The University of Lethbridge Library is embracing the ‘library as place’ concept, recognizing that library users should see themselves mirrored in their surroundings. As part of a University situated on traditional Blackfoot land, it was only fitting then that the library found a home for Grant Spotted Bull’s Medicine Wheel Series art installation.
Spotted Bull, of Blackfoot heritage and born and raised on the nearby Blood Reserve, is a third-year bachelor of fine arts student at the U of L. His work speaks to the ideal of library as place.
“Grant’s paintings reflect where we are situated – in the heart of Blackfoot territory,” says Andrea Glover, Native American Studies librarian. “The work enriches the library space, reflects the diversity of our users, stimulates discussions about cultural memory and preserves a unique legacy.”
Married (Suzanne Williams Spotted Bull) and a father to four children (Christopher, Colten, Jessica and Tyler), Spotted Bull draws his talent and inspiration from his ancestors, namely his maternal grandmother Mary Eva Spotted Bull.
“My mother told me stories about Mary Eva and how the nuns thought she should go to school for art back east. Her parents wanted her to marry instead so she put her dreams aside,” says Spotted Bull. “Many of her children and grandchildren possess the same artistic talents. I feel blessed to be fulfilling my dreams by attending the University of Lethbridge.”
He explains the four-painting series, located on Level 10 of the library, as telling the story of colonialism and its effects on First Nations people.
“I had a dream a few years before I became a student,” he says. “In the dream I recall seeing an image, which I interpreted as a medicine wheel. I captured the image on watercolour paper using pencil crayons as my medium. It has an ethereal feel to it, with wisps of colours undulating like a flame of smoke.”
He then re-created the work as a much larger oil painting. It would eventually spawn a series.
“With no intentions of creating further interpretations, the foundation for the series began as one painting,” he says. “The painting I have called Pre is a reference to pre-colonial contact between Europeans and those of the Americas. The Fractured paintings symbolize the residential school era and the effects it had on the family as a whole. The Post paintings represent my generation, or those of us who did not experience residential school for ourselves. Lack of identity, alcoholism, physical, mental and sexual abuse are some of the issues many have experienced as a result of their parents, grandparents and great grandparents being forced to attend residential school.”
Jon Oxley, administrative manager of the U of L Art Gallery, says the series is both poignant and personal.
“These artworks are powerful, and have an incredible presence. His artwork speaks to some very timely social and political issues in Canada.”
Provoking discussion and reflecting the heritage of the Blackfoot people, the series is an ideal reflection of the library as place concept.
“We are proud to have this representation of indigenous knowledge in the Library,” says University Librarian, Dr. Chris Nicol.