ALL IN THE FAMILY: The National Gallery of Canada Features the Legacy of Charles Edenshaw

Outside the National Gallery with sun shining through the glass and a poster of a bracelet advertising Charles Edenshaw

A family’s remarkable resiliency in spite of the odds.

This weekend at the National Gallery of Canada the exquisite exhibit of Da•axiigang, the Haida name for the the artist Charles Edenshaw, is closing.

Charles, or “Chinni Charlie” as he is known to his family, was born in 1839 but despite the 175 years we are removed from his physical presence on earth his spirit continues to speak through the hands of his great grandchildren.

Silver bracelet with Haida carvings Charles Edenshaw. Sea Bear Bracelet, late 19th century silver. McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Photo: Trevor Mills. Image courtesy The National Gallery of Canada.

The exhibit is housed in the galleries that are usually reserved for the Inuit Collection. This intimate space is well suited for the story of Charles and the family ties that are presented in the exhibit. As you read through the information provided you understand how important family was to him and how important he is today to his descendants that refer to him by the Haida word (Chinni) for grandfather.

When you turn left to enter into the first room of the exhibit you are met with a piece that spiritually roots the work. It is unlike the rest of the collection of platters, hats, walking sticks, and silver spoons that look as pristine as if they have come fresh from the artist’s hands. It is a cradleboard that Charles youngest daughter, Nora, identified as being hers and may have also been used for his other three daughters – Emily, Agnus, and Florence – who came before. It is worn down with the wear of practicality from safely securing babies to backs. Simply carved and embedded with abalone shells, it starts off an exhibit that includes work by the men who are descended through two of these women – James Hart and Robert Davidson.

Just beyond the cradleboard is a fantastic Transformation Mask by James who is also the hereditary Haida Chief. On the other wall Nangkilslas: He Whose Voice is Obeyed is the other Transformation Mask by Robert that bookends a bentwood chest attributed to their great-great-grandfather. A photograph on the wall beside Robert’s mask shows the one by their Chinni which inspired both of them as master carvers. Now too fragile to travel with the exhibition the strength of his descendants skill fills the void left by its absence.

Transformation Mask, circa 1882-1890: wood, bird feathers, animal fur, pigment, leather copper. / VANCOUVER ART GALLERY

In the accompanying book for the show Chief James Hart writes:

“Chinni Charlie “wished he could leave his hands to us” meaning he wanted to leave his talent to his family. In the end he did. The ones who carry on in the family like to say that “we get it from Chinni Charlie and Nonni Isabella – it runs in the family.” 

Nonni Isabella was Charles wife, known also by her Haida name Qwii.aang. A talented artist in her own right, the exhibit showcases the work that she did with Charles, her partner in life and art.

Her skill as a basket and hat weaver using spruce root can been viewed up close and personal. The exhibit includes many examples of her work woven with tedious precision. Charles would paint her pieces infusing them with more layers of meaning to teach the “Haida Way”. These beautiful objects also speak to the relationship between spouses who were creatively inspired by each other’s talent.

A wide brimmed hat woven out of spruce root and painted in Haida designsCharles and Isabella Edenshaw (attr.). Eagle Hat, c. 1890 spruce root, paint. Museum of Anthropology, The University of British Columbia. Photo: Trevor Mills. Image courtesy The National Gallery of Canada.

In this generation the spirit of Nonni Isabella is embodied in her great-great-granddaughter Lisa Hageman Yahgulanaas. Lisa is a talented textile artist who “weaves in the geometric style of weaving known as Yelth Koo or Raven’s Tail” embracing the complexities of the art form as her Nonni did.

Outside the National Gallery with sun shining through the glass and a poster of a bracelet advertising Charles Edenshaw

Charles Edenshaw (attr.) Model Pole, c. 1890–1905. Argillite. Image provided by the National Gallery.

A cultural strand was not severed.

The night of the opening you could witness the thread of Charles’ legacy stitching the past to the present as family members from the temperate West Coast arrived to the chilly winter of Ottawa to be present and pay their respects.

When I ask artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas to tell me what is important about his Chinni’s work when viewed in a contemporary context he replies:

“my great grandfather worked in one the most important traditional styles, the tradition of innovation.”

Long before Picasso happened upon the African masks that inspired him to produce a radical new style of painting, Charles was soaking up what arrived in his world that was ‘exotic’ and foreign to him. Reading the newspapers and books that landed in his lap from faraway lands, he would cut out what interested him to hang like an inspiration board on the walls where he worked. Animals not indigenous to the terrain of Haida Gwaii, like elephants and lions, started to make appearances in his work but with an incorporation that seemed natural when viewed amongst the Haida symbols.

