ODJIG, Daphne




Author Tags: Aboriginal Authors, Art

"I've resolved who I am and what I'm here for. I've jumped a lot of barriers--discrimination--and I've fought all these things, and they are no big issue any longer." -- Daphne Odjig, Equinox magazine

Like her fellow artist Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig Beavon is seldom identified as a British Columbian even though she based her studio, since the late 1970s, in Anglemont, a resort town on Shuswap Lake, prior to recently moving to Penticton. Similarly, as a visual artist, she is rarely recognized as an author of Tales of the Nanabush: Books of Indian Legends for Children (1971), A Paintbrush in my Hand (1993) and Odjig: The Art of Daphne Odjig, 1985-2000 (2000).

Born on September 11, 1919, on the Wikwemikong Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Daphne Odjig was the oldest child of a prosperous dairy farmer Dominique Odjig and his English war bride Joyce Peacy. As a mixed race child of Potawatomi, Odawa and English descent, she overcame rheumatic fever and received her introduction in art and sketching from her grandfather who was a carver of tombstones on the reserve. Essentially self-taught, she never returned to school after she assumed the job of caring for her ill mother.

Upon the death of both her mother and grandfather in 1938, Odjig was taken to live in Parry Sound, off the reserve, at age 18 by her disapproving English grandmother. “I learned that my people were known as boozers, lazy, not overly bright and not very dependable,” she later recalled. “I began to worry about the colour of my skin.” She began to use the name Fisher, an English translation of her Odawa name Odjig. With the onset of World War II she found work in a Toronto munitions factory, then came to British Columbia where she married Paul Somerville. They had two sons.

Remaining in B.C. after her husband’s death due to a motorcycle accident in 1960, Odjig became a fruit farmer, growing strawberries in the Fraser Valley, and painting in the evenings. In 1963 she married Chester Beavon. They moved to northern Manitoba in 1965. Increasingly troubled by the plight of the Cree, Odjig reflected some of her anguish in her paintings, most notably “Conflict Between Good and Evil” and “The Eternal Struggle.”

Her work was noticed by Winnipeg collector Herbert Schwarz, who had collaborated with the artist Norval Morriseau to record Ojibway legends. Odjig subsequently collaborated with Schwarz for Tales of the Nanabush, a collection of ten stories for children. Some of these stories about Nanabush, a trickster figure in Ojibwa culture, have been reprinted as individual volumes.

In addition, Odjig’s work was presented at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1972 alongside work by Jackson Beardy and Alex Janvier. This exhibition has been described as the first time Aboriginal artists were featured in a Canadian public art gallery, rather than a museum.

Odjig’s cubistic approach to Aboriginal subject matter gained increasing favour in the 1970s after her commissioned painting “Earth Mother” was displayed at EXPO 70 in Japan. In 1976, she and Beavon sold their little gallery in Winnipeg and returned to British Columbia. While living in Anglemont, she initially rented a nearby house for her studio, then built a studio.

After her work was acclaimed at the National Arts Centre in 1978, Odjig became well-known across the country. In the 1970s she also co-founded the Professional Native Indian Artists Inc., created Indian Prints of Canada, Inc. and the Warehouse Gallery, and consulted for the Society of Canadian Artists of Native Ancestry (SCANA). Co-founded in 1972, the Professional Native Indian Artists Association has been called the “Indian Group of Seven.” It also consisted of Jackson Beardy, Carl Ray, Joseph Sanchez, Eddy Cobiness, Norval Morrisseau and Alex Janvier.

Critics have long associated Odjig’s art with the New Woodland School, first attributed to Norval Morrisseau, but Odjig has resisted this classification, saying her work incorporates the importance of womanhood and family, it has strong elements of cubism, and is not wholly concerned with sacred pictography and spiritual quests.

