Reflecting on the life of Aboriginal artist, Moses Amik Beaver
By Olivia Levesque, Arts and Culture Editor
The tragic passing of professional Aboriginal artist Moses Amik Beaver in the past month has broke the hearts of many who knew him and his work. Whether their connection was personal or through admiration of his artwork, he touched the hearts of many. The Ahnisnabae Art Gallery, located on Court Street in Thunder Bay, had special ties to Beaver. Owner Louise Thompson shared with The Argus what her connection with Beaver was like:
In the spring of 2004, my late husband Roy Thomas was invited to visit the students and the art classes at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School. When we came into the school, a striking Ahnisnabae man with strong features and long dark hair noticed my husband and walked up introducing himself as Moses Amik Beaver. He said, “I do art.” Roy and Moses then exchanged words, and Moses shook Roy’s hand. That’s how I met Moses.
After my husband passed, I invited a few artists to be a part of my gallery. Moses wanted to be a part of it, and I agreed to take him on. He was the sixth artist to become part of my gallery, and now I represent, after nearly 12 years in operation, over 300 Indigenous artists.
Moses was an important part of my gallery. I found his art to be amazing right from the start. His works are colourful, and he painted what he felt – what he was going through. I loved the way he portrayed women – in such a kind and beautiful way. You can tell by the way he painted that he had tremendous respect for women. His art contains images inside of images – really amazing.
Moses was proud of who he was. He carried himself well with pride. As a self-taught artist, he did what he wanted to do, and that’s very encouraging. Whatever will come will come. He had all these natural abilities and talents that were both immeasurable and amazing.
Most of all, Moses was always my friend, and he has a special place in my heart. He was a very special man.
Moses Amik Beaver was from the community of Nibinamik (Summer Beaver) First Nation, north of Thunder Bay. He was born in 1960 at Lansdowne House and relocated with his family to Summer Beaver in 1975, when members of the Lansdowne House community chose to break away and move into their traditional territory. Beaver is known to have spent much of his upbringing outdoors, building community and working on his family trap line. His relationship with the Earth is most noted throughout his lifetime as he lived his life practicing his land based, organic, and holistic culture.
Artistically, Beaver is known for his adapted style of traditional Woodlands art. Over his career, he embraced his own unique style of spirits images, human faces, and animal forms, transcending physical boundaries to the outer dimensions of the spiritual realm. He was recognized throughout the region for his unique style, as well as his work that he did with youth in education programs. His work is a form of storytelling, a tool that is significant to the First Nations people. Beaver’s land based practice is carried throughout his artwork, exploring the teachings that tell us we are all connected to each other and the natural world.
In 2007, Thunderstone Pictures produced the film entitled Woodland Spirits, giving a glimpse into Beaver’s life as a successful artist. The film shows Beaver’s experiences of returning to the land, and guiding youth through cultural revitalization and their own artwork. Moses has worked extensively in schools across Ontario with youth, both mainstream and special education. Thomas speaks to Beavers passion for learning and mentoring: “Moses was one of those artists you wanted to learn from and who loved learning. He also loved learning from elder artists, such as my late husband Roy Thomas (1949-2004) and Gelineau Fisher (1951-2015). He was willing and generous with his teaching, as shown in the film with Moses taking Andrew Machendagoos along Lake Superior.” Exploring themes of interconnections between modern and ancient art, the land, and the importance of the traditional Ojibway value of intergenerational mentorship, makes the film timeless in their teachings.
In an effort to remember and celebrate the life that Moses Beaver lived and the work he has done, Ahnisnabae Art Gallery Director Louise Thomas and Lakehead University Professor Dr. Andrea Terry have organized a screening of Woodlands Spirits to take place on April 6th, 2017 at Lakehead University. Thomas shared her thoughts with The Argus regarding the importance of sharing the film to the general public in the wake of his sudden passing: “The film, I believe, celebrates Moses Beaver’s important roles in and contributions to the arts community, such as his dedication to young people, working with them, painting with them, encouraging them to use their art to express themselves – through their talents.”
The screening will take place at 7:00 p.m. the evening of April 6th in UC 1017. In an effort to continue Beavers work and advocacy, donations will be accepted in support of the Moses Amik Beaver Memorial Fund. The evening will encourage dialogue and discussion in Beaver’s memory, offering healing as our community mourns this tragic loss.