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Profiles: Alex Janvier

Alex Janvier Accomplished artist, teacher and cultural activist, Alex Janvier has used canvas as his field of personal and cultural expression, painting a remarkable chapter in the history of the Treaty 6 First Nations. Born on 28 February 1935 on the Le Goff First Nations Reserve, part of the Cold Lake First Nations near Cold Lake, Alberta, Alexandre Simeon Janvier lived his earliest years steeped in Chipewyan tradition, guided by his parents Harry and Mari Janvier. His traditional upbringing was broken when, at the age of nine, Janvier was separated from his family and sent to the Blue Quills Indian Residential School in Edmonton. The physical and spiritual isolation from his home and culture, sparked in Janvier a resolve to reconnect with his traditional culture; and he used his talent in the visual arts to do so. Father Rolande, a priest at the Blue Quills school, recognized and encouraged Janvier’s talent. This, combined with Janvier’s own determination, set him on a path for his life’s work.

After completing his time in residential school, Janvier moved to Calgary and enrolled at the Alberta College of Art and Design, earning a Fine Arts Diploma with Honours from the institution in 1960. Returning to Edmonton, Janvier found employment as an art instructor with the Edmonton Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Alberta) and the Department of Extension at the University of Alberta. Throughout the 1960s Janvier continued to create his paintings and gain more recognition for his work, eventually starting the Janvier Mural and Fine Arts Company. By 1971, he had devoted himself full-time to producing art.

Janvier’s art is a dazzling array of flowing and intermingling hues and designs, a heady mix of the abstract and the concrete. The struggle of Aboriginal tradition within the non-Aboriginal world is a recurring theme in his work, a reflection of his own experiences in residential school and of his sensitivity to the ongoing effort made by Aboriginal peoples in Canada to achieve spiritual and cultural healing.

A prolific artist, collections of Janvier’s works can be found in art galleries across Canada, while exhibitions of his paintings have appeared in almost every province and territory in the country. Commissioned murals created by Janvier can be found in such places as the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton, Alberta and the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. One of his most remarkable works, a 1993 mural entitled Morning Star, graces the ceiling of the Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec. Janvier’s art has earned him numerous accolades, including induction into the Royal Canadian Academy of Art in 1985, the Cold Lake First Nations Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001, and the National Aboriginal Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.

As politically active as he is artistically prolific, Janvier has applied himself to various causes within the Aboriginal Community. In 1995 he was involved in the Primrose Lake Land Claim as a member of the negotiation team. In the year 2000, Janvier acted as co-director of the Daghida Project, a project set up to study the Chipewyan language and create programs to help Cold Lake First Nations Chipewyan youth learn their own language. Having been through the residential school system himself, Janvier was all too aware of the eroding impact post-treaty life was having on his culture and community. As a result, Janvier signed many of his paintings with his own personal treaty number, 287. Presently, Janvier lives in the Cold Lake area. He continues to paint and to express his deep commitment to his cultural heritage through his work.

Acland, Joan, et al. “Alex Janvier.” First Nations Art: An Introduction to Contemporary Native A rtists in Canada. http://collections.ic.gc.ca/artists/index.html (accessed July 2006).

Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. “Treasures Gallery: Morning Star.” Civilization.ca. http://www.civilization.ca (accessed July 2006).

Janvier, Alex. Alex Janvier.com. http://www.alexjanvier.com/(accessed July 2006).

McMaster, Gerald R. “Janvier, Alex Simeon.” Historica: The Canadian Encyclopedia. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com (accessed July 2006).

McMaster, Geoff. “Project to save dying Chipewyan language.” University of Alberta Folio. Vol. 37 No. 9, 7 January 2000. http://www.ualberta.ca (accessed July 2006).

Miracle’s Website. “White Buffalo: 1998 Gold Coin.” Gold Buffalo Coin based on Chippewa Lore. http://www.homestead.com/WhiteBuffaloMiracle/BuffaloCoin.html (accessed July 2006).

Tribal Chiefs Institute and Indian and Northern Affairs. In Their Footsteps: Contributions of First Nations People in Alberta. Edmonton: Duval House Publishing, 2001.

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