Once referred to as a “remarkable artist” by Pablo Picasso, Odjig has received honorary degrees from Laurentian University (1982), University of Toronto (1985), Nipissing University (1996) and Okanagan University College (2002). In 1986, she became one of four artists to be chosen by curators of the Picasso Museum in Antibes, France, to paint a memorial to Picasso. Odjig received the Order of Canada (1986) and was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy [of Art] in 1989.

In 1998, near the end of her painting career, she accepted a National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Arts and Culture. Odjig has also been honoured as an Elder and presented with a sacred eagle feather by the Ojibway, whose culture is the source of inspiration for her work. In 2007, she received a Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts. Some thirty years before, when Daphne Odjig’s paintings were exhibited in a Winnipeg gallery in 1977, the vice squad objected to the size of the genitals in some of the illustrations.

BOOKS:

Tales of the Nanabush: Books of Indian Legends for Children, 10 vols., Toronto, 1971.
Nanabush and the Spirit of Winter. Retold and illustrated by Daphne Odjig Beavon (Cobalt, Ontario: Highway Book Shop, 1989).
A Paintbrush in my Hand (Toronto: Natural Heritage, 1993). With R.M. Vanderburgh and M.E. Southcott.
Odjig: The Art of Daphne Odjig, 1985-2000 (Key Porter, 2000).

SOLO EXHIBITIONS:

1967: The Lakehead Art Centre, Port Arthur, Ontario
1969: Viscount Gorte, sponsored by the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood, Winnipeg, Manitoba
1970: Canadian Guild of Crafts, Place Bonaventure, Montreal, Quebec
1970: Canadian Pavilion, Osaka, Japan
1970: Minot State University, North Dakota
1971: Smotra Folklore Festival, Yugoslavia
1971: The Agence de Cooperation Culturelle et Technique, toured France, Belgium, Canada
1972: Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba
1974: Warehouse Gallery of Native Art, Winnipeg, Manitoba
1976: Jerusalem Series, Bashford and Schwartz Gallery, Calgary, Alberta
1977: Wah-sa Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba
1977: Lefebvre Gallery, Edmonton, Alberta
1977: Images for a Canadian Heritage, Vancouver, British Columbia
1977: The Bashford's and Schwarts Gallery, Calgary Inn, Bow Vallery Square, Calgary Alberta
1980: Parallels of Nature, Assiniboia Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan
1980: Children of the Raven Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia
1980: Behind the Mask, Robertson Gallery, Ottawa, Ontario
1981: Gold Design Fine Arts, Calgary, Alberta
1981: Children of the Raven Gallery: Childhood Memories, Vancouver, British Columbia
1982: Robertson Gallery, Ottawa, Ontario
1982: Assiniboia Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan
1982: Gold Design Fine Arts, Calgary, Alberta
1983: Shayne Gallery, Montreal, Quebec
1984: Gallery Phillip, Toronto, Ontario
1985: A Retrospective 1946-1985, Thunder Bay Exhibition Centre and Centre for Indian Art, toured Laurentian University Museum and Arts Centre, Sudbury, Ontario; McMichael Canadian Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario; Woodland Indian Cultural Educational Centre, Brantford, Ontario
1985: Robertson Gallery, Ottawa, Ontario
1985: Shayne Gallery, Montreal, Quebec
1986: Gallery Phillip, Toronto, Ontario
1987: Gallery Phillip, Toronto, Ontario
1988: Shayne Gallery, Montreal, Quebec
1989: Phillip Gallery, Toronto, Ontario
1989: Robertson Gallery, Ottawa, Ontario
1989: Woodlands: Contemporary Art of the Anishnabe, Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Gallery Phillip, Toronto, Ontario
1990: Hamilton Galleries, British Columbia
1990: Gallery Shayne, Montreal, Quebec
1991: Hamilton Galleries, Kelowna, British Columbia
1993: Gallery Indigena, Stratford, Ontario
1995: Hambleton Galleries, Kelowna, British Columbia

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2007]