By Gayle Dempsey and Gary Froude
In the late 1990’s we met Marie St. Germain and I have been painting with her since 2001. Marie’s work was chosen for many significant spaces when the performance centre was built at Casino Rama, including designs for floor coverings and the huge wall going into the performance centre on which she depicted the history of her people and the integration into modern culture.
Marie St. Germain and I had a two-woman show together in 2017. Marie was one of Muskoka Chautauqua’s first Artists-in-Residence – at Pine Glen Public School. Marie, an Ojibwa artist, and I teamed up in the Kindergarten classroom as part of our first whole school’ project: “Secrets of the Earth”. We made drums and led the school in a chant: “The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth”.
Each time Marie and I would arrive in the classroom the children would announce, “teacher, our Indians are here!” Of course I am not Indigenous by birth, only by heart, with many Indigenous friends and colleagues.
A team of more than a dozen artists created an amazing celebration of storytelling through arts-based activities focused on oneness and unity and respect for one another and mother earth. Ralph King, a Potawatomi elder, shared his traditions, ceremonies and stories and he and Gary introduced Grade 7 students to healing plants found in the woods.
The next year, the program called, “All Our Relations” helped us all to explore our authentic roots, both individually and collectively. Muskoka Chautauqua won the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Great Grants Award for these types of programs in 2007.
Around that same time Muskoka Chautauqua was invited to become one of a dozen partners in an organization called ArtsSmarts and was fortunate to participate in a gathering in Winnipeg which was exploring avenues for reconciliation through a new concept/document entitled “We are all Treaty People”. Muskoka Chautauqua is one of the Trillium Lakeslands District School Board Community Partners and has been part of their annual Indigenous Symposium every year. We also have a special relationship with members of the Wahta Community and the Glen Orchard Public School which serves that community.
Marie introduced us to her niece Dianne Sonnenberg (an award-wining, international mosaic artist from Texas) a number of years ago. Since that time Dianne has led a number of extraordinary workshops and community art installations for Muskoka Chautauqua.
We never really knew Authur Shilling, Chippewa of Rama First Nation, personally but we always loved his work. Gary and I sat in circle with his wife Amelia many times after he passed. And when Marie and I were studying art at Nipissing University a number of years ago she arranged a visit with Amelia to his studio. We had the great pleasure of an intimate ‘showing’ of his work which has been a great influence on my own work.
Gary and I had a visit with his brother Paul sometime later and also took part in a “sweat” with him and others. We are honoured to have Paul, and artist Ted Fullerton with whom he recently collaborated on a project, join us in August for an exhibition as part of our 10-day Festival in Windermere. Their project, “dialogue in images” is a visual conversation about colonial domination and oppression. In the artists’ statement Paul says his journey has been “to live in harmony with creativity in all aspects of his life. In this way painting, drum making, carving and writing all became ways for healing, to celebrate the spirit. It was an opportunity to explore and understand himself, and his place and relationship within the circle of universal creation that exists for everyone.”
We personally have learned so much from these special artists and they have all very much enriched our Muskoka Chautauqua content and programming.
Gayle Dempsey is an artist and fourth-generation Muskokan. Gary Froude, whose background is in the entertainment industry, is ‘from away’. They are passionate change-makers in Muskoka and care deeply about its past, present and future. Their work reflects their passion for life-long learning and community development and for the past 25 years they have been resurrecting Muskoka Chautauqua on Lake Rosseau.
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