Within the Art, Stories Abound: A rich narrative is woven into FORGET-ME-NOT, MÉTIS ROSE: The Far West

 
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FORGET-ME-NOT, MÉTIS ROSE: The Far West celebrates the culture, tenacity and indeed the very existence of the Métis people in British Columbia.

Two outstanding Métis artists, Lisa Shepherd from Maple Ridge and Kristi Bridgeman from Victoria, have worked collaboratively to create the series of large framed narrative pieces (referred to as ‘shadow boxes’) that feature Shepherd’s renowned beadwork and acclaimed illustrator Bridgman’s paintings. The exhibition opens at The ACT Art Gallery on Saturday, September 7, 2019 at 2:00pm.

Two earlier versions of the ‘MÉTIS ROSE’ exhibition have been mounted in Jasper and St. Albert, Alberta, though the artwork and stories shared in this exhibition are dedicated almost entirely to the history and distinct culture of the Métis of British Columbia.

While most Canadians are at least somewhat familiar with the Métis who established themselves in the Prairies or Great Lakes regions, most will be surprised to hear that Métis have been documented in British Columbia as early as 1793.

Their skill as guides and language fluency with other Indigenous groups between the prairies and the coast made them an invaluable asset to rivals, the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company. Undaunted by the challenge of crossing the Rockies, Métis guides led expeditions into BC from many locations along the provincial border, many ultimately settling their families in their own Métis communities, including Maple Ridge.

This is an exhibition of stories and cultural knowledge shared through its mesmerizing artwork and the beautifully crafted narratives that accompany each piece. An homage of sorts to the culture, beliefs, talents and remarkable personalities that thrived and grew in `The Far West’, the exhibition also draws attention to the importance of women in Métis culture, both then and now.

Two famous Métis matriarchs who frequently appear in early British Columbia lore are Isabella Mainville Ross and Amelia Douglas, each of whom are honoured with a dedicated shadowbox piece. The piece shown here, Métis Rose III is dedicated to Ross.

Married to Hudson’s Bay Company Chief Trader Charles Ross, Isabella Mainville Ross may have been eclipsed by her husband’s powerful public presence, but she was anything but the passive partner in their relationship regarding business and family matters. Fluent in several languages, and adaptable to both travel and business protocols, Isabella often assumed her husband’s role as a trader. She was also a skilled medicinal plant practitioner. The land she ultimately purchased and developed as Fowl Bay Farm, made her the first female registered landowner in the province of British Columbia.

Another powerful but notably “gentle” matriarch, Amelia Douglas, was born in Manitoba, the daughter of a mixed race Irish trapper and a Cree mother. The family’s necessarily itinerant lifestyle eventually led them to British Columbia where her father became a chief factor. Within his circle of business contacts, he met James Douglas (also of mixed race) who ultimately married Amelia. As the first governor of British Columbia, James Douglas relied upon Amelia to uphold the social functions of the women who were part of her European-based social circle, but she insisted that her children (13 in all) were well versed in her native Cree language and culture.

Amelia Douglas is memorialized in the shadowbox piece called Forget-me-not II, the namesake of the exhibition. The images and accompanying text to the artwork, recognize Douglas’s skill as a nurse, midwife and gardener, and whose stoic nature sustained her through the loss of seven of her thirteen children.

These are only two of the amazing stories captured by the artists in the exhibition FORGET-ME-NOT, MÉTIS ROSE: The Far West. A closer look at all ten of the collaborative pieces, together with a few of the artists’ individual works, will reward every visitor with a deep appreciation of the rich, evolving Métis culture.

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Opening Reception
Saturday, September 7 from 2-4pm

Artist talk and tour of the exhibition by Kristy Bridgeman and Lisa Shepherd followed by an illustrated talk by Métis historian, Douglas Brodie
Sunday, Sept 8 from 1:30 – 3:30pm

Image: Forget-me-not II. Lisa Shepherd and Kristi Bridgeman. 30 x 30". 2019 Glass beads, velveteen and hide, sepia ink, watercolour, wax resist.