When Agnes Bugera opened the Bearclaw Gallery in Alberta’s capital back in 1975, it was one of the first art galleries of its kind. Today, the Bearclaw Gallery, located in Edmonton’s popular gallery district (10403-124 St.) is an active member of Edmonton’s Gallery Walk Association and one of Canada’s premiere showcases for Aboriginal art and artists. Bearclaw Gallery stands alone as the one that made it, the one that succeeded, and as a result the 124 Street facility, which began 40 years ago as a small arts and crafts shop, has become one of Canada’s most respected and most trusted dealers of authentic Aboriginal art.
To celebrate four decades of continued growth the Bearclaw Gallery will host a special exhibition of art that will launch at 1 p.m. on Saturday, September 26 and conclude on October 8.
“The gallery will feature an exhibition of First Nations art and will include works by Alex Janvier, Aaron Paquette, Jane Ash-Poitras, Jim Logan, Jessica Desmoulin, Jason Carter and Jonasie Faber,” noted Jackie Bugera, who took over the gallery in 1982 after her mother decided to dedicate more time to the promotion of contemporary Canadian art with the opening of the Gallery of Whyte, then later with Agnes Bugera Galleries.
“2015 has been a very exciting year for the Bearclaw Gallery,” assured Bugera, “and it culminates with our 40th Anniversary later this month. Visitors and patrons who make their way here on the opening day of this exhibition will have the opportunity to meet and listen to several of the many accomplished artists that we have represented over the years as they talk about their various creations.”
Artists expected to attend the gallery during its September 26 opening afternoon include Jane Ash-Poitras, Linus Woods, Aaron Paquette, Jessica Desmoulins, Jonasie Faber and ceramic artist Diane Meili.
“In addition to the hundreds of pieces we have in the gallery,” added Bugera, “we will also be erecting a 48 by 60 inch photo board that will highlight by decade, some of the art that has been presented at the gallery during the last four decades.”
Jackie talked about the early days, the hard work it took to achieve and maintain success and the many artists who contributed to that success.
“It seems like just yesterday when I was riding my bike to the gallery after school,” she smiled. “I was just 11 years old when I started working with my mother at the gallery, and that passion continues today. The business was built on hard work, attention to detail and by looking after the little things; my mother would often be here until nine and ten o’clock in the evening setting up displays, putting things out and making sure that everything was just right. That foundation of hard work has sustained throughout the four decades.”
“Honesty, integrity, respect and hard work, combined with a sincere appreciation and love of First Nations culture, tradition and art,” noted Bugera, were the keys to the Bearclaw Gallery’s continued success. “We’ve always worked hard to ensure that every artist is treated fairly and with respect and we pride ourselves on customer satisfaction. We have some of the best Aboriginal artists on the continent showcasing their creations either in the store or on our website; our clients can be assured that everything we sell is authentic.”
Success is more difficult to achieve in the art gallery business than in some ventures, an obstacle that Jackie Bugera says was overcome via continued effort and artistic quality.
“Looking back at the success we’ve had over the years one realizes that it came about because of the hard work we all put into it,” noted Bugera. “I’d have to say that for me personally, I absolutely love First Nations art; it’s a love, I work for art. What I would credit as the most important ingredient to our ongoing success is the talent of First Nations artists in the community and the richness of their culture. What they have to say and what they have to offer is universally applicable and it resonates a respect of nature, the Creator and others – all nations. It is something that everyone wants to hear about, know about and identify with.”
The Bearclaw Gallery has made significant contributions to both the promotion and development of Canadian Aboriginal art in Canada, and around the world, and as a result of the work and years of dedication from people like Agnes and Jackie Bugera, Canadian Aboriginal art has come full circle.
“There was a time,” explained Bugera, “when Aboriginal art of any kind was considered as nothing more than a craft, but those days are long gone and there is currently a very different attitude that prevails. Today Aboriginal art is looked upon as important, both culturally and socially in Canada. And there is a great deal of different art; every community has its own unique story to tell, its own symbols of art to display.”
The Inuit, the tribes along the northwest coast of British Columbia, the nations of the Plains and the Woodlands, the Métis – each group has its own unique artistic identity, as does each and every Aboriginal community from one coast to the other. You’ll discover them all at the Bearclaw Gallery, where you can easily spend an afternoon browsing through the works of such internationally renowned Aboriginal artists as Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Alex Janvier, Jane Ash Poitras, Dale Auger, Roy Thomas, Maxine Noel, Jim Logan, and many others.
And does the gallery owner have a favourite or two?
“Oh yes,” she replied, “more than a few. Each artist has a unique approach to art and in the messages they deliver through that art. Most have become more like friends than business acquaintances; we talk, we joke and laugh and have a great rapport. Daphne Odjig, for instance, is one of my personal favourites; she was the first Aboriginal woman to pioneer the First Nations art movement and many of her works tend to have a spiritual element that I connect with. Her work is never preachy; it’s all about exploration, mysteries and the unknown and she never tells anyone what to think with her work. She creates art that invokes thought and that is something that I have a real appreciation for.
“Linus Woods is another favourite of mine; his approach to a canvas with paint is unlike anyone I’ve ever seen before; it’s immediate, it’s fast. He’s a fast painter and his work tells a story of motion, of movement and it’s never static. I look at his paintings and I can see the speed of a horse; even in his still-life and portraiture work there are so many interesting elements, and his use of colour is pretty amazing as well.
“Jane Ash-Poitras is another artist who I am very fond of. I have a fairly large collection of personal art in my home and I’d have to say that I have more of her work than any other artist. Her works challenge our perspective of stereotypes on culture, on history and they too invoke thought and conversation.”
During our conversation, Jackie lauded the work and personalities of many of the artists she’s worked with over the years, including “Aaron Paquette and Jason Carter, two very interesting younger generation artists; each with his own perspective. I’m also a big fan of both Jackson Beardy and Jim Logan; Maxine Noel, designer of the Aboriginal Achievement Award, has been a good friend my entire life, and Alex Janvier, an incomparable talent who pioneered a style of First Nations art that was yet to be explored, influenced by both abstract and modernistic artists. His works are so intuitive with lines and forms and blocks of colour that create a narrative. When you look at Alex’s work you view it from above, like an eagle flying over the landscape and all of a sudden you see a map and you see the story he is trying to relate. I think there’s a very close relationship with the environment in his work.”
Visitors will find the Bearclaw Gallery to be spacious; the artwork tastefully displayed. Carvings and sculptures decorate the floors and open spaces, while paintings and other works hangs from every wall; delightful trinkets, souvenirs and jewelry fill the glass counters, each piece unique, each with its own history and story to tell. Original paintings, stone sculptures, Northwest Coast jewelry and pewter gifts, as well as such things as beautifully made ceramics, baskets, textiles, masks, drums, and carvings in cedar and whalebone. Limited edition prints are also available, along with dolls, moccasins and other decorative pieces.
The Bearclaw Gallery is located at 10423 – 124 Street in Edmonton.
by John Copley