Not only did Charles break new ground with regards to hybridized content but he experimented with materials, like gold and silver, introduced during the Colonial expansion. He incorporated the new with the traditional materials and was able to confidently shift from wood, to metals and then on to argillite as evidenced by the wonderful platters contained in the exhibit. These platters, made of the black slate that was locally quarried yet still labourious to obtain, are transmissions of the oral traditions that still survive in these (post) post modern times.

Outside the National Gallery with sun shining through the glass and a poster of a bracelet advertising Charles EdenshawCharles Edenshaw (attr.). Platter, pre-1894. Argillite The Field Museum, Chicago, 17952 Photo: © The Field Museum. Image courtesy The National Gallery of Canada.

This contemporary legacy goes beyond family to include so many carvers working today. Tlingit artist Nicholas Galanin recalls how his first instructor (Louis Minard) was taught by A.P Johnson, an artist who had some point learned at the hands of Charles. You see the substantiation of Charles in Nicholas’ work. One of his recent creations is a beautifully carved piece titled Indian Children’s Bracelet, a deceptive title for what it really is – child sized handcuffs used to restrain Aboriginal children who were being separated from their families and taken off to schools. (Read more here.)

Outside the National Gallery with sun shining through the glass and a poster of a bracelet advertising Charles EdenshawIndian Children’s Bracelet. Hand Engraved, Iron. Nicholas Galanin. 2014. Image courtesy Nicholas Galanin. 

The Indigenous traditions of the Pacific West Coast, like carving and weaving, have continued to influence the international art scene and the work of Nicholas as well as Charles’ familial successors – Robert, James, Michael and Lisa – are part of collections around the world. But this is nothing new. Even in his time, Charles was recognized widely. In 1902 the ethnographer C.F. Newcombe declared Charles to be “the best carver in wood and stone now living.”

Almost two centuries of international influence! This would be remarkable for any family but the fact we are even able to experience the work is nothing short of miraculous. Charles lived through not one but two small pox epidemics that claimed almost the entire Haida population. The odds were that he should not have survived let alone gone on to thrive as a celebrated artist with an extensive family still practicing in the traditions he learned from his own elders 200 years ago.

Along with the almost complete loss of a people, the traditional ways of being were forced to go underground. The Anglican missionaries condemned the practice of tattooing the Haida clan symbols on skin so bracelets instead of bodies became the place where one could claim their identity. In 1884 the Potlatch was banned and a thriving culture almost came to a halt but was not fully annihilated. Somehow that thinning cultural strand, weakened by ‘progress’ and British expansion, was not entirely severed.The combined four hands of this couple stitched, built, and carved a new path to Sovereignty. They did this all while raising their children – 11 in all.

Today we prosper from the richness they left behind and the talent passed forward.

The Charles Edenshaw exhibit is a love letter to a grandfather, a creative collaborator and a spiritual mentor. This exhibit is a family tale that can inspire us all.

The exhibition ends Sunday May 24 at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. For exhibit hours click here.

More information on the Charles Edenshaw exhibit can be found here.

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All descended from Charles Edenshaw, artists Michael Nicoll YahgulanaasCorey Bulpitt and Chief James Hart demonstrate that the Haida culture is alive and well in the 21st Century.

Abstracted drawing “Papered Over” (2011.4.25 36″ H X 24″ W) by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. Image courtesy Michael Nicholl Yahgulanaas.

Created with graphites, crayon, watercolour, ink pen and brush, rice paper and canvas support “Papered Over” is a work Michael writes was “inspired by the winter light on clear days in Calgary Alberta will in residence at Mont Royal University.”

Outside the National Gallery with sun shining through the glass and a poster of a bracelet advertising Charles EdenshawWork by Larissa Healey and Corey Bulpitt (great-great-grandson of Charles Edenshaw) at Sakahàn, The National Gallery of Canada. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Along with Larissa, Corey explains his process for the above work commissioned as part of last year’s Sakahàn, the National Gallery’s International Indigenous Art Exhibit.

“James Hart, great-great-grandson of Charles Edenshaw, and exhibition curator Robin Wright, discuss what makes the Charles Edenshaw exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada, so special.” View on Youtube here.

Outside the National Gallery with sun shining through the glass and a poster of a bracelet advertising Charles EdenshawThe Three Watchmen by Chief James Hart on Sussex Drive in front of The National Gallery of Canada. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

CONTEMPORARY ABORIGINAL ART: Resources for All The Talent

Aboriginal dance troupe performing outside on hills at night with city of Toronto as backdropKaha:wi Dance Theatre performing The Honouring at Fort York, Toronto. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Experiencing “The Honouring” by Kaha:wi Dance Theatres

It was a mad dash to Fort York from the MacMillan Theatre just coming out of Feng Yi Ting, the contemporary Chinese opera directed by Atom Egoyan as part of Luminato ’13.

