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Number 07051. 'Always Near'
- Artist: Daphne
- Dimensions: h 46", w 38"
- Dimensions: h 116.8cm, w 96.5cm
- Medium: Acrylic
- Affiliation: Ojibway - Odawa
Born and raised in the village of Wikwemikong, on Manitoulin Island,
Daphne Odjig has strong traditional roots in her Native culture (she is
Potawatomi, Odawa, and English) and is proud of the artistic tradition of
her ancestors. Her grandfather, Jonas Odjig, carved tombstones for the
nearby church and later sketched and painted church landscapes. Her father
painted war scenes and portraits of soldiers from the Great War, and was a
Growing up on a dairy farm, Daphne was no stranger to hard work.
Nevertheless, she and her three siblings found time to enjoy the local
swimming hole in the summers and local storytelling in the winters.
Unfortunately, at age 13, a bout of rheumatic fever cut short her school
attendance -- an event that frustrated her because she had plans
of becoming a schoolteacher. Later, Daphne treasured the convalescent time
she spent at home because it had provided the opportunity to become very
close to her mother and grandfather.
As it happened, these two important people in her life died when she
was 18 years old. Soon after, Daphne left the "Wiki" reserve for
small-town Ontario, that is, Parry Sound, where she experienced racial
discrimination for the first time. It was here that she and her siblings
used the surname "Fisher," the English translation of "Odjig,"
as a response to the prejudice.
During the early years of World War II, Daphne moved to Toronto for job
opportunities. Here, she met her first husband, Paul Somerville, whose
military post took them to the West Coast. It was not until their two sons
were attending school that Daphne began to take her painting seriously.
Daphne has said that she "was born with a paintbrush in her
hand" and that, as a child, she lived for Friday art class at school.
Her early paintings and sketches were in the realist style, mostly as a
result of encouragement from teachers to create "realistic"
paintings. Daphne felt that these instructions were rigid however, and she
wished to paint how she "felt."
As an adult, Daphne did initially paint in a realist style, but she
soon experimented with other styles as well. A self-taught artist, she
often visited art galleries and borrowed art books from libraries,
studying various artists and their work. Vanderburgh and Southcott recap
Daphne's exploration of art styles as follows: "Daphne had taught
herself to paint realism; next she explored cubism and then abstract
expressionism. She moved through impressionism and cloissonnism. She was
influenced by the Northwest Coast art and the developing Anishnabe
style" (A Paintbrush in My Hand, p 88).
Daphne's work is often associated with the New Woodland school. This
style was originally attributed to Norval Morrisseau, who was the first to
defy cultural restrictions by taking the sacred pictography of the Ojibwa-Midewewin
belief system outside Native communities. The style is described as having
several characteristics: a predominant black form line, an
undifferentiated black background, pure unmixed colors, a system of x-ray
views and the system of interconnecting lines of sacred pictographs that
is known as "linear determinatives" (Odjig : the Art of
Daphne Odjig, 1960-2000, p. 16).
Bob Boyer notes that "Daphne often claims that she is not part of
the New Woodland school" in that her works incorporated the
importance of womanhood and sense of family, while others in the New
Woodland group "concerned themselves with a spiritual quest" (Odjig :
the Art of Daphne Odjig, 1960-2000, p. 12). Her work also
differed in that she was influenced by Picasso's cubism, but within an
Aboriginal context. She was attracted to the cubist style because of its
"disregard for perspectival space, its skewing of the elements and
relationships of reality, and its central compositional structure" (Odjig :
the Art of Daphne Odjig, 1960-2000, p. 17).
In the early 1960s, Aboriginal communities across Canada were
undergoing a cultural revival. At about this time, Daphne was encouraged
by her sister-in-law to paint scenes from Manitoulin mythology. She also
wrote and illustrated a series of children's books on legends about
Nanabush, a trickster figure in Ojibwa culture. This work gave Daphne a
focus and later, the confidence to paint for an audience. However, a major
setback occurred: in 1960, her husband, Paul Somerville, died in an
automobile accident. Daphne grieved this loss by working the strawberry
farm she and her husband had built together and painting in the evenings.
