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The Grandmother of Canadian Native Art: Daphne Odjig

Andréa Fernandes

Back at the end of May, I promised to cover 13 artists from 13 different countries in the 13 "Feel Art Again" posts for the month of June. Due to personal issues, I've gotten a little behind schedule, but I'll be working this week to fulfill my promise.

At the request of reader Wanda, today's post features the Canadian First Nations artist Daphne Odjig. The "grandmother of Canadian native art" will celebrate her 100th birthday on September 11, 2009.

1. "Born with a paintbrush in her hand," Daphne Odjig's creative streak was nurtured by her artistic family, especially her grandfather. Odjig referred to her grandfather, a tombstone carver and painter, as her "first mentor." Her mother embroidered, and her father drew; as Odjig said, "Art was always a part of our lives."

2. Some of Odjig's work explores erotic themes, which was unusual for First Nations art. In 1974, she illustrated Herbert T. Schwartz's collection of traditional First Nations erotica, Tales from the Smokehouse. In 1977, when her paintings were on display in a Winnipeg gallery, "the vice squad objected to the size of the genitals in some of the illustrations."

3. Of Odawa and Potawatomi (as well as English) heritage, Odjig is a symbol of First Nations art. Her breakthrough came from her drawings of the Cree people from northern Manitoba, and she was the driving force behind Professional Native Indian Arts, Inc., also known as the "Indian Group of Seven." In 1978, Odjig was the first woman to be presented with an Eagle Feather on behalf of the Wikwemikong Reserve. The honor, previously presented to men for their prowess in hunt or war, was presented to Odjig for her artistic accomplishments.

4. Pablo Picasso once referred to Odjig as a "remarkable artist." In 1986, Odjig was honored as one of only 4 artists selected by the curators of the Picasso Museum in Antibes, France, to paint a memorial to Picasso.

5. After suffering prejudice as a child, Odjig grew up to become a respected and honored national figure in Canada "“ "one of Canada's most important cultural leaders." She has been awarded a Native Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Governor General's Award, the Order of Canada, and 5 honorary doctorates. Odjig was also elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Art in 1989.

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Larger versions of "The Stream, Columbia Valley" (top left), "In Tune With The Infinite" (top right), and "The Indian in Transition" (above) are available. Fans should check out the collection of Odjig's artwork at Hambleton Galleries; the Odjig works for sale at Hampton Gallery and Bearclaw Gallery; and this video on the 2008 Odjig exhibition at the McMichael. "Feel Art Again" appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.