In 1978, Ernie Walker worked on a little ranch north of Saskatoon while he was in school for archeology. A few years later, Walker took the site on a lease with the City of Saskatoon.
As he explored it in the following years, he discovered a bison jump along with bones and artifacts that are evidence of archeological work between 1982 and 1983. Walker named the site Newo Asiniak, which in Cree means four stones, as he always felt there was more history to the land.
It turns out he was right. In 2020, four petroglyphs were excavated on the site, which now is called Wanuskewin Heritage Park.
“Little did I know that 40 years later it will come crashing down on me but in a good and wonderful way,” said Walker, who is now a forensic anthropologist and park founder at Wanuskewin.
The four stones include a 225-kilogram (500-pound) ribstone, a petroglyph carved in the form of animal rib, which will be on display at the park starting Friday. Walker said the stones are evidence of the culture that likely existed before European explorers made contact with the Indigenous peoples living on the land.
The ribstone was discovered along with a nine-kilogram (20-pound) stone. Another excavated stone bears grid patterns and weighs 340 kilograms (750 pounds). The largest of them all is a boulder weighing approximately 545 kilograms (1,200 pounds) that’s still in the ground.
But that’s not all Walker found. He also discovered a stone knife next to the stones, which is considered a rare find.
“There’s no question about association,” Walker said. “I measured the width of the cutting edge and it’s exactly the same width of the groove on the rock. De facto, that was the stone tool to make the groove [on the ribstone]. Whoever did that carving almost left a business card behind.”
Reintroducing bison to park led to historic find
Walker developed a lifelong connection to the land that was originally the ranch, which was owned by Mike Vitkowski. The two men struck up a friendship, and after Vitkowski died, it became part of the park, which opened in 1992. Walker is on the board.
Bison were reintroduced to the land in 2019. Walker said the petroglyphs would not have been discovered without them.
In August 2020, while the bison were in a paddock, their hooves turned up the soil. Walker was helping feed them with the bison manager when he saw the “top of a boulder protruding from the ground” near his feet.
“The bison spent time there giving each other dust baths and just in their normal activity, they uncovered the stones,” said Walker, who had surveyed the area before but had never seen them.
The bison had uncovered the ribstone.
“The lines on the boulder mimicked ribs of a bison. In the middle of it, there was a little horned figure. A spirit figure with a triangular head with horns and an oblong body and a tail that went to the crack,” Walker said.
“I was trying not to have a heart attack. If the bison wouldn’t have been here, we wouldn’t have been here.”
The petroglyphs were leading up to the pathway near the bison jump. Walker said the style on the boulders is a part of hoof print art tradition.
Ribstones like this one are sometimes associated with bison kills, Walker said. And since the boulders were found near a bison jump, he said it can be related.
Walker said it is difficult to predict exactly how old the rocks are. He said hoof print style of rock art is typical to southern parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.
“They generally date to somewhere between 300 years and 1,800 years ago.”
Push for UNESCO heritage status
Walker is pushing for Wanuskewin Heritage Park to be added to UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites, the gold standard for cultural and scientific sites internationally. The park plans to hand in its voluminous submission through Parks Canada by the end of next year.
“The migratory bison hunting populations in pre-contact history followed bison herds and never carried a lot of items. But Wanuskewin has everything one would expect to find in a pre-contact culture on the northern plains,” he said.
“It has bison jumps, massive campsites that we’ve been excavating. Now, it has rock art. That’s exceptional and tangible evidence of pre-contact culture. We think that it’s so exceptional that it’s worthy of the designation.”
Wanuskewin Heritage Park has also emerged as an agreed-upon location by residential school survivors for the papal visit in Canada. No dates or locations have been confirmed.
It has been a gathering place for Indigenous people for more than 6,000 years, according to archeological records. Wanuskewin also has geographical significance. The greatest concentration of residential schools sat on the treaty territories of central and southern Saskatchewan.
He said the petroglyphs give a glimpse of spiritual and ceremonial aspects of that culture. Wanuskewin will be not only a Saskatchewan phenomenon, but also a “great Canadian story.”
Walker said while consideration for the status can take up to decades, Wanuskewin is still on “a faster track” as a decision can be made in Paris in June 2025, if all the intermediary processes go well.
“Getting UNESCO status will mark us for international recognition. Of course there will be international tourism. It would change Saskatoon. I’d like to think it will change Saskatchewan,” he said.
Walker said back in the 1980s when the park was still in its genesis, Hillaird McNab, an elder from George Gordon First Nation, told him that the site was destined to be a park.
“McNab said it was supposed to happen, and it’s now. This place wants to tell its story to the rest of the world,” Walker said.
“Bisons are the keystone species for grasslands and First Nation people. If you look at those bison, you are looking at a time capsule.”
Elder Akanya Naji from Dakota Nation of Wahpeton agrees.
“Bison is very sacred to us and in our creation stories are called our brothers. They provide sustenance to us. Our economy was our bison,” Naji, who goes by the colonizer’s name of Cy Standing, said.
A way for the future
Naji has been connected with Wanuskewin for almost 30 years and said the land “was a gathering, healing and ceremonial place.”
He wasn’t surprised with the discovery of the petroglyphs, which hold a cultural significance.
“All the rocks are sacred to us,” Naji said. “In our creation stories, rocks were the first things to be created.”
Naji said traditionally rocks are not supposed to be moved but he understood the scientific motive of conservation.
He said the discovery furthers their path to the future that flourishes from their past.
“If you don’t have a history, you don’t have a future. That’s what we wanted to do with Wanuskewin, to teach our people and non-Indigenous people about our history.”
Naji said Wanuskewin becoming a UNESCO heritage site will be better for future generations to learn about their history.
“This place tells our histories and Wanuskewin can play a role in changing people’s thinking especially about our Earth,” Naji said.
“Our histories go back to pre-contact and we want to preserve that history. There’s not much pre-contact knowledge, as much has been written by colonizers.”
Public art, vibrant cities subject of Thursday Windsor art gallery panel – Windsor Star
How does public art express the spirit of Windsor — and how does it help create a more interesting, vibrant city?
The Art Gallery of Windsor invites the community to think about these questions, and others, during a panel discussion Thursday on the role of art in public spaces.
“Public art impacts everyone. I don’t think there is any such thing as starting the conversation too early in the process,” said Valerie Dawn, one of Thursday’s panelists for Drawing the Line: Creative Spaces and Places, hosted by the Art Gallery of Windsor.
“Prompting a conversation where we can be really open-ended and talk about impact on a broad scale, we’re coming into those conversations (about public art) with a lot more perspective.”
Dawn, principal architect for Glos Arch + Eng, will be joined by Shane Potvin, chair of the Ford City BIA, and Heather Grondin, vice-president of corporate affairs and external relations for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, in a panel discussion moderated by Windsor Star managing editor Craig Pearson.
The discussion will explore what public art brings to communities, where it should go and how the community can engage with public art.
“It expresses a sense that we care,” Dawn said. “Art gives us perspective and pause and a sense of connection. It’s important to any community. What kinds of art do we want and need, and what kind of art resonates with our community — that’s something I imagine we’ll dig into quite a bit more on Thursday.”
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Thursday’s discussion will be the second in a series of monthly community conversations hosted by the Art Gallery of Windsor meant to help facilitate meaningful dialogue between members of the community on a variety of topics.
“I hope having the conversation offers a lot of new perspectives by bringing different people from different sides of the conversation together,” Dawn said. “These are the conversations that tend to get people excited, and getting people excited is one really wonderful way to make things happen.”
Drawing the Line: Creative Spaces and Places , will happen via Zoom on Thursday, Dec. 2 from 7 to 8:15 p.m. Find the link to register at agw.ca . Attendees are encouraged to ask curious, engaging and respectful questions and can read the gallery’s code of conduct, found online, for more information.
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Looking at Surrealist Art in Our Own Surreal Age – The New York Times
When viewed as a vehicle for various forms of liberation, the movement remains highly resonant even a century after its heyday.
“SURREALISM” IS ONE of those buzzwords, like “curate” or “groundbreaking,” that has been rendered effectively meaningless through overuse. In his 1924 “Manifesto of Surrealism,” the writer André Breton defined the term most succinctly as an attempt to resolve “these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory,” though its true origins came earlier, with the rise of Dada, an artistic movement that emerged in Zurich in 1916, and which favored the absurd over the logical. It was the exact middle of World War I, and there was a sense among Dada’s proponents that linear thinking hadn’t gotten society anywhere good.
There has been much talk of late about our own surreal age. Certainly, there are parallels between the 1920s and now: The United States has just extricated itself, messily, from a war; nationalist fervor is part of the political mainstream; basic rights are being revoked; and some version of a pandemic that has killed millions lingers from one month to the next. And if Surrealism is, at its core, a kind of glitch in the status quo, a moment in which reality itself becomes vaguely unrecognizable, then yes, time is seeming pretty melty, and the days rather dreamlike.
