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Moses (Amik) Beaver died in a Thunder Bay jail in February 2017. His artwork is featured on The Observer's December issue cover (Facebook)

The Observer remembers the artist behind our December cover

Moses Beaver was well-respected for his art and work with youth, but died tragically in 2017. We were honoured to share his work in our latest issue.

By Amy van den Berg

The United Church Observer's December cover story on the Huron Carol was illustrated beautifully, thanks to the stunning work of Oji-Cree artist Moses (Amik) Beaver.

Beaver originally created the illustration in 2007 for An Aboriginal Carol, a picture-book version of the Huron Carol produced in collaboration with Métis author David Bouchard and Inuit singer Susan Aglukark.

Our magazine cover honours Beaver, who died in incarceration last year, his art and years of work with multiple northern Ontario communities. According to many reports by those who knew him, Beaver was a caring man who did not receive the supports and services he needed, and whose life ended in tragedy.

The late Oji-Cree artist Moses Beaver originally created this painting for the book An Aboriginal Carol, published by Red Deer Press in 2007.

Beaver grew up in Nibinamik (Summer Beaver), an isolated fly-in community about 500 kilometres from Thunder Bay, according to the Lake Superior Art Gallery. He was born in 1960 in Neskantaga First Nation, formerly known as Lansdowne House, and moved to Summer Beaver in 1975. He spent much of his youth in his community and working on his trap line with his family and extended family. Over the years, he became an important part of his own and surrounding communities, working with students to help them express themselves through art.

Beaver spent much of his career leading workshops in schools and isolated communities, working with both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth. He often blended culture and art, and with his students and participants explored the Aboriginal history of storytelling and the use of visual arts as communication. 

For many years, Beaver struggled with mental illness, sometimes reaching out to others in his community for support. According to the CBC he was arrested in his community after a dispute with someone who was staying with him, and in February 2017, at the age of 57, he was found dead in a Thunder Bay, Ont. jail. Three days after his death, CTV reported that his sister, Mary Wabasse, was killed in a car accident on her way to make arrangements for his funeral.

Beaver was self-taught, and painted in the Woodland style, which blends traditional and contemporary mediums. He consistently used bright and vivid colours, with abstract images outlined in black. According to Lake Superior Art Gallery, which showcased much of Beaver’s art, he worked with acrylic on canvas, watercolour and Indian Ink on paper, and “embraced his own unique style of embedded images of spirits, human faces and animal forms, transcending physical boundaries to the outer dimensions of the spiritual realm.”

The Observer is proud to showcase Moses (Amik) Beaver's work, and thanks Red Deer Press for their permission to use one of his creations.

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