Jackson Beardy

About the Artist

Jackson Beardy was born on the Garden Hill First Nation in northeastern Manitoba in 1944. He died unexpectedly at the age of forty after suffering complications following a heart attack. In his short life he was an artist and storyteller as well as a teacher, consultant and strong  advocateAdvocacy is the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, an idea, or a policy. Active support. This term is often used to refer to efforts to support specific art disciplines, or organizations, etc., as well as of support for the arts in general. Advocates are the ones who promote advocacy! (artlex.com)  for Aboriginal people and artists.

Beardy was the fifth of thirteen children in his family. At a young age he went to live with his paternal grandmother and learned many of the traditional  First NationsFirst Nations is a contemporary term referring to the Indian peoples of Canada, both status and non-status (definition from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada). To find out more about Canada’s First Nations, go to: Assembly of First Nations: http://www.afn.ca/ Village of First Nations: http://www.firstnations.com/ Canada’s First Nations: http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/firstnations/ Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Nations   stories that would provide inspiration in his adult life.

At age seven, Beardy was required to attend a  residential schoolA system of schools opened in Canada in the 19th and 20th centuries for Aboriginal children. The primary goal of these schools was to assimilate the children into the non-native cultural system. For more information, go to: The Canadian Residential School System at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_residential_school_system A Lost Heritage: Canada’s Residential Schools: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_residential_school_system Residential Schools at the Canadian Encyclopedia: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0011547 The Indian Residential School Survivors Society: http://www.irsss.ca/   where he was immersed in the English language and the traditions of the instructors. While there he developed his artistic skills but was forced to leave his Aboriginal culture and his language, his very identity, behind. This loss of identity contributed to alcoholism later in his adult life.

After graduating he attended the Technical Vocational School in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1963 to 1964, where he studied  commercialPertaining to making money, i.e., creating art in order to sell it, rather than creating art for purely aesthetic purposes.  art. He worked for a short period at a Winnipeg department store, but health problems forced him to return home. During that time he started to paint images representing the oral traditions of his culture. The images were not always accepted within his community, and back then some controversy arose over his visual recording of the ‘traditional spoken word’ of his culture.

In 1965 he had his first exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. He also enrolled in classes at the University of Manitoba. His artistic career really took off when he was  commissionedA contract between an artist and an individual. The artist agrees to create an image or design for the individual for a predetermined price.  to do work for the 1967 Canadian Centennial, and again for the Manitoba Centennial in 1970. This work was featured at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, but he was denied entry by security guards when he and his family tried to attend the celebration. This incident strengthened his resolve to become a strong  advocateAdvocacy is the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, an idea, or a policy. Active support. This term is often used to refer to efforts to support specific art disciplines, or organizations, etc., as well as of support for the arts in general. Advocates are the ones who promote advocacy! (artlex.com)  for native artists and his people.

Beardy was a founding member of a group established in 1972 called the Professional National Indian Artists Inc. They were a strong-willed group whose groundbreaking work influenced aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities of the day and garnered them the title the Aboriginal Group of Seven. Writer Cheryl Petten writes: “Beardy, along with fellow group members, [Daphne] Odjig, [Alex] Janvier, Norval Morrisseau, Carl Ray, Joseph Sanchez and Eddy Cobiness worked to promote Native control of Native art, and to change the way the world looked at Native art, shifting the emphasis from the “Nativeness” of the art to its own artistic merits.”

Because of their similar styles of working, this group became known as the Woodland School of Art, which is different from the  InuitInuit means “the people” in Inukititut, the language of the people of northern Canada. Go to http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/pr/info/info114_e.html for further information.  and the West Coast traditions of art making. The Woodland group's work was often based on traditional native stories and was characterized by strong black outlines, solid areas of rich  colourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (Artlex.com)  and the use of x-ray vision to depict the inside of the person or animal. Since then, many new Aboriginal artists have gained prominence and have explored a variety of styles and media, but it was this group who initially paved the way for the acceptance of the Aboriginal voice and images in galleries and museums.

Beardy taught art at Brandon University, the University of Manitoba and in local Winnipeg schools. He acted as a consultant for Native Studies courses, and in the early 1980s, Beardy was an art advisor and cultural consultant to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in Ottawa. He is also credited with illustrating the books When Morning Stars Sang by John Morgan, Almighty Voice by Leonard Peterson and Objibway Heritage by Basil Johnson.


Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning