Jean Marshall is modest about her accomplishments and very dedicated to her work. Receiving her HBA in Native Studies from Trent University in 2000, she has produced a great deal of work in the years since. Amongst her many textile and bead works Marshall has incorporated birch bark, porcupine quills, and pine needles. Her work is sometimes collaborative and created amongst a group of people, but she works most often in her studio in Fort William First Nation.
Marshall’s works are diverse self-expressive works and craft pieces, reflecting both her creative abilities and knowledge of materials, blending contemporary approaches with traditional functions. Care, attention, and craftsmanship appear in all her works, and are rooted to Marshall’s family history and her “mother’s home community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug… a fly-in community located approximately 600 km north of Thunder Bay.” (Quote from OCC Catalogue.)
Much of our thinking about what is appropriate for a gallery space is sometimes culturally biased towards works that deal primarily in aesthetics and self-expression rather than traditional social function.
Historically in European culture there was no need for gallery spaces because works of art performed a great variety of social functions with little focus on self-expression. Collections of art in galleries and museums began to appear when the understanding of the traditional functions began to fade. In tandem, expressing oneself also became more socially acceptable.
Today indigenous populations around the world don’t feel a great need for galleries because their art is intrinsically linked to their traditions, often still in practice. In Ghana, for instance, stools are symbols of kingship that are brought out of hiding and washed ceremoniously when a new king is selected. Then the stools return to hiding. This process, and rarity, makes the stools much more symbolically significant. The stools are at the pinnacle of a hierarchy of symbols for some Ghanaian tribes.
But in a gallery, for all to see on white walls, without understanding or feeling the connected emotional history of the stools and other objects, the objects become “art,” objects appreciated for the aesthetics.
This is one reason why Jean Marshall’s work, in a gallery setting or anywhere, is as appropriate as any other work. They can be celebrated as symbols of a culture, and be self-expressive at the same time. Her works can inspire others to keep traditions alive and to help us all reflect on the past and what could be lost. It’s also very beautiful.
All three artists were very grateful for funding from the Ontario Art’s Council. The financial assistance that lead to the production of the works by all three artists combined for one solid and well attended show, sure to encourage and further the creative efforts of these artists and inspire others.