In 1962, Daphne re-married. Her second husband is Chester Beavon.
Beavon's community development work took the couple to northern Manitoba
in the mid-1960s. Here, Daphne learned of the plight of the displaced
Easterville Cree, whose lands were flooded by man-made dams. "She
felt the need to respond to a community searching for its roots and
contemporary relevance" (Odjig : the Art of Daphne Odjig,
1960-2000, p. 15). This response was manifested in a series of
ink drawings about life on the reserve, with images of subsistence
In 1972, Odjig's art took her to Winnipeg and a pivotal exhibition,
"Treaty Numbers 23, 287 and 1171," at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
The exhibition featured her work, along with the work of Jackson Beardy
and Alex Janvier. This was the first time Native artists were featured in
a Canadian public art gallery, rather than a museum. Regarding the
significance of the exhibition, Carol Podedworny notes: "That the
contemporary productions of living Canadian Native artists would remain
relegated to museums of anthropology and ethnography well into the 1980s
confirms the colonialist mentality that has surrounded the exhibition and
interpretation of Native art in Canada for nearly sixty years" (Odjig :
the Art of Daphne Odjig, 1960-2000, p. 14). This statement gives
an idea of the struggle Native artists faced in their attempts to be
recognized in the mainstream art world. In addition, Daphne was the only
Native woman artist facing this struggle in the early years, a situation
made all the more difficult because she was a self-taught artist and, as a
result, not respected at that time.
Winnipeg was, nonetheless, something of a watershed for Daphne. It was
here, in 1973, that she co-founded the Professional Native Indian Artists
Association (colloquially called the "Indian Group of Seven").
This group included Daphne, Jackson Beardy, Carl Ray, Joseph Sanchez, Eddy
Cobiness, Norval Morrisseau and Alex Janvier. As is evident, Daphne was
the first and only woman to be a part of this group. Later, in 1974,
Daphne and Chester opened the Warehouse Gallery in Winnipeg, a huge
venture that provided support for emerging Native artists.
In 1976, the Beavons moved to their current home in Anglemont, British
Columbia, a peaceful spot near Lake Shuswap. It was here that the ideas
coalesced for a huge mural, commissioned by the Museum of Man in Ottawa
(now, the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau). While these ideas
were taking shape, "Daphne realized she was going to portray history
from the Native point of view. She would bring into this history her own
reactions as a Native person -- her emotions of horror, pain, anger
and hope" (A Paintbrush in My Hand, p. 85). The four-part
mural, entitled The Indian in Transition (1978), was 8' x 27'
and, as Podedworny writes, provided Daphne with the "…opportunity
to be bolder, to express emotions with no inhibition … [Daphne
considered this piece] a personal achievement related to her admiration of
Picasso's freedom in expressing human truths. She thinks that her public
had not been ready, to this point, for her to depict human agony on
canvas" (Odjig : the Art of Daphne Odjig, 1960-2000, p. 20).
Since her work on this mural, Daphne has continued to paint without
inhibition. Podedworny describes Odjig's 1970s work as political, and uses
the metaphor of cultural anthems to describe her work from the 1980s and
1990s (Odjig : the Art of Daphne Odjig, 1960-2000, p. 14).
Odjig's work, Podedworny argues, has evolved to a more lyrical emphasis
and "the paintings seem to reflect a peace and tranquility not
evident in Daphne's political oeuvre" (Odjig : the Art of
Daphne Odjig, 1960-2000, p. 24).
Interestingly, another mural, Roots, summarizes Odjig's journey
Roots, a visual biography, consists of three panels,
each five by four feet . . . The panel on the left depicts the
harmonious life that she [Odjig] knew on the reserve. The middle
one shows a female form turning her back to the viewer and
heading for the distant city; the centre foreground contains
tree roots wrenched from the earth and a headless body with two
free-floating faces (one red, one blue), representing her
identity crisis. The third panel represents a whole person, with
her uncertainties resolved: 'You find out who you are and are
proud … only when you discover yourself can you be secure.'
