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Cuthand's Trading series garners award for art gallery.


Last September a purchaser for the Mackenzie Art Gallery spotted pieces of Ruth Cuthand's series at a show at the Dunlop Art Gallery and became interested in the work.

It was shortly afterward that she forwarded Cuthand's work to the Canada Council for the Arts to be entered in the competition for the York Wilson Endowment Award for the Gallery to possibly receive funding to purchase six pieces from the series.


"The endowment award is juried. Every curator puts forward a person and their work they wish to purchase for their gallery. Only one award is given a year, and my work was picked for it," said an excited Cuthand.

The MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina received $30,000 through the Canada Council for the Arts' 2009 York Wilson Endowment Award to purchase six pieces of Saskatoon artist Cuthand's Trading series. In the Trading series, Cuthand examines trade relations between European and Indigenous peoples.


"I've been beading for four years now, and I teach it at First Nations University. Beads are very pretty, and I started thinking about when the bead first came as a trade item. Women must have just thought they were beautiful, and it revolutionized their artwork because quillwork is so labour intensive," said Cuthand.

While beads were undoubtedly a valued trade item, Cuthand said she began to think about other aspects of trade.

"The downside of trade was disease; disease preceded settlers, and just decimated Indian people. I researched the diseases that came from Europe and the viruses of those diseases. Under a microscope, those viruses are actually gorgeous and translate to beads very easily. There were eleven diseases that came from Europe, and one that came from the Americas back to Europe; that one I did in quillwork. So that's how the series came about."

In the series, which includes pieces titled "Bubonic Plague" and "Chicken Pox," Cuthand used beads to render the viruses as seen under the microscope, and painted the names of the corresponding diseases in white acrylic on the black suede-like surface on which the intricate beadwork was done.

"The images of the Trading series are hauntingly beautiful," noted Michelle LaVallee, assistant curator of the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

Stuart Reid, the gallery's Executive Director said, "The MacKenzie Art Gallery is honoured to be the recipient of this important award. This purchase will significantly add to the Gallery's collection of contemporary Canadian art. By addressing questions of history, identity and colonialism, the Trading series holds particular relevance for the people of Saskatchewan."

Cuthand's work will be displayed in the gallery at the beginning of summer in 2010.

The Saskatoon-based artist, who was born of Plains Cree heritage in Prince Albert, has explored many different art forms over the years. She said she doesn't necessarily stick to one medium for the sake of mastering it, but rather likes finding the right medium for the right project. However, Cuthand said she will stay with beading for a while since she's had such an incredibly positive response.

"I also still want to work with the disease theme because I'm quite fascinated by it. There are two projects I'm looking at. One is diseases that have affected Native people when they were put onto reserves, like tuberculosis and all the water born diseases, and the other series I want to do is diseases that we are afraid of today, like AIDS and H1N1. In that series I also want to look at how diseases mutate and get worse."

Cuthand, who graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master of Fine Arts degree, has been teaching art and art history at the Saskatoon campus of the First Nations University of Canada for the past 25 years. She said she enjoys guiding young artists as much as she loves creating art herself.

The York Wilson Endowment Award from the Canada Council for the Arts is given annually to an eligible Canadian art museum or public gallery to assist with the purchase of original artwork by a living Canadian artist that will significantly enhance its collection.


Sage Writer
COPYRIGHT 2009 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:COMMUNITY
Author:Friedmann-Conrad, Bernadette
Publication:Saskatechewan Sage
Date:Sep 1, 2009
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