CCCB Art Collection

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In the 1975, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned 20 artists from across the country to create works which would convey the Christian message and also serve to illustrate one of its publications at the time, the Sunday Mass Book.

The artists were given the task not merely of describing an event or person in documentary terms, but of sharing the inner meaning of that event or person in contemporary artistic idiom.  They were asked to share their deepest insights and talents as they spoke of the presence of God.  Together their work is a uniquely Canadian expression of the significance of the Christian message, and reflects the cultural richness and diversity of Canada and its people. 

Among the artists, almost every region of the country is represented, as is youth, maturity and creativity into old age.  This group also included several Indigenous artists, featured below, who consulted with their elders and employed their own sacred symbols to convey the Christian message. 

The notes in italics found beneath each piece are drawn from the artist’s own comments.

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Art Collection”, 1975, pp. 6-7 

WAITING FOR THE LORD

Waiting_for_the_Lord_Web 
pencil crayon on paper   76.5 x 56.5 cm.

People waiting for Jesus. Mary the mother of Jesus is also waiting. There is also an angel.

OONARK ca. 1906-
Baker Lake, Northwest Territories
Inuk


NATIVITY

Nativity_Web
acrylic on canvas    121.1 x 172.1 cm.

It is my personal belief that a messenger from the Great Spirit came to earth in the form of His image after Him through a virgin birth in unrecorded history. Through this man, knowledge was passed onto man from the Great Spirit. Many of the teachings of this man have been kept by word of mouth through the ages by the elders of all tribes.

We see the virgin mother-to-be holding on to an embryo connected to the sun symbol (the Great Spirit) who has deemed it necessary to send his messenger to his people. The mother is also connected to Mother Earth who is nursing her. She too is connected by a lifeline to the sun symbol. Around her are all the orders of creatures who come to see the messenger. He is born to explain their existence, [to restore] harmony between humanity and the elements, physi­cally, mentally, and spiritually. On the other side of the sun symbol we see an elder in prayer, ritually offering a bowl filled with sacred things. You can see the sun symbol is resting on his hunched frame, … bearing him down with doubts, fear, depression, and all the ills of his time, his back to the very miracle he is praying for.... It will take time for all to fully comprehend this phenomenon which has come to pass.

The four semicircles represent the elements of the air: snow, rain, tornadoes, heat. The moon is painted above the elder. We regard the moon as our Grandmother who keeps vigil over all creatures during the night.

JACKSON BEARDY 1944-
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Cree


THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST BY JOHN THE BAPTIST

The_Baptism_of_Christ_Web
red cedar panel   152.2 x 90.9 x 4.9 cm.

John the Baptist is presented as a shaman. He wears red cedar bark clothing, as is the Kwakiutl custom in important ceremonies. The raven rattle he holds symbolizes his status among other chiefs. Around his waist is a belt depicting the sisiutl, a mythical being with a head at each end of its body and a head in the middle of its torso.

Christ is shown as a young man wearing the red cedar bark regalia associated with sacred ceremonies. He is kneeling on a ceremonial cedar chest, which was owned only by the highest ranking chiefs: to possess such a chest allows a chief to give away endless amounts of wealth and power for the benefit of all.

The dove is depicted descending from heaven as a Thunderbird in its half-human and half-mythical form. The Thunderbird is all-powerful and is associated with the creation myth.

I have completed this commission with the same respect given the traditions and art of my ancestors as taught to me by my grandfather, Chief Mungo Martin.

Although our cultures differ, within both traditions there appears a creator and 'historic' figures who have dedicated themselves to the spiritual and secular well-being of mankind. I sincerely hope that through this very important project a greater understanding of native culture will result in a spiritual harmony for all peoples of this world.

BROKEN COPPER, TONY HUNT 1942-
Victoria, British Columbia
Kwakiutl


TOTEM CROSS

Totem_Cross_Web
poplar   289.8 x 204.24 cm.

Christian tradition is rich in imagery. The New Testament speaks of the Holy Spirit as appearing in the form of a dove and in parted tongues of fire. Catacomb and church art of the early Christian centuries depicted the victory of the cross with diverse symbols. Indeed, Thomas Aquinas' eucharistic poetry acclaims Jesus as "holy pelican", a bird said to tear open its breast to feed its starving young. To most of the Indian peoples of North America, the Thunderbird is a powerfully awesome messenger of the great God. Here, Thunderbird is the sacred sign of God's force-filled entry into the world.

God's eyes watch from the four directions, from above and below, from both wings, saying that God is all around us at all times. All races, black and yellow, red and white, are represented in the four colors taken from nature and found in the earth-circle and all over Thunderbird. Christ-as-Thunderbird, in dying for us, restores happiness and understanding; he fills us with new dignity and great richness.

The chip marks all over remind us of the old days when axes were not known and ivory and stone were used instead. The black color comes from the charcoal of campfires; the white from volcanic ash; and the red from the clay of the riverbank.

STANLEY PETERS 1945-
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
Athapaskan of Tlingit origin


THEY ARE HAPPY TO EAT TOGETHER

They_are_Happy_to_Eat_Together_Web
felt pen on paper   75 x 106 cm.

With joyful and sincere hearts they took their meals together, praising God and winning the approval of the entire community (Acts 2:46-47).

My name is Kenojuak. I am writing about my drawing.

Here they are about to eat, the children, men and women. They are eating seal meat. One of the children, the one with his hood on, has just come in from playing. He is happy to find his family eating. There is also a child beside her mother. She wants some meat. The mother gives her meat.

They are happy to eat together and thankful for the food.

KENOJUAK 1927-
Dorset, Baffin Island,
Northwest Territories
Inuk


KATERI TEKAKWITHA

Kateri_Tekakwitha_Web
Acrylic on paper  106 x 81 cm

Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) was born in what is now New York State.  After her baptism in 1676, she fled to Canada to escape persecution.  Kateri lived a penitential life under a vow of chastity, dying at Caughnawaga, Québec, at the age of 24.

JOSHIM KAKEGAMIC 1952-
Red Lake, Ontario
Swampy Cree