Robert L. Peters

12 January 2011

Portraits of the North

Winnipeg, Canada

I felt privileged to spend a few hours at the studio today with Gerald Kuehl, a remarkable portrait artist who has been described as a historian, storyteller and visual poet. Portraits of the North, a collection of his portraits depicting the Indigenous people of the north, reflects his fascination with their cultures. (I had posted about Gerald and a presentation of his I attended at the Winnipeg Art Gallery a few months ago, here).

Gerald has met with and photographed subjects from Ojibway, Cree, Dene, and Inuit communities, focusing his efforts on their oldest living members, the Elders. He has conducted interviews, researched their cultures and taken part in sweat lodge, traditional pipe and fasting ceremonies. A self-taught Manitoba artist, Gerald’s photographs are used as a point of departure to create super-realistic pencil portraiture, each drawing taking approximately 70 to 100 hours to complete.

Gerald has also written riveting biographies to accompany the portraits, poignant stories from the fascinating lives of his subjects along with insightful remarks about the impact they have made on this earth. The Manitoba Museum began touring 30 portraits and biographies of Gerald’s work in 2006. The Portraits of the North exhibit is literally a celebration of the lives of our Indigenous people. The show has toured nationally and internationally and is currently on display at the Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatchewan.

The images above are a small sampling of Gerald’s work (screen resolution does not, however, do these justice): some of the drawings of First Nations & Metis Elders of Northern Manitoba; Frank Moneyas of Hollow Water First Nation; Joseph Irvine Keeper of Norway House; and Helen Jane Ross of Cross Lake (detail). All images are © Gerald Kuehl.

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