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May 18 to July 5
Tuesdays to Saturdays – 10am – 4pm
Cowichan Public Art Gallery, 126 Ingram Street, Duncan
The Cowichan Public Art Gallery Society (CPAG) is pleased to announce the second exhibition in its interim home.
Graham Pettman was born in 1938 at Fort Vermillion, Alberta, of a Cree mother and a British father. Being nomadic most of his life, Graham has been traveling with his work between BC and Alberta. Many of his works end up in sculpture collections outside of Canada, and his work is acknowledged to be the originator of a new style now in common use among many indigenous sculptors, not unlike the indigenous painter, Norval Morrisseau famed for creating the contemporary eastern woodland style of indigenous painting.
This exhibition at the Cowichan Public Art Gallery is about the Mimigewsiwak or the Cree “Little People” which Graham has illustrated in marvelous stone sculpture. Twenty or more “Little People” sculptures will be presented along with other artwork in this powerful exhibition. The exhibition is a master class in observation and masterly carving inspired by native traditions.
Graham grew up in small town Alberta, spending time with Cree relatives living in the old ways. Observing the lifestyle of his grandfather, an herbalist and trapper; Graham saw a man who lived a simple life surrounded by nature right up until his death at nearly one hundred years of age.
Encouraged by a friend and his brother to work in soapstone, he started carving full-time in 1982. More of Graham’s Cree background and Native heritage is depicted with the integration of the symbols that nature displays. His inspiration comes from the existing shape of the stone before he commences carving.
Graham feels fortunate to live in an area where he can participate in the Native culture, invigorating, enlivening, and illustrating re-emerging ancient traditions relating to the Creator. He enjoyed sketching as a youngster and met and was influenced by A.Y. Jackson (a founding member of the Group of Seven) as a youth in Yellowknife and was later inspired to attend the Alberta College of Art in 1965.
Graham presently lives in 100 Mile House in the Cariboo region of British Columbia Canada where he enjoys the company of his three children: Demian, Mikara, and Aaron.
Video: A true Canadian Treasure: Graham Pettman
More about the Artist
by his daughter Demian
Although this is the largest current collection and his first solo show in almost 20 years; BC artist Graham Pettman has been at “it” for his whole life of 84 years. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t create, whether it is to chip away at rock, paint, or simply sketch out a cartoon on the edge of his crossword puzzle book.
One of the few interruptions to his creative routine happened in in 2021 when
Graham became very ill and spent the next 6 months recovering from a lengthy hospital
stay. We suddenly realized his body of work was finite, and he had a number of
requests to purchase his works and also to acknowledge him and his contribution to
Canadian Art. He always follows his own instincts and although innovative, his art is
often misunderstood and underappreciated, as with many other great Canadian artists.
Often, our society pays attention to the grand gestures rather than the day to day
kindnesses. We overlook our small blessings in pursuit of the rainbow’s gold.
Graham’s work celebrates the simple joys of life and looks deeper into the beauty of
the medium and possibility of human shapes and forms.
As an observer, often from the lens of an outsider and a visible minority, Graham
passes on his perceptions through his art. He expresses the myriad sides of him as an individual but also as a human being: culture, core values, connection to Nature,
humour, current events. His goal is not to just do pretty art, but to honour the medium and speak to viewers about what it means to be Indigenous, to be a human
being. Often the images used in his pieces are symbolic: for example, the mouse
symbolizing humility, paying attention to details, making use of the crumbs. Hands
symbolizing creation, reaching out, helping, touch and comfort, a guidance beyond ourselves. The coyote trickster and multi-images symbolizing duality within ourselves.
The Mimigwesiwak show may seem to be about myth, but at its heart, it is about
connection. The show depicts connection in all its forms: between people and their culture, their stories, their ancestors; between parents and children, families; between humans and nature, the plants and animals; and also about people’s relationships with themselves, sometimes disjointed parts of themselves, the shadow aspects.
Not only does Graham invite the visitor to appreciate Indigenous values, but also his
art brought him onto the traditional territory of the Cowichan Tribes. While in
Duncan for the show opening, Graham and his family had an amazing opportunity to
attend an event hosted by Robert George and the Cowichan Intercultural Society. An
evening of ritual, food, conversation, jokes and gifts were part of a moving ceremony
welcoming guests and newcomers to the Warm Land of the Cowichan. New
relationships were made, in honour of the existing and ancient connections of
Indigenous Peoples to their land. We thank them for their warmth and hospitality.
Art, like music, is a way to bring people together, to find commonalities, to meet and to share. These rituals keep us on the right way.
Many people are lucky enough to discover Art at any point in their lives, with varying
levels of internal and external resources from which to draw. Some make it their
career. A few are embraced by art academia and officially determined to be the “best.” This is art that is groomed to win notoriety — art understood, art the
government can get behind.
But there are plenty of artists, who live their calling daily, conduits of the flow of
creativity. It can be easy to ignore this art because to understand it, you must allow
yourself to be touched, to open yourself to the world of otherness, to feel what it is
to be human: love, curiosity, amazement, dreams.
You are being given a gift by everyone who shares their creativity, an invitation to
explore, to contemplate another’s insight, awareness, and sensitivity.
When we choose material achievement over personal development, social approval over self acceptance, when we choose moral high ground and judgementalism over relationship and collaboration, we deny ourselves the joy of living and celebration of our differences and variety (the spice of life).
There’s much discussion these days about the importance of connection. Although
face to face interactions have been slowly seeping out of society the last few
decades, the COVID years brought the issue into sharp focus. Some might say our society has lost its way, moving farther from the hearth of connection.
One of the paths back to connection is through Art. Art is a gift; sharing it is a hand offered in greeting. Tansi! (Cree for hello).
About the Cowichan Public Art Gallery (CPAG)
Founded in 2017, CPAG is working to build a world-class art gallery in the town of Duncan in the Cowichan Valley. Once completed, the Gallery will welcome exhibitions from British Columbia, Canada and the world — including engagement and educational events for the public. In the meantime, CPAG has an annual exhibition program enhancing and expanding arts and cultural opportunities for everyone. More than 400 individuals have signed our petition in favour of the project and it enjoys support from all levels of government. CPAG is a registered charity.