I was determined and praying to the Gods & Goddesses of Transport that they would remove all obstacles one may encounter when riding the TTC.

I made it. A little late but it was worth the sprint up to Fort York from Bathurst, camera bag and all.

Aboriginal dance troupe performing outside on hills at night with city of Toronto as backdrop

What a stunning venue! The open air, the smell of the fires, the grass covered hills, old rock walls and the cityscape in behind. The context was beautiful but the visual juxtaposition points to an unfortunate history. The Honouring is:

“a site-specific multi-disciplinary performance honouring First Nations warriors of the War of 1812, featuring Onkwehonwe families who sacrificed to protect Haudenosaunee sovereignty, culture and land. Audiences have the opportunity to understand the complexity of the War of 1812 through the experiential lens of First Nations, offering a human face to our history.  All First Nations took part in the War of 1812 as sovereign Nation allies to Britain. 
The Honouring pays homage to their personal sacrifices and belief in what was the best for their family, community and future generations.”  More info…

Here’s a sampling of just how stunning the work of Kaha:wi is:

“Kaha:wi Dance Theatre (KDT) is one of Canada’s leading contemporary dance companies, recognized for its seamless fusing of indigenous and contemporary dance into a compelling signature choreographic vision.”  Read more…

As part of a continuation of MIXED BAG MAG’s post on National Aboriginal Day and the challenge put out there to Canadians to find out more about contemporary Aboriginal art here are some MIXED BAG MAG recommendations to get everyone started.

All of these organizations, programs, artists, and exhibitions work to dismantle the legacy of stereotypes that has stopped the dominant culture from seeing the dimensionality that we all carry within us as creative human beings as well as offer a critical voice regarding not only Canada’s First Peoples but Indigenous Peoples from around the world.

The below list focuses on Aboriginal arts in Canada and predominantly new media /visual artists. Stay tuned for a part two that will  include much more!

ARTS ORGANIZATIONS AND GALLERIES THAT FOCUS ON CONTEMPORARY FIRST NATIONS, MÉTIS, INUIT & INDIGENOUS CULTURE

ImagineNATIVE Film & Media Festival (Toronto)
The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival celebrates the latest works by Indigenous peoples at the forefront of innovation in film, video, radio, and new media. Each fall, imagineNATIVE presents a selection of the most compelling and distinctive Indigenous works from around the globe.”  More info…

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Planet Indigenus (Toronto)
Since 2004, Planet Indigenus, in partnership with Brantford, Ontario’s Woodland Cultural Centre, has explored such ancestry and cultures through Indigenous artists. Through a 10-day, international, multidisciplinary arts festivals attended by over 700,000 people… Planet IndigenUS has raised public awareness, broken stereotypes and fostered a cross-cultural dialogue between Canadians.”  More info…

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Woodlands Cultural Centre (Brantford)
“The Woodland Cultural Centre was established in October 1972 under the direction of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians upon the closure of the Mohawk Institute Residential School. The Centre originally began its focus on collecting research and artifacts to develop its library and museum collections.  More info…

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Installation in art gallery
Installation by Roland Souliere at Urban Shaman. Image from www.rolandsouliere.com.

Urban Shaman (Winnipeg)
“Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art is a nationally recognized leader in Aboriginal arts programming and one of the foremost venues and voices for Aboriginal art in Canada.”  More info…

Young naked females wrapped in Hudson Bay blanket holding a teddy bear between the two of them.
Blanket 1 by Keesic Douglas part of Close Encounters exhibit at Urban Shaman. Image from www.artsforall.ca.

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Installation in gallery of patchwork flags and dolls
Work by Natalie Ball at Grunt Gallery. Image from www.grunt.ca.

Grunt Gallery (Vancouver)
Grunt is an artist-run centre founded in 1984 in Vancouver, BC, with a vision to be an international renowned artist-run centre furthering contemporary art practice. Through the exploration of our diverse Canadian cultural identity we offer innovative public programming in exhibitions, performances, artist talks, publications and special projects.” More info…

Gallery room full of canvases painted in West Coast art style
Work by Andrew Dexel at Grunt Gallery. Image from gruntarchives.tumblr.com.

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AbTec (Montreal)
AbTeC is a network of academics, artists and technologists whose goal is to define and share conceptual and practical tools that will allow us to create new, Aboriginally-determined territories within the web-pages, online games, and virtual environments that we call cyberspace.”  More info…


Work by Skawennati Fragnito of AbTec. Image from www.facebook.com/skawennati.

