Daphne Odjig

Canadian [1919-2016]

Royal Canadian Academy

Daphne Odjig has become one of the most recognizable and influential Canadian Indigenous artists, and certainly the most important woman of the group. Known as the "Grandmother of Canadian Native Art", Daphne Odjig's accomplishments were many and she has left a lasting cultural legacy. The influences on Odjig's artistic development were varied, though her work remains distinct, defying categorization, and reflecting her artistic creativity, her heritage and her feminist spirit. Daphne Odjig was born at Wikwemikong, on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, the eldest of four children. She was born into an artistic family and exposed to the arts from a young age. Her paternal grandfather (Jonas Odjig) was a talented stone carver and painter and became her first mentor, teaching her drawing, painting and carving. She was similarly encouraged by her Potawatomi father (Dominic Odjig), a painter and musician, and English mother (Joyce Peachey) talented in embroidery. Odjig lost her mother and grandfather at the age of 18, and soon after left Wikwemikong. During WWII, while living and working in Toronto, Daphne Odjig met and married her first husband, Paul Somerville. They soon moved to the West Coast (where Paul had military duty), and it is here they raised their two sons. It was only when the boys were in school that Odjig began to focus on her art. She sought out a broader artistic education, opening herself up not only to Indigenous influences and imagery, but by studying the European masters. She was particularly drawn to Picasso and the cubists.

Early in her career, Odjig attempted to move beyond her Indigenous heritage - perhaps even leave it behind - but cultural and political developments in the early sixties intervened. The newly granted right to vote and the resurgence of first nations traditions, spurred a spiritual reawakening and sense of "Indian pride" within indigenous communities. Odjig's own community of Wikwemikong (Bay of the Beaver), hosted the first modern pow wow in Ontario in 1961, bringing back and celebrating the traditions of dancing, drumming and storytelling. Odjig attended the Wiki Pow Wow in 1964; she was presented with a ceremonial dress and invited to participate with her friends and relatives. In "Daphne Odjig" (National Gallery of Canada; 2007) Bonnie Devine writes of the event: "Odjig recalls that she went into the dancing circle reticent and uncertain. She was forty-five years old and had spent more than half her life trying to forget she was a Native woman. 'But I began to dance to the drum. And I became Indian'." This experience profoundly affected her personal and artistic development, and the images of her Anishinaabe ancestry would soon become an integral part of her work. Odjig continued to attend Pow Wows throughout her life.

Odjig suffered another loss in 1960 with the death of her husband. After eventually remarrying (Chester Beavon), she moved to Manitoba. The couple opened a small native arts and crafts shop in 1971. In 1972, Daphne Odjig’s work was included in an exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (along with Jackson Beardy and Alex Janvier), marking the first time Indigenous art was the feature of a public gallery exhibit. In 1973, Odjig co-founded the Professional Native Indian Artists Association (more commonly referred to as the “Indian Group of Seven”). Shortly afterward, Odjig, along with her husband, expanded their shop, renaming it the New Warehouse Gallery in Winnipeg, with the goal of supporting Indigenous artists. It was the first Indigenous owned gallery in Canada. Odjig moved to British Columbia in the late 1970s, where she resided until her death in 2016.

During a long and decorated career, Daphne Odjig developed a unique visual language and artistic style. Her body of work spans over five decades and can be found in numerous important public collections. A selection of honours includes: the creation of the four-panel mural “The Indian in Transition” (1978) for the Museum of Man in Ottawa (now Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau); Order of Canada (1986); elected member of the Royal Canadian Academy (1989); Governor General’s Award for Visual Arts (2007); seven honourary degrees and several documentaries. Additionally, Daphne Odjig was the first female First Nations artist to be featured in a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada. Organized by the Art Gallery of Sudbury, "The Drawings and Paintings of Daphne Odjig: A Retrospective Exhibition" (October 2009 to January 2010).

Literature: "Odjig: The Art of Daphne Odjig" (Daphne Odjig, Bob Boyer & Carol Podedworny; Key Porter Books, Toronto; 2001); "The Drawings and Paintings of Daphne Odjig, A Retrospective Exhibition" (Robert Houle & Duke Redbird; National Gallery of Canada; 2007).

We are currently seeking works by Daphne Odjig to be included in future auctions.

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A Few Notable Results from our Auctions

Daphne Odjig

IN SEARCH OF WONDER; 1987
acrylic on canvas
66 x 38 in.

Sold for $ 42,500 (hammer price) – November 2010

Daphne Odjig

MOTHER AND CHILD; late 1980s
acrylic on canvas
30 x 24 in.

Sold for $ 30,000 (hammer price) – November 2016

Daphne Odjig

COMMUNING WITH THE INFANTS;1985
acrylic on canvas
24 x 20 in.

Sold for $ 27,500 (hammer price) – November 2020

Daphne Odjig

TO BE LOVED; 1980
acrylic on canvas
32 x 30 in.

Sold for $ 9,500 (hammer price) – June 2006

Daphne Odjig

THE DREAM SPEAKER; 1993
acrylic on canvas
24 x 20 in.

Sold for $ 8,000 (hammer price) – May 2007

Daphne Odjig

MORE DAYS TO DAWN; 1987
acrylic on canvas
18 x 14 in.

Sold for $ 6,500 (hammer price) – November 2006

Daphne Odjig

SPIRIT DANCERS; 1983
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 in.

Sold for $ 5,000 (hammer price) – May 2017

Daphne Odjig

JEWELS IN THE SUN; 1990
coloured pencil on paper
11 x 10 in.

Sold for $ 2,600 (hammer price) – November 2012

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