madaabii | s/he/they goes down to shore is an ambitious, large-scale multidisciplinary commissioning art project that draws inspiration from Gichigami (Lake Superior), one of the world’s largest sources of freshwater. This project sought to engage 27 artists to create works that are inspired by the cultural and industrial history, ecology and sacredness of this living body of water.
This unprecedented commissioning project was made possible through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter initiative and will be unveiled as the first exhibition at the New Waterfront Art Gallery at Prince Arthur’s Landing in Thunder Bay.
As we near the end of the commissioning phase details of the artists’ concepts and intent in their works will be gradually revealed over the coming weeks in short, reflective video interviews, here on the Gallery’s website and through our social media channels.
The artist has requested that this video be presented without an accompanying narrative.
Roly Martin’s work is informed by the surrounding landscape and its stewardship. His lifelong observations on the complex relationship between heavy industry and waterways, including the current fact that “we’re just still talking about the same problems and discussing the same story” inspire his current work for the Madaabii Project, Imprint, 2021. His sculptural installation uses one material. Thousands of thin steel rods have been intricately shaped and welded to form a life-sized boat with oversized oars reaching out and connecting to the land.
The work is influenced by the process itself; the artist’s skilful, repetitive actions encourage his material to speak for itself, creating the context in which the work takes its shape. “The central theme of the installation is the state of balance in the landscape pressured by various forms of human activity. I am interested in the rush of information now produced with every significant weather event and the global call to better understand how climate is being affected.” Reflective light and cast shadow highlight and underscore the meaning of the work.
Martin grew up on the banks of the Detroit River in Southern Ontario. He studied Fine Arts at the University of Windsor and went on to achieve his MFA at James Madison University in Virginia, USA. The artist creates mixed media sculptures (wood, metal, moulding, stone), including public art. His work is featured in Superior Art: Local Art in a Global Context, published by Definitely Superior Art Gallery and the Advanced Institute for Globalization and Culture (edited by Clara Sacchetti et al., 2014). In addition, Martin shares his knowledge, expertise, and leadership as Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts at Lakehead University. He has lived and worked in Thunder Bay since 1993.
The artist has requested that this video be presented without an accompanying narrative.
Mike Anderson expresses his deep relationship with the Anishnaabe culture through his art and life. The meticulously fine detail in his carvings flow in harmony with the water on which all life depends. He works on his art in the summertime when he can carve and paint outdoors, hear and smell the water and allow the sense of that peace to infuse his work. In expressive gestures guided by the antler’s curves, Mike’s work for madaabii shows us the shape, flow, and environment of the otter.
The water’s meaning has rippled through Mike’s veins since childhood. He was raised by his grandfather, a commercial fisherman, guide, and trapper at Hurkett Cove. The artist began painting on plywood, inspired by the work of the late Woodland style painter Isadore Wadow during his early years working at a plywood mill. Mike’s turn to carving twenty years ago carries his life experiences forward into this graceful sculptural form.
Barefoot and grounded outdoors in the boreal forest, Damon Dowbak makes sweeping full-body movements with his huge brush on canvas. Water plus pigment equals paint. Texture and flow mirror the artist’s meditation on “how the water moves across the Earth.” He is translating his personal connection to the land and waters through the medium of paint in a moving meditation supported by years of experience in art and business. Damon contributed immensely to the community of Thunder Bay through his storefront Kleewyck Stained Glass Studio for over 40 years. His accomplishments include public and private commissions throughout Canada and internationally. Damon’s large works for madaabii recognize the times we are in, expressing transition through the shifting colours of cyclical seasonal changes.
As an established and prolific multidisciplinary artist with works in public and private collections, Damon fuses paint, photography, stained glass and other glasswork, drawing, sculpture, graphic arts and music. His work for the madaabii Project draws on his connection to the land, to light and water, and to the transitions he lives with in Kaministiquia, ON. Damon communicates his impressions to the viewer with the essence of joy and peace. He writes, “Through meditation on the natural world the process of creating becomes a source of calm and rejuvenation.”
For thirty years, she has been collecting and relating with natural materials to form baskets of unusual configurations and uniquely expressive design. Her current work-in-progress for the Thunder Bay Art Gallery’s madaabi project includes five sculptural works. In referencing the majestic Gichigami (Lake Superior), the artist is challenging herself with increasingly large woven constructions.
The richness of texture and colour in Sharon’s sculptural baskets create a graceful sense of flow. Her practiced hands weave waves of fibrous materials to create bold, stable forms evocative in colour, shape, and texture of the multifaceted natural elements that are her constant inspiration.