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Large painting by Isaac Narciso Weber of OCADU’s Indigenous Visual Culture Program, exhibit as part of  Planet Indigenus Festival. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Indigenous Visual Culture Program @ OCAD U (Toronto)
The program prepares students to engage in complex and evolving global discourses in Aboriginal history, art history and contemporary art practice across a range of expressions, material and media.”  More info…


Work in foreground by Tara Bursey from OCADU’s Indigenous Visual Culture Program, exhibit as part of Harbourfront Centre’s Planet Indigenus Festival. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

CURRENT & RECENT EXHIBITIONS CONTEMPORARY FIRST NATIONS, MÉTIS, INUIT & INDIGENOUS CULTURE

Logo that says Indigenous And Urban

Indigenous & Urban @ The Museum of Civilization (Ottawa)
OPENING TODAY!
“Live. Engaging. Diverse. Inspired and challenged by contemporary urban life,Canadian Indigenous artists address issues of identity and stereotypes through humorous and thought-provoking works. Indigenous and Urban is a summer-long program featuring visual and media arts, music, dance, film, readings and interactive workshops.”  More info…

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IN THE FLESH (Ottawa)
“In the Flesh examines the hierarchical relationship between humans and animals within a cultural and museological context, and investigates colonial politics, as well as issues of gender as they relate to the mastery of the natural world…In the Flesh grants us visual access to nature while calling into question the politics of representation. As the guest catalogue essayist Ariel Smith notes: “With In the Flesh, the Ottawa Art Gallery participates in a city-wide indigenization of gallery spaces to coincide with the National Gallery of Canada’s Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art exhibition. This indigenization does not exist within a vacuum, and we must reflect on the ways in which these acts of claiming space respond to and are in conversation with both the current and historical politics of Indigenous cultural sovereignty.””
More info…

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Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art (Ottawa)
CURRENTLY RUNNING UNTIL SEPT 2, 2013
“Sakahàn—meaning “to light [a fire]” in the language of the Algonquin peoples—brings together more than 150 works of recent Indigenous art by over 80 artists from 16 countries, celebrating the National Gallery’s ongoing commitment to the study and appreciation of Indigenous art. This exhibition is the first in an ongoing series of surveys of Indigenous art. The artworks in Sakahàn provide diverse responses to what it means to be Indigenous today. Through their works, the artists engage with ideas of self-representation to question colonial narratives and present parallel histories; place value on the handmade; explore relationships between the spiritual, the uncanny and the everyday; and put forward highly personal responses to the impact of social and cultural trauma. The artworks range from video installations to sculptures, drawings, prints, paintings, performance art, murals and other new, site-specific projects created specifically for this exhibition.”  More info…


Cover of Sakahan Catalogue. Image from www.amazon.com.

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Border Cultures Part One: homes, land (Windsor)
2013

“Border Cultures: Part One (homes, land) brings together artists working locally and nationally with those exploring these issues in Ireland, Mexico, Palestine to list a few. Using drawing and printmaking, sculpture and photography, video and sound-based installations, artists in this exhibition develop nuanced critiques and perspectives on questions of nationhood, citizenship and identity in the border-lands” More Info…


Installation by Dylan Miner. Image by Frank Piccolo on wcontemporaryart.wordpress.com.

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Contemporary Aboriginal art in a large gallery space with white wallsInstallation view of Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture at The Power Plant, Toronto, December 2012 – May 2013. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid.

Beat Nation (Toronto)
2013
Beat Nation describes a generation of artists who juxtapose urban youth culture with Aboriginal identity to create innovative and unexpected new works that reflect the current realities of Aboriginal peoples today. ”  More info…

Contemporary Aboriginal art in a large gallery space with white walls
Installation view of Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture at The Power Plant, Toronto, December 2012 – May 2013. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid.

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Poster for Fashionality featuring the work of Dana Claxton.

Fashionality @ The McMichael (Kleinberg)
2012
“Fashionality” is a newly coined term that refers to the visual culture and semiotics of dress and adornment. Combining the words “fashion,” “personality,” and “nationality,” it reflects the interplay between clothing, identity, and culture.”  More info…


Poster for Fashionality featuring the work of KC Adams.

