1080 Keewatin St,
Thunder Bay, ON, P7B 6T7

It’s a pleasure to present the work of students Erika Niva and Julia Mills at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.

This is fantastical work for unfamiliar times. Erika’s drawings, alive with movement, are made from charcoal rubbings of tree bark. With trees as her collaborators, her large-scale drawings become layered, textured self-portraits of birches, spruce, balsams, poplars, and pine. A group of ceramic elemental creatures scurry and scuttle through what is real and what is not.

Julia asks us to reimagine an interior space. Her ceramic furniture pieces are painted flesh-tone pink and have human feet. As a life-size living room set, it’s oddly inviting. Winking at design trends and nodding with dreaminess and domesticity, these objects live in a world that is strange and familiar.

On behalf of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, congratulations Erika and Julia and best of luck in your creative practices. I want to express extra thanks to the artists, the Fine Arts department, and especially Prof. Sam Shahsahabi for your cooperation this year.

Penelope Smart,


Julia Mills

Ceramic art generates ultimate interactivity and opportunities for both the viewer and the artist to explore. Creating a space that allows for this connection to happen is the final goal and using clay as a medium allows for this to happen from small to large scale forms.

When brainstorming for new and upcoming ideas for my art practice I tend to concentrate on topics that directly affect me. This starts with emotions towards people, objects, interior and exterior spaces as well as my own emotions. These topics can be personal but can also relate to a wide range of viewers. Working with clay allows for the exploration of this subject matter in small- and large-scale works.

The topic I am currently exploring in my work is the changing world and how the spaces we live in everyday now affect us. In this practice, I have made a full- sized living room set which allows for the topic to be explored fully. The space we live in can have a huge impact on our daily lives. Although it can look differently to everyone, having a living space that makes us feel comfortable, and brings us joy is very important.

YouTube video
JULIA MILLS, Blue Chair, 25" x 24.5" x 21”, stained ceramic, 2021 JULIA MILLS, Blue Foot Stool, 14"x6"x11.5", stained ceramic, 2021

Julia Mills, Blue Chair, 25″ x 24.5″ x 21”, stained ceramic, and Blue Foot Stool, 14″x6″x11.5″, stained ceramic, 2021

Julia Mills, Yellow Chair (detail), 26″ x 22.5″ x 21”, stained ceramic, 2021, and Yellow Foot Stool (detail), 18.5″ x 12″ x 21″, stained ceramic, 2021


JULIA MILLS, Green Chair, 20.5" x 20.6" x 19", stained ceramic, 2021 JULIA MILLS Green Foot Stool, 15" x 7" x 11.5”, stained ceramic, 2021

Julia Mills, Green Chair, 20.5″ x 20.6″ x 19″, stained ceramic, 2021, and Green Foot Stool, 15″ x 7″ x 11.5”, stained ceramic, 2021

Julia Mills, Pink Chair, 22″ x 24″ x 21.5”, stained ceramic, 2021, and Pink Foot Stool, 18″x 8″ x12.5”, stained ceramic, 2021

Erika Niva

Through drawing and ceramics, I take aspects from reality, nature in particular, and try to approach them from a different perspective in an effort to create new beings that nobody has ever seen. My hope is that the entities brought to life through my art can help viewers to be more conscious of their connections with the natural world. 

My drawings aim to capture the spirits of the trees, which are made by rubbing their bark on 5’ x 3’ paper, using charcoal made from each specific tree. In a way the drawings are self-portraits done by the trees, made completely by their own physical material and patterns, while I am simply the tool initiating the action. This is a method for personal connection with the outdoors and a way of bringing the outdoors to my viewers. 

In my ceramic work I have focused on hand-building elemental beasts, each one embodying an aspect of nature specifically relating to each of the four classical elements. This is my attempt at personifying the natural forces on which we rely, presenting their energies in a way that manifests them in a physical body. Relating these creatures to animals in the real world adds a sense of familiarity and wonder by allowing the audience to recognize parts of different animals among the fantastical beasts’ compositions. 

YouTube video


YouTube video
ERIKA NIVA, Balsam Spirit, 5 x 3 ft, charcoal rubbing, 2021

Erika Niva, Balsam Spirit, 5 x 3 ft, charcoal rubbing, 2021

ERIKA NIVA, Pine Spirit, 5 x 3 ft, charcoal rubbing, 2021

Erika Niva, Pine Spirit, 5 x 3 ft, charcoal rubbing, 2021

ERIKA NIVA, Birch Spirit, 5 x 3 ft, charcoal rubbing, 2021

Erika Niva, Birch Spirit, 5 x 3 ft, charcoal rubbing, 2021

ERIKA NIVA, Spruce Spirit, 5 x 3 ft, charcoal rubbing, 2021

Erika Niva, Spruce Spirit, 5 x 3 ft, charcoal rubbing, 2021

Erika Niva,, Water creature, ceramic, 2021

Erika Niva,, Water creature, ceramic, 2021

Erika Niva,, Earth creature, ceramic, 2021

Erika Niva,, Earth creature, ceramic, 2021

Erika Niva,, Fire creature, ceramic, 2021

Erika Niva,, Fire creature, ceramic, 2021

Lakehead University LOGO

Four years ago Julia Mills and Erika Niva arrived at Lakehead University to begin their artistic and academic journey in the Department of Visual Arts. Each year they learned new artistic skills and experimented in various media including drawing, digital work, painting, printmaking, sculpture, and ceramics, while developing their critical thinking, reading, and writing skills. This year feels particularly special because it’s the first (and hopefully the last!) class to ever graduate during a worldwide pandemic.

Julia and Erika have had, what has arguably been, one of the most stressful and challenging final years of any graduating class. With very limited access to studio space, tools and equipment, a completely new course delivery platform, virtually no face to face contact with instructors or peers, and a university wide cyberattack thrown in for good measure (!), this has certainly not been an easy year. Despite all of these rather dire circumstances, Julia and Erika managed to create thoughtful, beautiful and provocative work for their graduating show. They remained optimistic and positive through a very trying year and their dedication and passion to their work is inspiring.

The exhibition at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery highlights the incredible work of these graduating students and showcases their diverse and extraordinary artistic talent.

On behalf of the faculty of the Department of Visual Arts, I would like to congratulate Julia and Erika on their outstanding artistic and academic achievements and wish them the very best in their future endeavours.


Dr. Kristy A. Holmes
Associate Professor, Art History
Chair, Department of Visual Arts