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The stories behind this Indigenous homage

When people view my sculpture, The Art of Reconciliation, they ask what the many Indigenous symbols mean, and how I learned the correct meanings.

Indigenous symbolism has been a fascinating and ongoing interest for me for close to 30 years. The quest for more knowledge of the cultures’ symbols started when three young Indigenous lads knocked on my door in the 1990s: Arthur J. Redwood, Kalum Dan, and a third artist whose signature I cannot decipher. His initials are E.B.; the art is dated 1992.

They asked if I would be interested in purchasing some of their artwork. I smiled at their patience and willingness to door-knock to get their work out there. I also admired their clear, radiant friendship for each other, and looked at the six pieces they presented; I was captivated by their art.

I purchased all six artworks for several reasons. First, I loved their art. Second, I wanted to motivate them and affirm that their art was saleable. Third, they reminded me of how I was in my early days.

This artwork represents apology, regret, sorrow. It honours the magical spiritual beliefs of an indestructible race of people and their cultures.

My need to create the sculpture, “The Art of Reconciliation” came from a memory that still burns after 52 years.

I had been in Canada for about five months, arriving in Winnipeg. I found myself heading north on a tortoise-paced overnight train to the mining town of Thompson, Manitoba for a carpentry job.

It was -40 Celsius with a far colder wind chill. Bedding down for the night in my upper bunk, I had a clear view from the window. The full moon was so bright, it illuminated the nature scene crawling by. Unable to sleep, I gazed out that window for many hours.

The forest that had been hugging the rails suddenly moved away into a clearing. The moonlight pushed the unrelenting dark back to the borders of the forest and illuminated a small, lonely bungalow. As the train lumbered past, I could see a young woman standing between the ruffled drapes of a large picture window, lovingly holding her baby in her arms, one hand over her child's face to hold it close to her warm neck.

As the train reached a point that put us squarely facing each other, our eyes met. The wind swirled fine snow across her window and, to my astonishment, I could see the drapes swirling with the wind. She briefly covered her face and recoiled, holding her child tighter to shield it from the cold.

I suddenly realized the glass was missing from her window. I wanted to jump from the train to help her somehow; tears welled up in my eyes and burned this woeful scene into my young mind.

This sculpture is my apology to the woman and child for being unable to help. It is a heartfelt apology to all her ancestors, all the children of the residential schools, all the parents of the daughters lost on our highways, never to be seen again. It is the gaze that has lasted 52 years.

I'm genuinely interested in feedback on my sculpture from Indigenous people, and would welcome the chance to display it where it can be properly viewed. Please feel free to comment in a respectful way via my contact page or direct to askewbism at gmail.


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