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Art work by Luke Parnell. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Not So Fast | NSF (Toronto)
2012
“Objects tell a story and reveal a history through the way they are made. In the current state of late-capitalism, value is often measured in terms of speed and efficiency. NOT SO FAST | NSF invites a reconsideration of time and place to present different kinds of value. This exhibition brings together works by seven Indigenous artists who address the many products and by-products of consumer society.”  More info…


Work by Tania Willard. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

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AboDIGITAL (Kelowna)
2012
“In aboDIGITAL, Mi’kmaw artist Jordan Bennett examines the interface of audio-visual technologies and the internet with his First Nations heritage. Bennett’s art deftly blends such seemingly disparate elements as Mi’kmaq worldview, hip hop culture, ceremonial practice and graffiti aesthetics, creating dynamic works that express the fluidity, vitality and continuity of Aboriginal cultures in the present.More info…

Painting of a google search with the words "why are native americans' and the resulting drop down of resultsPainting by Jordan Bennett. Image from www.alternatorcentre.com.

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Artist Sonny Assu with Decolonize Me curator Heather Igloliorte.

Decolonize Me (Ottawa)
2011
“Decolonize Me features six contemporary Aboriginal artists whose works challenge, interrogate and reveal Canada’s long history of colonization in daring and innovative ways. Deliberately riffing on the title of Morgan Spurlock’s film, the pop-cultural phenomenon Super Size Me (2004), the exhibition’s title emphasizes the importance of recognizing the role of the individual within larger discussions of shared colonial histories and present-day cultural politics.” More info…


Decolonize Me show at Bishop University. Image from www.ubishops.ca.

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Image from www.ago.net.

Inuit Modern @ The AGO (Toronto)
2011
The exhibition considers how the Inuit have coped with and responded to the swift transition from a traditional lifestyle to one marked by the disturbing complexities of globalization and climate change.  More info

& The Inuit Modern Symposium
“Inuit artists and thinkers reflected on this statement during a three-part online symposium..
. It explored the questions: What are the current issues affecting Inuit art today and how has modernity complicated life in Canada’s far North? How has Inuit art changed the way that Canada and Inuit are viewed internationally?”  More on…

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Image from the cover of Close Encounters Catalogue.

Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years
2011
“A banner project for Winnipeg Cultural Capital of Canada 2010 Program comprised of a large-scale exhibition focused on presenting Indigenous art from around the world. This is an incredibly important show, featuring the work of a number of renowned Canadian Indigenous artists, complemented by some of the most innovative and engaging work drawn from Indigenous populations across the globe” More info…


Work by Pudlo Pudlat. Image from www.closeencounters.ca.

Aboriginal dance troupe performing outside on hills at night with city of Toronto as backdropKaha:wi Dance Theatre performing The Honouring at Fort York, Toronto. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

DANCE TO THE BEAT OF ANOTHER DRUM: At Harbourfront Centre & The Power Plant this Weekend

The best from China. The best from Canada. In Toronto.

The most magical space that joins us all in some deep and ancient place is dance – the mysteriousness of a beat and where it takes our hearts, and minds when we start to move our feet.

One of the best places in this city to experience incredible dance is at the Fleck Dance Theatre. Part of the Harbourfront Centre, with programs like World Stage and Next Steps, Fleck showcases the most talented dancers and choreographers from home and around the world.

And just steps away is The Power Plant “Canada’s leading public gallery devoted exclusively to contemporary visual art” (cited www.thepowerplant.org)

Stunning Contemporary Chinese Dance.

Tonight and tomorrow Fleck features the Chinese dance troupe TAO Dance Theater. Reviews of their show Weight x3 & 2 have been amazing. Time to treat yourself, a little something for your soul!

A Mashup of Music, Art & Dance.  

And also on tonight, as part of the programming for Beat Nation, the Power Plant hosts a dance battle bringing into the gallery “dancers representing moments in Aboriginal and hip-hop dance history to create a unique, interdisciplinary event…16 of Toronto’s best dance crews will compete for $1,000 cash prize in a 2-on-2 elimination battle format and time rounds. ” (cited www.thepowerplant.org)

The Beat Nation Exhibit will be open until 9 with the competition beginning at 8:30.

This weekend dance to the south east west north earth sky.

TONIGHT & TOMORROW NIGHT…
TAO Dance Theater of China presents
Weight x3 & 2
Fleck Dance Theatre @ 8 pm
Purchase Tickets Here | Directions to Fleck

TONIGHT…
Beat Nation Dance Battle
The Power Plant
5:30 – 9 pm Gallery Open | 5:30 – 8:30 Cash Bar | 8:30 Dance Battle Begins
Directions to The Power Plant

MIXED BAG MAG also recommends checking out Vancouver’s Grunt Gallery and Beat Nation’s official website full of the good stuff and a taste of what you can find at The Power Plant!

#FF on Twitter:
@HarbourfrontTO
@ThePowerPlantTO
@gruntgallery
#PPBeatNAtion
#DanceTO