Layers, reflection, and the sacred geometry of the circle inspire Sam Shahsahabi’s interpretation of madaabii. His materials and process are themselves multi-layered, involving copper (chosen for its multiple healing properties) with enamel paint on the upper segment and encaustic on wood, beeswax, and pigment in the “reflection”. The artist explores his relationship with the water, the land, and the place he now lives, combining his new learning with his Iranian roots.
Sam is an internationally trained, published, and exhibited multidisciplinary artist. His work includes immersive kinetic installations, sculpture, performance and new media. Through his art, Sam shares with us his multi-layered experiences of life and politics, hope and devastation, beauty and philosophy. Sam has taught painting and drawing at Lakehead University since 2009 and he engages enthusiastically with the wider community through public art and service.
Chris Stones is an established sculptor and mixed media artist, a water activity enthusiast, and a lifelong advocate for nature. Chris looks beneath the surface of modern life and brings our attention to the needs of the natural world. In his installation for the madaabii Project, Chris re-imagines the mutinous sturgeon.
A graduate of the HBFA program at Lakehead University and an MFA graduate of Waterloo University, Chris has exhibited in several Canadian museums and galleries and taught at Lakehead University as well as in the region. He continues to explore ideas inspired by the water and the natural world. Chris forms unique combinations of found objects, natural materials and sculpted elements and is also a gifted draftsperson. His large sculptural collaboration with fellow artist John Books pays homage to regional tree species on the exterior face of Thunder Bay’s City Hall.
Cheryl Wilson-Smith explores the textures of time in sculptural glass works, each one a unique expression of her process. Layers of time, life, land and powder infuse the glass art of Wilson-Smith. Her vividly textural treatment of glass embodies the contrasts between fragility and strength, permanence and ephemerality. The artist’s compositions are simultaneously delicate and strikingly bold. For the Madaabii Project, Wilson-Smith uses glass to reflect her impressions of the worn and abandoned pier pilings at the shore of Lake Superior. To the artist, they are symbolic of human intervention in the environment and reminiscent of multiple untold stories from the water. These pilings have touched ships from all over the world, carrying consumer goods, raw materials, and endless train car loads of grain.
Cheryl Wilson-Smith is internationally recognized for her unique and powerful work in glass. Her efforts have been rewarded by the 2014 RBC Award for Glass, multiple Ontario Arts Council grants, and a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. She has exhibited in Chicago, Atlanta, Key West, and Edinburgh and has been selected for international glass residencies in Washington state, Norway, and Scotland. Wilson-Smith lives surrounded by natural beauty at the end of the highway in the northern mining community of Red Lake, Ontario. She enthusiastically credits the vast and magnificent boreal forest with inspiration for her work.
Check back regularly as we profile more of the madaabii artists
The artists selected for this project include a mixture of individuals who consider Northwestern Ontario their home or traditional territory, have previously worked with the Gallery or are regional artists. All commissioned participants are recognized Canadian artists and have contributed to the diversity of our contemporary visual landscape both locally and beyond.
Tim Alexander (Rossport)
Michael Anderson (Lake Helen First Nation/Thunder Bay)
Sonny Assu (Campbell River, BC)
Christi Belcourt (Espanola)
Michael Belmore (Upsala/Ottawa)
Sharon Breckenridge (Thunder Bay)
Elizabeth Buset (Thunder Bay)
Christian Chapman (Fort William First Nation)
Julie Cosgrove (Montreal/Thunder Bay)
Michelle Coslett Goodman (Dryden)
Patricia Deadman (Woodstock)
Damon Dowbak (Kaministiqua)
Shayne Ehman (Thunder Bay)
Ursula A. Johnson (Dartmouth, NS)
Nadya Kwandibens (Sioux Lookout)
Bev Koski (Vancouver, BC)
Jean Marshall (Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug/Thunder Bay)
Leanna Marshall (Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug/Thunder Bay)
Roland Martin (Thunder Bay)
Kasia Piech (Thunder Bay)
Walter K. Scott (Kahnawake, QC)
Sam Shahsahabi (Thunder Bay)
Frank Shebageget (Upsala/Ottawa)
Cree Stevens (Thunder Bay)
Christopher Stones (Thunder Bay)
Aaron Veldstra (Thunder Bay)
Cheryl Wilson-Smith (Red Lake)
This is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter initiative. With this $35M initiative, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada.
funding provided by