AOK gallery features art of Mel Madahbee and son

Artist Mel Madahbee, wife Mel and their son, up-and-coming artist Roy pose in the Island’s latest art gallery. The gallery is opening this weekend and will feature the art of both Madahbee artists. photo by Michael Erskine

AUNDECK OMNI KANING—Artist Mel Madahbee is well known as a local Anishinaabe artist, having started out doing landscapes before moving on to encompass a wide range of artistic styles and mediums. Now, along with son Roy, Mr. Madahbee and his wife Mel have opened a home-based gallery showcasing the artist’s work along with that of his up-and-coming artist progeny.

A lot of the senior Mr. Madahbee’s work is done in a familiar acrylic medium, although he has dabbled in oil and enamel, works with wood burning and even creates a range of regalia for powwow dancers.

“Oil takes up to three weeks to dry,” noted Mr. Madahbee. “I started out with enamel because it dries much faster. But oil has been around for a thousand years and people are more familiar with it. Acrylics came out sometime in the 1970s, or at least that is when people started to use it more.”

Mr. Madahbee picks up a set of jit toes, traditional rattles often tied to the legs or arms of traditional dancers. “They are made out of deer hooves,” he says, shaking them to produce a distinctive clattering sound. “People like them for dancing.”

The artist suffered a debilitating stroke a number of years ago and took a second hard turn when he had to have a valve in his heart replaced. “The blood was going the wrong way,” he explained. Today he is back working on his art and following the road to recovery.

“I have always had to work at another job,” he said. “I could never depend just on the art for a living.” Today it is even more difficult, as the amount of competition in the art field is much stiffer. “Back in the day an artist would sell everything he made right away,” said Mr. Madahbee. “Now it takes a lot longer.”

Mr. Madahbee’s son Roy comes in from his job during the interview. He is working on his art and will be displaying it in the new gallery as well. He has just popped in for a bite to eat before heading back to work.

The gallery will be open this weekend, June 21, and while it is okay for people to just drop in, Ms. Madahbee suggested that it might be best to call ahead for those with serious interests. “We might be out and about,” she smiled. There are benefits and drawbacks to a home-based gallery.

Don’t go looking for the name of the gallery in the phone book or on the Internet either. “I thought about it,” laughs Ms. Madahbee. “We were going to call it AOK’s First Gallery, but then we just decided not to.”

The gallery is filled with a great cross-section of the artist’s work, with eastern woodland art sharing space with traditional landscapes, wood burned and painted cedar boxes and even some of Mr. Madahbee’s earlier enamel works filling the room with colour.

So it is just the Madahbee’s home-based art gallery for now, easy to find at 51 Lake Road in Aundeck Omni Kaning. There is a large sign at the end of the driveway reading ‘Art Show.’ If you are calling ahead, the number is 705-368-3762.