Published on June 23, 2012 by Amy
Daphne Odjig, CM, LL.D. (b. September 11, 1919), is an influential Canadian First Nations artist of Odawa-Potawatomi-English heritage. Her many awards include the Order of Canada and the Governor General’s Award. Her painting is often characterized as Woodlands Style. Daphne Odjig was the driving force behind the Indian Group of Seven.
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Daphne was born in Wikwemikong, the principal village on the Manitoulin Island Unceded Indian Reserve, to parents Dominic and Joyce. She is the eldest of four children with siblings Stanley, Winnie and Donald. She is descended on her father’s side from the great Potawatomi Chief Black Partridge. Her mother (née Peacy) met and married Dominic in England where he was serving during the war.
Daphne’s first and perhaps biggest artistic influence was her paternal grandfather Jonas with whom the young family lived. “My grandfather played a great role in my life – he nurtured my creative spirit – he was the first one I ever drew with…he was my first mentor”. Daphne was also influenced by her mother who did embroidery work and her father who liked to draw war scenes and his officers from the First World War. Daphne asserts: “Art was always a part of our lives”.
Odjig moved to Toronto for a formal art education. She went on to continue her art education in Sweden. She fused together elements of aboriginal pictographs and First Nations arts with European techniques and styles of the 20th century. Her breakthrough into the art work happened in the 1960s when she received critical acclaim for her pen and ink drawings of Cree people from northern Manitoba.
She explored erotic themes in some of her paintings which is rare in First Nations art work. In 1974, Odjig illustrated Tales from the Smokehouse, a collection of traditional First Nations erotica written by Herbert T. Schwarz. That same year, she opened the first Canadian gallery exclusively representing First Nations art in Winnipeg.
In 1973, Odjig became a founding member of the Professional Native Indian Artists Association, along with Alex Janvier and Norval Morrisseau.
Her work is included in such public collections as Canada Council’s Art Bank, the National Museum of Man in Ottawa, the Tom Thompson Gallery, the McMichael Canadian Collection, the Sequoyah Research Center and the Government of Israel. She has been commissioned to create art by Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature, and El Al, the Israeli airline.
Odjig has been the subject of many books, listed below, and has been the subject of three documentaries. She has been the recipient of a wide range of honors, including an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Laurentian University in 1982, and an Honorary Doctorate of Law from the University of Toronto in 1985, the Order of Canada in 1986, a Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada in 1992, an Honorary Doctorate of Education from Nipissing University in 1997, and a National Aboriginal Achievement Awards in 1998. She was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Art in 1989. In 2007, Odjig received the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. Canada Post featured three of her paintings on Canadian postage stamps in February 2011.
Odjig has traveled extensively and has exhibited in Canada, the United States, Belgium, and Japan. She has had over 30 solo exhibitions and been part of over 50 group exhibits during her career.
The Drawings and Paintings of Daphne Odjig: A Retrospective Exhibition featured work from over forty years of Odjig’s career. The exhibit was organized by the Art Gallery of Sudbury and the National Gallery of Canada. It was shown in Sudbury, the Kamloops Art Gallery, and, in October 2009 through 2010, was shown at the National Gallery of Canada. The only United States venue for the show was the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Accompanying the retrospective was a catalog written by Ojibway curator Bonnie Devine with additional text by Robert Houle and Duke Redbird.