By Clint Buehler
Joane Cardinal-Schubert, B.F.A., LLB (Hon.), RCA (Blood) passed away in the early morning of September 16 after a long and courageous battle with cancer.
Although best known for her paintings and installations, Cardinal-Schubert, throughout her long and successful career, engaged in an impressive range of other activities as curator, writer, lecturer, poet and activist for First Nations artists and individuals engaged in the struggle for Native sovereignty. 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 upon Aboriginal people.
Born in Red Deer, Alberta in 1942, she attended the Alberta College of Art in the 1960s, then obtained her B.F.A. from the University of Calgary (1977). She was assistant curator at the University of Calgary Art Gallery in 1978, and curator of the Nickle Arts Museum in Calgary from 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.
Her work has been reproduced in various publications, exhibited internationally and is in numerous prestigious private, corporate and public collections. In addition she was in much demand as a lecturer and writer, and was actively involved in video and theatre production.
Her accomplishments have been recognized with numerous grants and awards. She was the fourth woman to be admitted to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (1986), recipient of the Commemorative Medal of Canada in 1993 and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2005. In 2003 she was granted an Honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of Calgary. In 2007 she received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award in Art from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation.
Those dry facts, however, do not begin to express the passion with which she lived her life, the talent she exhibited in her various artistic pursuits and the impact she had, not only in bringing Native art to prominence, but in exposing truths about Native history, culture and contemporary issues.
Joane credited her father with setting her on the path to her artistic achievement: “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.”
Joane said she “fell into being a curator through interest, volunteerism and due to organizing skills from past experience in organizing events.”
Since 1988, Joane had volunteered with the Calgary Aboriginal Arts Society (CAAS). In the course of serving CAAS committees and board, including a term as president, she said, “I’ve been able to help other artists by organizing annual exhibitions including their work. In 2001we 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.”
Joane 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.
As for her writing, Joane said it was something she had 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 a closet poet. They asked me to send them some examples and they ended up publishing four or five poems. This happened in 1983 or sio, and it seemed after seeing my work in print I took it more seriously.”
Joane believed that making issues known that need addressing was important. “I suppose I have advocated to have Aboriginal art exhibited in galleries and museums as a lot of artists have done. I just joined in and contributed what I could from my point of view. I suppose one of the more important issues I was involved in was saving the Alberta Aboriginal Art Collection from being sold off piece by piece. That involved telephoning a lot of collectors to not bid on the work. Fortunately, it was saved almost in its entirety.”
Typically, one of her last challenges—earlier this year—was to travel the province on behalf of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts to meet with Aboriginal artists and identify art work from the various stages of their careers not represented in the foundation’s collection, and to recommend purchases. Not only did Aboriginal artists directly benefit from her efforts, but those artists and their work will now be available to this and future generations.
She said her life and career was about “the joy of discovery, curiousity, the journey, the people met, experiences, learning, just being within the creative process.”
To the end, she said “there is still a lot to be done, mainly in figuring out how to continue to share my work in more innovative ways. Basically my career is, I think, to just keep working and everything will follow along.”
Joane is survived by her husband, Eckehart “Mike” Schubert and sons Christopher and Justin Schubert; siblings Douglas (Adoia) Cardinal of Ottawa, Ronald (Lori) Cardinal of Vancouver, Kenneth (Cathy) Cardinal of Perth, Australia, Robert (Carla Kalke) of Vancouver, Carol King (Mike King) of Sherwood Park, AB, Brian (Judy) Cardinal of Edmonton, and numerous nieces and nephews.
She was predeceased by her parents, Joseph and Francis Cardinal, and her brother David, who is survived by his wife Jenny in Auckland, New Zealand.