Undercurrents:: The Red Canoe Series

Red Canoe #10
Red Canoe Series:: "Red Canoe #10" ©2011 Janice Tanton. 36"x72" Oil on linen.

After a few consecutive days of cool weather resulting in slow-drying glazes, I’m happy to say that Red Canoes #10 and #11 are now off the easel, (patiently) curing out and waiting to go to their new homes.

I’m excited that finishing these works corresponded to the day where winter moved into spring. The Red Canoe Series is really all about perfection, movement and change which forever surround us so it seems quite apropos that these are the first finished works for 2011. Canoes have been a big part of my history and it’s easy to see it’s early influence on me from 1961-79 via  “Self Portrait In Canoe.”

Red Canoe #11
Red Canoe Series:: "Red Canoe #11" - ©2011 Janice Tanton. 48"x60" oil on linen.

For thousands of years, the canoe has been the perfect model of perfect design, where form follows function. Aesthetically, a canoe is just a beautiful and graceful thing to gaze upon. To me, the lines and form echo the curves of the human body and signal a passion for life and all that it holds.

Architect Louis Sullivan stated:

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.

Aboriginal people across Canada and in other countries around the world, understood the value and intrinsic spirituality of this vessel. In it’s original form, regionally refined, the canoe is the most perfect design in all respects. It allowed for survival and transportation in harsh conditions using indigenous natural materials in a sustainable way.

William Commanda canoe
William & Mary Commanda Canoe - Canadian Canoe Museum, Peterborough, Ontario

In the fall of 2009, I was honoured to meet Kitigan-Zibi Elder William Commanda, master canoe-maker and recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation award for Lifetime Achievement. William’s lifetime commitment to peace and humanitarian efforts for all nations continues to this day. His birch bark canoes are things of beauty, and one is held in the collection of the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario, my old vacation stomping grounds. During the time we spent together, William offered kind words of encouragement to me to paint what I felt from deep within. I listened.

Red CanoeColonization changed the function of the canoe to one of exploration and commodification of the land, it’s people and resources, forever changing indigenous cultures and ways of living within this natural environment.

We would do well to remember this and think a little more about how we change and adapt in the name of innovation and progress.


“My hope is that when you look at paintings in the Red Canoe Series you will not only recall fond memories you have had on the lakes and streams, but the nations, ancestors and people that came before us, and the people and our great-grandchildren that shall come after us.”

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