopsis will give blog readers an idea of what these Joe A. Ross students read in these chapters. The first chapter of the novel sets the stage for the bullying theme as we discover that the main character, Munro McLean, has been bullied all through Grades Five and Six, and that he has been called a nerd, dork, and geek, and has been thrown around, ridiculed and generally made miserable at school.

Teacher Crystal Ross and Students Immersed in Novel

Teacher Crystal Ross and Students Immersed in Novel

In the next chapter, we discover that Munro is popular at Big Water Beach, a great relief, but in order to stay popular, he has to avoid Cassandra Beech, an elderly woman who is a hermit and an artist, nicknamed The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach, and her grandniece Alison, who have decided they want Munro to create art with them.

Attentive Readers

Attentive Readers

In the following chapters, as Munro’s typical beach life unfolds, with swimming lessons, a game of Truth or Dare, a dog show and more, we are introduced to the fun-loving kids of Munro’s peer group, who we discover have a dark side, in that they begin to pick on Alison, the outsider. Munro, on the other hand, starts to secretly hang out with the Beech Nut and Alison to make art, and tension deepens and high antics increase as Munro madly tries to keep his life as an artist with the Beech Nut and Alison separate from his life within his peer group.

The Plot Thickens

The Plot Thickens

An activity that the teachers and I used was to allow students to draw ten pivotal characters in the novel. When students draw and visualize the characters, they engage more with them and can see them in their minds’ eyes more easily. Some students are visual learners who relate strongly to having the chance to draw.

Character Images are Projected and Students Immerse in Drawing

Character Images are Projected and Students Immerse in Drawing

Concentrating on Artwork

Concentrating on Artwork

Teacher Michelle Edwards Joins Students in Art Activity

Teacher Michelle Edwards Joins Students in Art Activity

In my next entry, I invite you to come with me to my lodgings during this Northern visit, a little cottage on the shores of the third clearest cleanest lake in the world, Clear Water Lake….

Northern Experience

3 Nov
Evening Sky and Forest near The Pas, Manitoba

Evening Sky and Forest near The Pas, Manitoba

Since September, I’ve been travelling to different schools throughout the province of Manitoba in Canada with Artists in the Schools, collecting blog ideas along the way. NaBloPoMo offers a great opportunity to commit to sharing the creative and anti-bullying experiences of students with whom I worked, while simultaneously providing readers with glimpses of the people, culture, and beauty of this part of the world.

Through the Manitoba Arts Councils Artists in the Schools program, I teach in schools throughout the province. As I enter through the doors of a school, I am prepared to find a distinct teaching culture made up of the educational mandate, the school ambiance and experience, and uniquely interesting people—administrators, teachers, and students.

The first school I visited this fall was Joe A. Ross, in the Pas, where I taught for two weeks at the kind invitation of Principal Karon McGillivary. In a display case at the entrance of the school, a plaque celebrates the highly regarded Cree man for whom the school was named. The plaque reads as follows:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Joseph Albert Ross was born on April 9, 1939 at the Pas. He was married to Cecelia Jebb on August 29, 1960. They had two sons, Glen and Mike, and one daughter, Lana. They also raised four foster children, Roger, Keith, Kenny, and Phyllis. Joe was a man for all seasons. He especially enjoyed the traditional life of hunting and trapping. During his later years, Joe spent much of his time in meeting rooms where he laid the foundation for Opasquiak Indian Days as well as played a key role in education on reserve. Joe was the Education Administrator for the Pas Indian Band (now known as Opaskwayak Cree Nation). This School bears his name because of his endless efforts—including enthusiasm and determination. He was especially concerned with the number of aboriginal youth dropping out of school. He knew and understood the difficulties that came with a limited education. He knew that by dropping out, youth were limiting their choices in life. Joe passed away in 1985. He had given his all for this school long before the first cornerstone was laid. In a way, Joe did help lay it’s foundation. The school was his dream. Joe was an exceptional man who had vast knowledge about many areas of life. Joe was a leader of many talents and abilities, a family man who earned the respect of many people, and an innovator who would have been pleased to see this beautiful school that promises so much learning…for so many people.”

Walking toward Joe A. Ross School on a Beautiful Fall Day

Walking toward Joe A. Ross School on a Beautiful Fall Day

Shortly after I arrived, Rosina McGillivary, Cree music teacher, brought me on a tour of the school to show me how the architecture beautifully embodies concepts significant in Cree spirituality. The entrance to the building has pillars that represent the stages of humanity from infancy to old age. The building itself is shaped like an eagle with wings to soar. The front doors face East, the direction of the rising sun and beginnings in life. So began my two weeks at Joe A. Ross School, about which I will continue to write over the course of this week…

Like an Eagle with Wings to Soar

Like an Eagle with Wings to Soar