The Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery (MJMAG) opened three new exhibitions on May 31, including Wóknaga: He Tells His Own Story by local artist Dave Pelletier, New Acquisitions 2019-2024 from the MJMAG Permanent Collection, and PRIDE in honour of Pride Month. 

The three exhibitions will run through September 1. 

“The exhibition PRIDE features a selection of work from our permanent collection by Two-Spirited LGBTQIA artists, which includes Saskatchewan artist Doug Townsend, Canadian artist Michael Morris, and international artist Victor Escobar,” said Jennifer McRorie, director and curator at the museum.  

“The exhibition New Acquisitions features newly acquired work by 23 local Saskatchewan and Canadian artists through purchases and donations to our permanent collection within the last five years. ... These additions are thanks to the generosity includes a diversity of work, including paintings, ceramics, sculptures, drawings, digital art, bookworks, and fibre art.” 

The opening event featured an Artist’s Talk by Dave Pelletier to a full house in the Performing Arts Theatre. 

Pelletier’s ancestry is Métis/Nehiyawak, Nakota/Scottish. He was born in Balcarres, raised in Lebret, and has called Moose Jaw home since 1968. He had a stint in the Canadian Armed Forces, became a radio/tv tech, and eventually started serving as executive director of the Moose Jaw Friendship Centre. 

“It was this connection that inspired his interest in his own Indigenous background,” McRorie explained in her introduction, “and led him to seek out the legends and stories of his culture. 

“Working within a Woodland School style, he honours Indigenous intergenerational transfer of knowledge through storytelling within these canvases, while offering his own imagined narratives that play out through the graphic and colorful compositions of animals and figures of Turtle Island.” 

Pelletier said he began painting seriously after opening his own store, Moosgaw Arts & Gifts, in 2003. 

“I realized when I looked at some of the paintings, I thought, Gee, I really like artwork. It really just kind of popped in my mind,” he explained. “I started reading some books and ran into a couple of Norval Morrisseau books and some of the artwork he did. 

“And there was a particular statement he made ... He was invited over to Europe to see the grandmasters in art, and to him, all the artwork was so dark ... and all it did was make him want to paint brighter. 

“That really grabbed me.” 

Dave Pelletier Woknaga exhibition opening (photo by Gordon Edgar) 3

Pelletier humorously told the audience that he has no formal education or technical art knowledge. He said such knowledge isn't necessary to be an artist.

“I just grab the colour that speaks to me and I put it on paper. ... When you walk in an open field that hasn’t been touched by man or any harvesting or whatever, the flowers are just there. It’s as though the Creator went out and just threw out the seeds. And that’s the way I look at my artwork.” 

He told the audience that he is fascinated by Indigenous myths such as Turtle Island, and by languages like Cree and Michif. He weaves current events into his art, such as a tribute to Indigenous cultures and values surviving the Residential School System. Part of his work is intended to highlight the positive contributions of Canada’s native peoples and the influence that prominent Indigenous Canadians have made to the country. 

“You end up becoming, say, indoctrinated on the negativity of native people? It’s like we have nothing to offer, and in my mind nothing is further from the truth. ... I don’t think there’s enough good stories being told.” 

Pelletier’s work has been exhibited in Saskatchewan and is in numerous private collections throughout Canada. 

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