By Clint Buehler
CALGARY – Joane Cardinal-Schubert credits her father with setting her on the path that would lead her to numerous awards for her art, and for her contributions as curator, writer, lecturer, poet, advocate for Native artists and activist on a variety of Aboriginal issues.
The most recent of her many awards, the 2007 National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Arts, will be presented at a gala event in Edmonton in March, as will awards to 13 other recipients in other categories.
Previous awards include an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.B) from the University of Calgary in 2003, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002), the Alumni Award of Excellence on the Alberta College of Art’s 75th Anniversary Celebration (also in 2002), the Commemorative Medal for contributions to the arts in Canada (1993), and election to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA) in 1986.
Talking about her father’s influence, Joane says, “I was pointed at an early age toward the direction of creating things. It was my father who literally placed me in art school. I am looking and I am seeing with the eyes he taught me to use.
“Having a father who was a builder and innovator, I was exposed to a broad range of materials and media. I had seen blueprints and plans and sketches probably before I was four years old. Like most children, I was imitative so I used to construct things, draw anywhere I could and also sewed, designing clothes and making my own patterns from an early age. Of course I was born in an age when people still made things . . . it was normal.”
Her painting and installation practice is prominent for its incisive evocation of contemporary First Nations experiences and examination of the imposition of EuroAmerican religious, educational and governmental systems on Aboriginal people.
Born in 1942 in Red Deer, Alberta, of Blood Indian heritage, she attended the Alberta College of Art in the 1960s, then obtained her Bachelor Fine Arts from the University of Calgary in 1977. She was assistant curator at the University of Calgary Art Gallery in 1978, and curator of the Nickel Arts Museum in Calgary 1979 to 1985. She has been a lobbyist for the Society of Canadian Artists of Native Ancestry (SCANA), and an outspoken advocate of Native causes.
In addition to the exhibition of her artwork in dozens of solo and group exhibitions across Canada and internationally, it has been reproduced in numerous publications and is in numerous private, corporate and public collections. In addition she is in much demand as a lecturer and writer, and has been actively involved in video and theatre production.
Joane says she “fell into being a curator through interest, volunteerism and due to organizing skills from past experience in organizing events.”
Since 1988, Joane has volunteered with the Calgary Aboriginal Arts Society (CAAS). In the course of serving CAAS committees and board, including a term as president, “I’ve been able to help other artists by organizing annual exhibitions including their work. In 2001 we created the F’N (First Nations) Gallery, which allows us to hang small exhibitions year ‘round of both individual and group work.
“A few years ago we began to explore theatre, so I have gained a lot of experience in that area helping with several theatre productions.”
“I worked on the first video (Self Government –Talk about it) that was to become the Aboriginal Program at the Banff Centre and was one of the charter group who participated in the planning of the Aboriginal Program.”
Joane says writing is something she has been interested in since childhood. “I was an avid reader – about four books a night sometimes. I love writing – and particularly poetry. I wrote for years not worrying about being published. Then the University of Lethbridge’s Whetstone Press called me to use an image on their Aboriginal issue, and I told them I was closet poet. They asked me to send them some examples and they ended up publishing four or five poems. This happened in 1983 or so, and it seemed after seeing my work in print I took it more seriously.”
Joane’s belief that making issues known that need addressing is important, driving her advocacy efforts on many issues, such as having Aboriginal art displayed in public galleries and museums.
“I just joined in and contributed what I could from my point of view.”
But at the foundation of it all are her visual art creations, some of which are in such prestigious collections as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke and Duchess of York, and Canadian Embassies in Tokyo, New York and Stockholm.
One of her most challenging projects is the major sculpture she was commissioned to create for the Calgary International Airport.
“I had known for years that I wanted to create a new view of the prairie horse out of the western context, and I knew that I wanted to honour the way the ancestors had drawn a horse on the pictographs that they left for generations to come.
“It seemed an obvious strategy to propose a horse as it was an important means of travel and transport of house, food, personal effects and goods. I have always been in love with the beautiful shape of the horse. I wanted to shape it out of plaster as it was immediate and would be under my direct control. The surface also lent itself to my style of notation and painterly quality.
Over the years, Joane says, she has often returned to the medium of plaster, making warshirts that fit her in the ‘80s, some rocks that were part of wall installations, work made in reference to bundles taken apart by then uninformed employees at the Glenbow Museum, the “one little, two little” wall installation at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The “Gettysburg Address” cradleboard, as well as other baby plaster bundles and the final plaster 10 little Indians made while artist in residence in Winnipeg.
“I suppose (the horse) became a culmination of all the work up to that point. Also, it allowed me to work large, think big, and to use my skills.
“I have great respect for the airport authority and the architects for their continued belief in me over the time that it took to realize all the problems and work out the concept to a physical finale.
“There was no opening, no real dialogue, but I had evidence of people not being able to keep their hands off ‘horse.’
“It is quite amazing to be versed in art and the discipline of that “hands off” profession. I have had to repair the surface of horse twice. I have detected tracks on the top of its base from those kids’ sneakers with wheels on the soles. I have seen men’s sized tracks there also. I have witnessed grown men who pass the horse giving the rocks a resounding knock with their knuckles . . . quite amazing. I am considering starting a ‘friends of the horse society.’ But I also see how it engages people and children who are drawn to its curvilinear shape, and that makes me satisfied that it achieves its goal.”
Joane says her life and career are about the joy of discovery, curiousity, the journey, the people met, experiences, learning, just being within the creative process.”
She says there is still a lot to be done mainly in figuring out how to continue to share her work in more innovative ways. “Basically my career is, I think, to just keep working and everything will follow along.”