Jane Ash Poitras, RCA, CM
B.Sc., B.F.A., M.F.A., B.A. (Hon.), LLD (Hon.), DLitt (Hon.)
Recognition of her talent and prominence continues for internationally acclaimed visual artist Jane Ash Poitras.
In 2017, she was awarded the Order of Canada for “her contributions to Canada’s artistic landscape as an influential First Nations visual artist.” In 2015 she received an Honorary Doctor of Letters (DLitt) degree from the University of Alberta and an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree from the University of Calgary. In 2013 she has received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and an honourary degree from Humber College in Toronto. In 2011, the University of Calgary Press published a book on her life and art, “Cultural Memories and Imagined Futures: The Art of Jane Ash Poitras,” by Pamela McCallum. The prestigious Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto secured her “Consecrated Medicine” exhibition that had been touring across Canada for three years for an unprecedented year-long exhibition at the ROM, beginning in the spring of 2010 which is still on display. The ROM has also purchased several of the largest and most significant works in that exhibition for its permanent collection.
In 2009 she received the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award. Jane has also another award to her growing list of acknowledgements, this time from her own people, when she received the Mikisew Cree First Nation Member Recognition Award at celebrations in Fort Chipewyan, AB June 21, 2007. She was also honored September 27, 2006 to receive the Alumni Award of Excellence from the University of Alberta Alumni Association.
Earlier, she was recognized with the prestigious 2006 National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Arts and Culture at a star-studded gala the evening of Friday, January 27, 2006 in Vancouver at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Jane’s successful career has been recognized with numerous other awards, including an RCA (Royal Canadian Academy of Arts) designation, admission to the Edmonton Salute to Excellence Cultural Hall of Fame, as a finalist for the inaugural Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Award, and grants from both the Canada Council for the Arts and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. In 2005, she was a recipient of the Alberta Centennial Medal.
Despite humble beginnings, Jane Ash Poitras has successfully developed a stellar career as a visual artist and lecturer, and in the process has become a mentor, role model and active contributor to her community.
Born in the isolated northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan, Jane was orphaned at an early age and fostered by Marguerite Runck, then 65, a devout Catholic of German descent. Growing up in the McCauley area of Edmonton, Jane spent many happy hours drawing and coloring and cutting and pasting (her first experience with collage).
Despite her artistic leanings, she was told it was impossible to make a living as an artist and encouraged to make another career choice. Jane chose medicine, but health problems intervened in her efforts to become a doctor. Despite those problems, she successfully gained a Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology at the University of Alberta.
While working as a clinical and industrial microbiologist, Jane continued to work at her art in her spare time, taking evening courses at the University of Alberta. With encouragement from those who recognized her talent, she was persuaded to present a portfolio of her work to the U of A’s Department of Art and Design. She was accepted into the Department’s printmaking program and graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Printmaking. Encouraged by the faculty, she applied to a number of universities in the United States and Canada for post-graduate study. Accepted by several, she chose prestigious Columbia University in New York City, graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in Painting and Sculpture in 1985.
Even before Columbia, her art began to gain recognition. One of the prints she created for her masters thesis was purchased by the Brooklyn Museum and featured in its “Tiffany Collection,” along with the works of 19 others, all among North America’s most acknowledged printmakers such as John Cage and Louisa Chase. Hannah Strong, wife of acclaimed Canadian and United Nations icon Maurice Strong, purchased five of the prints from that series for her Upper East Side apartment. The series, “Sweatlodge Etchings,” then toured across Canada—unprecedented exposure for student work.
Also before graduation, Jane had successful shows in commercial galleries, was featured in a number of touring group shows and won awards for her work. That fast start to her career continues unabated to this day.
Upon graduation from Columbia, Jane returned to Edmonton to continue to pursue the opportunities available to her, and they were momentous. Since 1985 Jane has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions across Canada and in other countries.
Among her major exhibitions are “Who Discovered the Americas?”—a massive collection of her paintings and installations commemorating Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America from an Aboriginal perspective that toured across Canada; “I.Witness,”—a group exhibition at the Edmonton Art Gallery highlighted by more than 40 of her paintings, and “Consecrated Medicine,”—a collection of her paintings, constructions and installations with an ethnobotany theme that opened at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery and toured across Canada.
Also, since returning to Canada, Jane has been much in demand as a guest lecturer, first as a sessional lecturer at the University of Alberta, and then as an invited guest lecturer at universities and public galleries across North America. Her courses in Contemporary Native Art and Shamanic Art were among the most popular at the university.
She is also acknowledged by Foreign Affairs Canada, and frequently invited to represent the country with exhibitions of her work and speaking engagements at Canadian Embassies in such locales as Paris, Washington and Mexico City. Several of her works are prominently displayed at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow and other cities.
Her works have been featured in numerous exhibition catalogues created by prominent curators, and she has had extensive public exposure as the subject of numerous video productions and magazine and newspaper articles. She has also been the subject of numerous post-graduate theses. Her work has been featured on the covers and as illustrations in numerous books and magazines. A search on the internet will find her featured on numerous websites.
The thousands of works of art she has created over the past 30 years have been eagerly acquired by a host of public, corporate and private collectors, including the National Gallery of Canada and most major public galleries in Canada, and the country’s most prestigious corporate and private collections.
As a concerned citizen, Jane has creatively taken on a number of causes, notably the problems of prostitution in McCauley where she gained national media attention by painting the license plate numbers of johns on the street after being hassled by them while pregnant and pushing her infant son in a stroller. She has also been supportive of numerous causes, donating work of art to create financial resources for worthy causes in the community, including the Atonement Home, Bosco Homes, the Brian Webb Dance Theatre and many others. Despite her international recognition and acclaim, she continues to participate in events showcasing emerging Aboriginal artists in support of their efforts to achieve recognition and success.
Jane’s journey of discovery and creation has opened new doors to enlightenment as she combines her many diverse interests in pursuit of her distinctive artistic vision. Over the years, Jane has pursued many different routes of discovery, each reflected in the art she has produced. Those journeys of exploration have taken her not only into plumbing her Aboriginal roots (beginning by reconnecting with her birth family and her Mikisew Cree First Nation), but into such diverse topics as pharmacology, ethnobotany, Sanskrit and other linguistics, and literary creations supplementing the creation of visual works of art.
The range and diversity of the interests that inspire and inform her artistic creations have resulted in a number of distinctive series of artworks that, over time, reflect the paths she has taken on her journey of discovery. A survey of those series over the 25 years of her professional career could well serve as a map of that journey and a graphic record of her evolution as an artist. One of the key aspects of her art that sets it apart from the work of other artists is her ability to combine and reconcile disparate themes and elements to create fully resolved works that convey information on different levels.
in Ft Chipewayan, AB