Usually when art is mentioned people think about objects in museums. They think of sculptures or paintings they can admire. Rarely do people think of art as something that is a part of what they use everyday. But that’s how Ojibwe People have traditionally viewed their art. In the Ojibwe culture, it has always been important to make objects that are used everyday as beautiful as possible. They believe that the making of things is due to the respect of the Great Spirit. The Ojibwe people gather things from their environment and incorporate them in their design which makes them unique. For example, a container might be made of birch bark and then decorated with flowers that grow in that area. That way, the container was both useful and beautiful. The importance of these designs was the individuality behind each one. These designs were seen as a way to show ones creativity and one did not have to be an artist to express themselves. The Ojibwe people traded with other native tribes and started to become popular for their floral designs. The art horizon was widened by learning another tribes designs and experimenting with them. Another type of art that is very fascinating is the pictures and drawings on rocks. These pictures are called pictographs which are abstract drawing usually red in color. Some of the pictographs are abstract shapes, but the majority of them are pictures of living creatures. Some examples of the living creatures would be moose, ravens or people while the abstract drawings are thought of as Ojibwe gods and spirits. These pictographs were known to the Ojibwes as muzzinabikon meaning “marking of the rock.” The various Ojibwe clans shared a written language made of symbol also called totems. Since most of the history was passed down through oral stories the written language was not a primary use of recoding events. However, many of these symbols resemble the ones that were painted on pictographs. It is believed that most pictograph artist where shamans or medicine men. The dream world was closely related to the spiritual world therefore dreams where interpreted as signs from the Great Spirit. If the dreams showed a place or animal, a pictograph would be used to symbolize or remember the dream. It is said that the pictographs were painted while in a trance, and sometimes the artist wouldn’t even know the significance. These pictographs were not only used for the recoding of dreams. During certain ceremonies other member of the tribe that were not shams or medicine men were allowed to draw pictographs to plea with the spirits to give the painter health, strength or successful hunting. For example painting moose was believed to bring back real moose that could be hunted. The paint was made from red ochre, called onamin or wunnamin by the Ojibwe. Red ochre is a rock that would be ground up into a fine powder that would be mixed with bear fat to give it paint texture. The reason why this paint is so unique is because with time it becomes one with the rock. A chemical reaction takes place which is the reason these drawing can still be found today. As mentioned earlier oral language was the main communication within the Ojibwe which made storytelling very important. Through story telling the Ojibwe passed on history, tradition and ways of living to the younger members. Storytellers are men and women in the Ojibwe culture but usually elders. Many Ojibwe stories involve the cultural character known as Nanaboozhoo or Waynaboozhoo. He is known as the spirit who teaches names of plants and animals and who can do magic. It is through the stories activities and adventures of Nanaboozhoo/ Waynaboozhoo that tribe members learn wrong from right. These stories are also supposed to teach how to live in harmony with oneself, others and nature. It is said that the season for story telling beings with the first snow fall and ends with the first clap of thunder. Back than people owned stories or legends and the owner was the only person that was allowed to tell them. In order for another person to tell that particular story he/she had to get permission of the owner and offer the owner tobacco, blankets, food etc.
Through dance and music the Ojibwe people did not only entertain one another but used it as a way to display creativity. There where a variety of tunes that where sung and played at ceremonies and when the general tune was played there where no limitations to who could participate. There are special tunes for leaders such as the chief drummer, the drum keeper, the chief dancer, the chief of the tribe, and each one of the pipes keepers. These tunes are always accompanied by the drum, which is from the ceremonial standpoint, the most essential feature of the music. It is believed that the combination of the beating of the drum and the smoke from the ceremonial pipes carry the invocations of the participants to the Great Spirits. Usually a song will last about 5 to 10 min but if a lively interest is shown or a particular number of men are dancing some will last up to 15min.
Each song accompanies a dance which in most cases permits any one to participate. There are some exceptions in which a particular person or class of person will dance alone. Some might invite others to start dancing which is indicated by certain actions.

Barrett, S. A. The Dream Dance of the Chippewa and Menominee Indians of Northern Wisconsin. Books. Milwaukee, Wis., 1911.

Blessing, F. K. The Ojibway Indians Observed. St. Paul, Minnesota. 1977.

Jones, Rev. Peter. History of the Ojibwe Indians. Books. Freeport, New York. 1970.

Vennum, Thomas. The Ojibwe Dance Drum: Its History and Construction. Books. Washington DC, 1982.