It can’t, therefore, be a coincidence that nearly every major museum in New York City currently has an exhibition that, at least to some extent, embraces a melty or dreamlike aesthetic. “Living Abstraction,” a retrospective of the Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp, a key Dadaist, at the Museum of Modern Art (on view through March 12, 2022), emphasizes her influence across disciplines: She produced drawings, paintings, sculptures, textiles, marionettes, whimsical costumes (including asymmetrical patchwork pants that wouldn’t look out of place at Bode), beaded bags and necklaces, stained-glass windows, furniture and more. The night of the 1917 opening of Zurich’s Galerie Dada, the movement’s de facto headquarters, she danced to the writer Hugo Ball’s sound poems — absurdist compositions focusing on phonetic speech. (Ball later described her performance as having been “full of spikes and fish bones.”)
Art historians would take issue with the pigeonholing of Taeuber-Arp as a Surrealist. Whereas Dada endeavored to explore nonrational thought, Surrealism was interested in the subliminal, in the strangeness beneath the surface of the everyday (one of the most famous examples of a Surrealist artwork remains René Magritte’s 1929 “The Treachery of Images,” a painting of a pipe captioned with the phrase “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”). Also, Taeuber-Arp’s career preceded and outlived Zurich Dada, which fizzled out in the early 1920s, as those who’d sought refuge in the city during World War I went their separate ways, but she was an artist who looked inward as a means of arriving somewhere unfamiliar: “Only when we go into ourselves and attempt to be entirely true to ourselves will we succeed in making things of value, living things, and in this way help to develop a new style that is fitting for us,” she wrote in 1922.
AT THE METROPOLITAN Museum of Art, “Surrealism Beyond Borders” (through Jan. 30, 2022) aims to expand viewers’ understanding of the movement, which, though it was born in Paris, became a global phenomenon — with practitioners in Egypt, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines and elsewhere — one that aligned itself with new interpretations of and ideas about freedom that were concurrently being conceived around the world. The Cairo, Ill.-born artist, Beat poet and musician Ted Joans, despite being a generation younger than his friend Breton, found in Surrealism a framework for Black liberation. He discovered the aesthetic as a child, eventually buying a French dictionary to translate jettisoned issues of Surrealist journals like Minotaure that his aunt, who worked as a housekeeper, had gotten from her employers. Decades later, in 1963, one of the politically and psychologically charged collages from Joans’s “Alphabet Surreal” series — this one showing a Black man and a white woman sitting side by side, a salamander-like creature hovering above them, and various iterations of the letter “X,” the work’s title and a reference to Malcolm X — appeared in another major Surrealist journal, La Brèche. Even many of the works displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art as one half of “Mind/Mirror,” a retrospective dedicated to Jasper Johns (through Feb. 13, 2022; also at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) have strong Surrealist leanings. In “The Bath” (1988), a Picasso painting within the painting (presumably hanging above Johns’s tub, which is also shown in the frame) is juxtaposed with a rendering of wood planks at the work’s left border. This can be seen as a reference, notes Whitney chief curator Scott Rothkopf, to Magritte’s frequent incorporation of wood grain into his own paintings.
So what is Surrealism’s legacy a century after its founding? Classic Surrealist works — such as “Téléphone-Homard” (1938), the Salvador Dalí sculpture that famously features a rendering of a bright orange lobster stretched across the handset of a rotary phone, or Dorothea Tanning’s 1943 painting “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music),” in which a young girl in a hotel corridor stares down a massive sunflower — may feel a bit old-fashioned, but the idea that the means of rebelling against the present are already within us, if only we can learn to pay attention, is, in 2021, highly resonant. When understood in this way, as referring to a form of protest and escape, “surreal” becomes so much more — and so much more interesting — than shorthand for “strange,” as it is commonly used today. As Stephanie D’Alessandro, a curator of the Met show, says, in an art context, anyway: “It’s about something that sparks us … that wakes us up from the haze of our daily habits.” It offers, she adds, whether for reasons political, social, sexual or artistic, “an opportunity to imagine something beyond the circumstances that someone has” and, as an idea, “it is there as an option, always.”
“What branches grow / out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, / You cannot say, or guess,” T.S. Eliot writes in “The Waste Land,” his 1922 masterpiece, another Surrealist touchstone. But what we can do is seek alternate, better ways of seeing, thinking and living. Perhaps this is partly what Taeuber-Arp meant when she wrote of her belief that “the wish to produce beautiful things — when that wish is true and profound — falls together with [one’s] striving for perfection.” She made work up until her death in 1943, during another world war, and her nimble, irrepressible creativity is a reminder that art making, especially in times of strife, is an inherently optimistic act. This optimism might be the most overlooked aspect of Surrealism, given its often calamitous origins, but why invest in new realities if not to move forward? Art is something you do, says Anne Umland, a co-curator of “Living Abstraction,” thinking: “ ‘I believe there will be a future. And even if there isn’t, I’ve made something today.’”
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