(A Paintbrush in My Hand, p. 90)
Odjig has accomplished a tremendous amount in her lifetime. The
following are some of her achievements:
- Received commissions from Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan; the Manitoba
Museum of Man and Nature; and the Israeli airline, El Al;
- Awarded a six-month scholarship by Sweden's Brucebo Foundation in
- Received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Laurentian University
in 1982, an Honorary Doctorate of Law from the University of Toronto
in 1985, and an Honorary Doctorate of Education from Nipissing
University in 1997;
- Served as advisor to the Society of Canadian Artists of Native
Ancestry (SCANA) in 1985; in 1993, this organization honoured her as
an Elder and presented her with a sacred eagle feather;
- In 1986, she was one of four artists in the world, selected by the
curators of the Picasso Museum in Antibes, France, to paint a memorial
- Received the Order of Canada, in 1986, for her artistic and social
- Elected to the Royal Canadian Academy [of Art] in 1989;
- Presented with a National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Arts and
Culture in 1998.
Carol Podedworny closes her tribute to Daphne as follows: "Odjig
has played an important part in recording developments that have been
traumatic, passionate and critical to the rewriting of Canadian art
history" (Odjig : the Art of Daphne Odjig, 1960-2000,
However, it is fitting that we honour the artist with the last word:
If my work as an artist has somehow helped to open doors
between our people and the non-Native community, then I am glad.
I am even more deeply pleased if it has helped to encourage the
young people that have followed our generation to express their
pride in our heritage more openly, more joyfully than I would
have ever dared to think possible.
(Odjig : the Art of Daphne Odjig, p. 78)
of Arts Grant for tour and exhibition of paintings, Smotra
Folklore Festival, Yugoslavia.
of the Swedish Brucebo Foundation Scholarship. Resident artist
at the Foundation studio,Visby, Isalnd of Gotland, Sweden.
Manitoba Arts Council Bursary
of Canadian Silver Jubilee Medal.
Commission, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Commissioned by the Manitoba
Museum of Man and Nature for Mural depicting the Indian Legend
of "The Creation of the World."
by the Indian and Northern Affairs Cultural Development Division
for painting. "From Mother Earth flows the River of Life',
acrylic on canvas 5'x 7', displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum.
by EL AL (Israel Airlines) to tour and paint her interpretation
by the National Museum of Man, Ottawa for painting 'The Indian
in Transition', 8'x 27' Acrylic on canvas.
- Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba
- Indian & Northern Affairs, Winnipeg, Manitoba
- Cultural Development Division of Indian & Northern Affairs,
- Indian Marketing Services, Ottawa
- The National Museum of Man & Nature, Earth History Gallery,
(Mural depicting the Indian Legend of the creation of the world).
- Peguis High School, Hodgson, Manitoba (Mural)
- Canada Council Art Bank
- The McMichael Canadian Collection, Kleinberg, Ontario
- Tom Tompson Gallery, Ontario
- Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario
- Government of Israel, Jerusalem
- Art instructor at the Manitou Arts Foundation, Ontario, 1971
- Founding Member of the Professional Native Indian Artists
Association Inc. 1973.
- Illustrated numerous books and book covers including 'Tales from
the Smokehouse,' Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton
- Wrote and illustrated a set of 10 Indian Legend books for
children, published by Ginn & Co., Toronto, 1971.
- Pariticipant in Documentary of Native Artist for the National Film
Exhibitions (one woman shows)
|The Lakehead Art
Centre, Port Arthur, Ontario
Brandon University, Brandon, Manitoba
Viscount Gorte, Winnipeg, Manitoba
International Pace Gardens
Warehouse Gallery of Native Art, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Bashford & Schwarz Gallery, Calgary, Alberta
Wah-Sa Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Images for a Canadian Heritage, Vancouver
Lefebvre Gallery, Edmonton, Alberta
Images for a Canadian Heritage, Vancouver
Griffin Galleries, West Vancouver, British Columbia
Roberson Galleries, Ottawa, Ontario
University, N.D. U.S.A; Canadian Guild of Craft, Place
Bonaventure, Montreal, Quebec; Canadian Pavillion, Osaka, Japan
Cooperation Culturelle et Technique, Canada, France, Belgium