Monday, March 21, 2016

Tales of the Anishinaubaek

March 20, 2016

Basil H. Johnston and Maxine Noel (Ioyan Mani) Tales of the Anishinaubaek



Basil H. Johnston, Tales of the Anishinaubaek. Illustrated by Maxine Noel (Ioyan Mani). Royal Ontario Museum, 1993. Autographed by the artist.

Because of the cover illustration of man and mermaid, I grab this art book of Ojibway legends the moment I see it at Value Village. Tales told by the famous late Ontario writer and educator, Basil Johnston. It is the work of the illustrator, Maxine Noel, which I recognize.

A Maxine Noel "artist's proof" greets everyone who steps into my condo. "Daughter of the Summer Moon." I have owned it since 1985, the year I was training in Kingston, Ontario. Exiled from our homes, living a stripped-down life in "barracks," groups of us would rent cars on weekends and tour the triangle, cruising for antiques and art. At a gallery in a small town outside Ottawa, the Brown Bear in Westport, this gold-on-white embossed drawing captured my heart. I can't remember if I bought it on the spot or made a special trip back to retrieve it. Somehow, I got it back to Kingston. Kept it in my cell for weeks. Lugged it on to the commuter plane to Toronto. Hand-carried it on the domestic flight to Winnipeg. Coddled it in the taxi from the airport to my apartment on Wellington Crescent. Displayed it proudly near the front door.

The first time an old friend from home visits after my return to Winnipeg, he stops on the threshold, staring at the brass-framed white-matted paper - long hair, long skirt, daisies - and says: "I see you have one of my cousin's paintings?"

"What? Who? I bought it in Ontario. I know nothing about the artist."

"Ioyan Mani," he says. "Walking Beyond. Maxine Noel. She's my cousin. From Birdtail." (Calvin is Dakota, from Sioux Valley, west of Brandon. But Birdtail is Birtle, three towns over, west, of my home town of Oak River.) "She grew up in Arrow River." I am dumbfounded. Arrow River is barely twenty miles from Oak River. I have travelled thousands of miles and have come home with art work made by a neighbour.

Of course, those of us who read Jung do not believe in coincidence. What is the mystery in art which speaks to secret parts of ourselves? What is it that we recognize in gold ink on white paper which says to our hearts "This is home. This is you."?

What is it within ourselves which lets us respond to, acknowledge that "This is me. This too is me."

I've had this happen to me with other works of art too, especially with a painting by Deryk Houston titled "Looking Over To Black Tusk," which convinces me that "there is a divinity which shapes our end." Or, more specifically, that predestination is a reality. But this is a story for another time.


Now I touch the beautiful inscription in my secondhand art book, and I am home again.

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