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Collection of paintings of First Nations people goes to Europe.


An exhibit, which includes pastels and paintings of First Nations people as well as recorded interviews with the subjects themselves, will be on display at the Niedersachsisches Landemuseum in Hannover, Germany until August.

"Drawn from the Past: the Portraits and Practice of Nicholas de Grandmaison" was sent to Europe by the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery to be part of a larger display of Canadian Aboriginal depictions.

"We knew there was a great deal of interest in Aboriginal people in Germany. This opportunity gave us the chance to showcase both the beauty of the work, as well as use the underlying philosophy of de Grandmaison to demonstrate not only the diversity of Aboriginal people across Canada, but the continuous and important contributions that Aboriginal people make to Canadian society," said Josephine Mills, director/ curator of the university's Art Gallery.

This exhibition was selected from the university's extensive holding of Nicholas de Grandmaison pastels and paintings. "Drawn from the Past" focuses on the artist's First Nations portraits and on the context of his life and career and includes work produced from 1930 through 1960. The archival material comprises letters, personal photographs and audio recordings of songs and interviews made by de Grandmaison while meeting with his First Nations subjects. Unfinished studies and sketch books included with the exhibition provide audiences with a view into the artist's process.

The exhibit creates a truly engaging experience as visitors can hear from the people the portraits are depicting through the audio recordings, said Mills.

Nicholas de Grandmaison was born in 1892 to an aristocratic family in Russia and was related to Leo Tolstoy. He immigrated to the Canadian prairies in 1917, fleeing ahead of the revolution. De Grandmaison felt an affinity to the colonial influences facing Aboriginal people at this time. Also unable to go back to his home, de Grandmaison understood the loss facing Aboriginal people who were being displaced. As a result, his desire was to paint his subjects in the midst of living a way of life that would soon disappear. In the 1930s and 1940s he began painting and sculpting the Plains Indians of southern Alberta, with occasional forays into British Columbia and the northern United States. His work portrayed people in everyday clothing, featuring buckskin and native beadwork that he felt would soon be replaced by blue denim and leather cowboy boots.


"De Grandmaison's work really honours the complex picture of Aboriginal people. This exhibit could have been quite stereotypical but it isn't. He did not approach his subjects that way, but instead was clearly interested in telling the story of each person--as a story," said Mills.

De Grandmaison received many honours during his lifetime and was inducted into the Peigan Tribe and received the Blackfoot name of Eenuk-Sahpo'p (Little Plume). De Grandmaison was buried at Standoff.

At a recent public estate auction in Calgary for the late Doc Seaman, a Calgary oil and cattle baron, de Grandmaison's painting One Gun Blackfoot sold for a record $58,650.

The Niedersachsisches Landesmuseum is presenting the university's exhibition as part of a companion piece to go with a large exhibition of Canadian Aboriginal objects and art work from the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Calgary's Glenbow Museum and Banff's Whyte Museum are also lending art works for the companion exhibition. The goal of the art exhibition is to expand European interpretation of First Nations culture and the influence of First Nations people on European trained artists working in Canada.


Sweetgrass Writer
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Title Annotation:COMMUNITY
Author:Goulet, Sharon
Publication:Alberta Sweetgrass
Date:Aug 1, 2009
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