LITTLE CURRENT—When Canada Post set about finding suitable works of art to grace the newly revamped and expanded Little Current site, a host of responses flowed in suggesting Little Current Indigenous artist Duncan Pheasant. The result can now be seen at the post office, both inside and out.
Shannon McMullan, curator of Perivale Gallery, which represents Mr. Pheasant, reached out to Canada Post with photos of some of the artist’s works in her gallery suggesting they come to have a look at the artist’s work in person. Canada Post took her up on the offer with considerable enthusiasm.
“A group from Canada Post came and spent four or five hours in the gallery,” said Ms. McMullan. “They chose about five works to consider.” That meeting was followed up by a video meeting. “They put a great deal of thought into the decision before they narrowed the choices down to two.”
Ms. McMullan noted that the Canada Post officials soon came to realize what she herself had seen in the artist. “Duncan isn’t just an artist,” she said. “He is a consummate storyteller. Every one of his paintings has a story with it that he puts on the back of the canvas. I copied out those stories and put them up beside the paintings hanging on the wall. They are like poetry.”
The impact can be powerful.
“I noticed when people came into the gallery, and they read the story and see the painting, it has an emotional impact on them,” she said. “A lot of Indigenous people come into the gallery.”
Ms. McMullan said that Mr. Pheasant is more than just an artist that she represents. “Duncan is a friend,” she said, adding that he is currently the only Indigenous artist she represents in the gallery. The gallery owner noted that the Little Current post office is just one of two pilot projects that will feature Indigenous art. “There is another one out west that will probably feature a Cree artist,” she said.
The two works displayed at the Little Current post office are ‘We are the Land,’ recreated in a massive mural hung on the outside of the building facing Water Street and a smaller canvas entitled ‘Eagle Migizi.’ The original works are now part of the Canada Post collection.
“The land has spirit, and we are the land,” explained Mr. Pheasant about his work featured on the mural, relating the story behind the canvas. “The rock pulses with energy and movement that we cannot detect.”
“The rock sometimes shows himself and becomes recognizable like a face,” he said. “The land is what we are, the land keeps us alive, the trees speak to each other about the land and share its nutrients. They live out their lives without any help from man as a community and we show them respect. Then there is the everlasting sky; all others live beneath him with its many moods and gifts. We offer prayer to all four directions. We say we don’t think about these things; we know all these things.”
Mr. Pheasant noted that creativity can bring a powerful and uplifting spirit into anyone’s life. “We all should be creating something every day,” he said. “It might be a painting, or a story, a stick figure or even a cake. Some people say, ‘I can’t draw,’ well there is this thing called abstract art.”
The artist knows of what he speaks personally. In his early life he suffered from significant substance issues with alcohol. His art led Mr. Pheasant to journey down a better road. “It made a big difference in my life,” he admitted.
Numerous people could be seen stopping to gaze at the mural after it was lifted into place on the building, taking photographs, pointing, discussing the subject matter and story elements in the painting.
Mr. Pheasant is best known for his work in the Eastern Woodland style, but more recently he has expanded his vision into other forms and styles. Something he credits Ms. McMullan for encouraging him to try. “She asked me to try doing a landscape when she was doing the In the Footsteps of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven,” he recalled. “I still do the Woodland style work, but I am enjoying doing landscapes and other things now too.”
Mr. Pheasant’s work will be on display at the Little Current Post Office for the foreseeable future. The renovations and new services available at the post office will be officially unveiled at a later date,” noted Canada Post project spokesperson Holly Gill. “We didn’t want to do it during the Christmas rush and get in the way of the staff who are very busy right now.”