Rebecca Belmore

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Born in Upsala, Ontario, in 1960. Lives and works in Winnipeg.
Since the late 1980s, the work of Anishinabe artist Rebecca Belmore has pivoted on a highly charged balance between the personal and the political, addressing history, place, trauma and memory. Her performance-based practice often incorporates elements of sculpture, installation and video, positioning the artist’s body and voice as trenchant counterpoints to stereotypes about First Nations people and highlighting unresolved burdens of social justice. Among her best-known works is 1991′s Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to Their Mother, a massive megaphone that toured from Parliament Hill to First Nations territories across the country, and was created in response to the Oka crisis. Also well known is The Named and the Unnamed (2002), a multi-part installation that commemorates women missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In 2005, Belmore was the first Aboriginal woman to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale. Her work has also been featured at the the Havana Biennial and Biennale of Sydney, among other national and international venues. Belmore is the recipient of numerous prizes and awards, including the 2009 Hnatyshyn Award.

Norval Morrisseau

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A member of The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts1 (R.C.A.) since 1970, Norval Morrisseau was the celebrated founder of the Woodland Indian School of Art (today called the Anishnaabe art), which revitalized Anishnaabe iconography, traditionally incised on rocks and Midewiwin birchbark scrolls. A self-taught painter, Norval Morrisseau created an innovative visual vocabulary which was initially criticized in the Native community for its disclosure of traditional spiritual knowledge, previously passed down orally. He acquired his knowledge from his grandfather, Moses ("Potan") Nanakonagos, who taught him about Midewiwin scrolls which provided him with a source of powerful images and meanings.

Daphne Odjig

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C.M., O.B.C., R.C.A., L.L.B.
Governor General’s Laureate, Visual & Media Arts 2007

Daphne Odjig is a Canadian artist of Aboriginal ancestry. She was born September 11,1919 and raised on the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island (Lake Huron), Ontario. Daphne Odjig is the daughter of Dominic Odjig and Joyce Peachey. Her father and her grandfather, Chief Jonas Odjig, were Potawatomi, descended from the great chief Black Partridge. Her mother was an English war bride. The Odjig family was among the Potawatomi who migrated north and settled in Wikwemikong after the War of 1812. The Potawatomi (Keepers of the Fire) were members with the Ojibwa and Odawa, of the Three Fires Confederacy of the Great Lakes.
Daphne now lives and works in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada.

Art Media:
Oils, Acrylics, Silkscreen Prints, Murals, Pen and Ink, Pastels, Watercolours, Coloured Pencils

Gordon Van Wert

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Synthesizing over 40 years of experience, centuries of Ojibwe art traditions and modern sculpting techniques, Gordon Van Wert is a recognized master in his field. A former student of Allan Houser at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, Van Wert has risen to his own notoriety and accolades. His Ojibwe art sculptures are much sought after pieces. Many of them are held in museums and the private collections of notable collectors including Robert Redford, Kurt Russel and Ted Danson.

Beginning in the 1970's, Van Wert has sculpted hundreds of pieces over the years, developing his technique and style. Despite a stroke in the early 2000's, Van Wert continues to create exemplary pieces of Ojibwe art. After the stroke he used his sculpting as therapy, adapting his techniques to include a pneumatic chisel and learning to be mildly ambidextrous.

Through his sculpting, Gordon Van Wert keeps Ojibwe art and Native American traditions alive and relevant. Please enjoy the extensive gallery you find on this site, as well as the video profiles on Van Wert.

Jim Denomie

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I really enjoy this artist's impressionistic style and contemporary themes. His use of color is superb. Some pieces convey the sense of being in a dream

Jim Denomie was born in Hayward, Wisconsin in 1955 and currently lives in Franconia, MN. Primarily a painter, he also works with ink, and oil pastel drawings and employs printmaking, photography, and found object sculpture.
In 1995, Denomie received a BFA degree from the University of Minnesota. Since then, he has shown extensively in the U.S. and in Germany in numerous group and solo exhibitions.

His work has been placed in the permanent collections of numerous museums as well as many other public and private collections. Also, Denomie’s work has been included in local and national publications and he is the recipient of several prestigious grants and awards.

David Bradley

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"While the Indian is sleeping, his homeland is being turned into a huge tourist attraction - Hollywood on the Rio Grande"

"American Indians constitute the smallest segment of minorities or "People of color" in the United States. In the multi-cultural feeding frenzy surrounding the theme of 1992, American Indians face the danger of being swallowed-up and neutralized by the huge "people of color" movement whose wide agenda threatens to deny our unique voice and identity with the same nullifying effect as the dominant white culture."
"We artists are called upon to perform the "living-in-two-worlds" balancing act in the public arena more than most other Indians….We have an opportunity to promote Indian truths and at the same time help dispel the myths and stereotypes that are projected upon us".
Excerpts from David Bradley Statement “1992, the Year of the Political Indian"

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