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

OAF Elizabeth L. Gordon Art Program Acquisition Grant

November 20, 2023

The Thunder Bay Art Gallery is honoured to announce the receipt of the Ontario Arts Foundation Elizabeth L. Gordon Art Program Acquisition Grant. This award has been presented to the gallery for the acquisition of two Wiigwas, or birchbark, skirts by local artist Helen Pelletier, into the gallery’s Permanent Collection.

Helen Pelletier is an Anishinaabe Ikwe from Fort William First Nation, ON. She has worked with Wiigwas, or birchbark, for twenty years and recently developed a relationship with winter birchbark and sgraffito style etching. In the forest near her home, on the sacred territory of Anemki Wajiw (Thunder Mountain), she carefully harvests birchbark in the summer and early spring.

Thunder Bay Art Gallery Curator, Penelope Smart commented “Helen’s skirts are one-of-a-kind, they are a special gift to our collection. I’m excited to see where Helen’s practice takes her.”

Titled Alyssa Memengwaa Ikwe (2023) and Nevaeh (2023), the beautifully etched skirts are named after two young women from Thunder Bay: Alyssa Lentz and Nevaeh Morrisseau. They are close family friends of Helen’s and represent a younger generation following their own creative paths in life, including pow wow dancing. In 2023, the Gallery organized Helen’s first solo show, Wiigwas Manidoog Descendants which debuted the skirts and other works by the artist.

Helen stated:

“I am beyond grateful and completely overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude. I am so thankful for nidaanis for always supporting me, and inspiring me to work harder and be consistent. I appreciate my family, friends, and community for always encouraging me to keep creating and to push my boundaries when making. Kanina Terry, thank you. I could not have created these pieces without your deer hide. 
Thank you to the Ontario Arts Foundation Elizabeth L. Gordon Art Program for appreciating and acknowledging the hard work, knowledge and dedication involved in creating Anishinaabe art. Thank you curator Penelope Smart, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, and their amazing staff, chi miigwech. You see the beauty, wisdom, and value in Wiigwas. Miigwech for allowing Indigenous artists visions to come alive. Special Gitchi Miigwech to anishinaabekweg Alyssa Lentz and Nevaeh Morriseau who heard my idea and allowed me to make birch bark skirts to fit them perfectly. I named the skirts “Alyssa memengwaa” and “Neveah” to honour them.”

While Helen’s art is rooted in Ojibway imagery, teachings, and traditions, she continues to grow her
connection with Wiigwas to awaken new designs of wearable art including backpacks, hats, and skirts. Helen often completes her works with home-tanned hide and other natural materials sourced from friends, family, and fellow artists, which deepens their meaning and power.

“It’s a special honour for the Thunder Bay Art Gallery to receive support through the Ontario Arts Foundation’s Elizabeth L. Gordon Art award.” Executive Director, Matthew Hills stated, “Big congratulations to Helen Pelletier on receiving this distinction and to our curator Penelope Smart for championing this work. We are fortunate to steward a world-class collection of art in Thunder Bay and the addition of Helen’s work continues this strong tradition of timely acquisitions and support for the important work of artists in our community”.

The OAF Elizabeth L. Gordon Art Program Acquisition Grant fosters a broad appreciation of Canadian visual art and artists. The program assists public art galleries and museums in Ontario with growing their permanent collections, encourages initiatives that increase the public’s knowledge of collecting or of a gallery or museum’s permanent collection, and supports community engagement between the gallery and the local community.

For further information, images and interview availability please contact:

Bob Gravelle
Communications and Marketing Coordinator
(807) 577-6427



First Image: Helen Pelletier

Second image: Helen Pelletier, Alyssa Memengwaa Ikwe 2023

Third Image: Helen Pelletier, Nevaeh 2023

All photos by Chondon Photography

OAF Elizabeth L. Gordon Art Program