I guess, deep down, I always knew the fire of an artist burned deep within me. I didn’t understand why it was there or what ignited it, I only knew that I felt the burning hot flames of creativity and my need to do something MORE was the fuel they needed to help me embrace my true calling in life – to use my God-given talent to create impossible and beautiful things.
Early report cards and assessments from teachers indicate that I struggled with almost every single subject in school – except art. It appears I excelled at any and all artistic endeavours I tried and was drawn to anything that allowed me to express myself creatively. I didn’t know why this was the case, I just knew that it was the case and I went with it.
It wasn’t until later in life that I would understand where my creative side came from.
Being First Nations, it shouldn’t be any surprise that I am the product of the broken system that has torn apart and attempted to completely destroy the fabric of First Nations society – family.
When I was about 4 and my brother was about 2, we were taken away from our parents and home in Timmins because they were both alcoholics with mental health issues. My biological father had served in the Korean War and he returned home a very damaged man. My biological mother was already an alcoholic who suffered with depression. Based on stories I’ve been told, the combination of their addiction and mental health problems created a volatile situation that was not only unsafe and unhealthy for us as their children, but for them as well.
According to my files, it would seem our parents had gone off on a bender and left us home alone for a week or more. Don’t ask me how we survived because I have completely blocked out huge chunks of my early childhood. I just know someone must have reported that we were home alone with no one to take care of us and child services stepped in to “look after” us.
My brother has a much better (and less broken) memory than I do and by his accounts, we were in and out of 14 different foster homes by the time we were around 10 and 8 respectively. I remember small fragments of different homes we were in and families that took us in, but that’s about it. Some of the families were nice and some were not. The thing I do remember though, about each and every home/family, is the adults telling us that we were going to be part of their families now. That they were going to love us, provide for us and take care of us.
And just when we’d start to feel safe and comfortable, the child services worker would show up and my brother and I would be forced to sit in front of the very same people who promised to love and care for us and be told “We’re sorry, we just can’t keep you.”
When I was a young man, I contacted my biological mother. She was only too happy to meet with me and forge a relationship with me. She never did manage to deal with her alcoholism, but she was a kind, caring, loving woman and I’m grateful I got to know her. Her alcoholism killed her and though I was sad to lose my mother, I was grateful for the peace her death brought her.
I tried to reach out to my biological father but, at the time I contacted him, was told by a relative of his that he didn’t want to have anything to do with me. So I left it alone.
Many years later, my wife and I began doing some research based on what little information we had about my biological dad’s side of the family and we started to uncover some information about my relatives that gave me some insight into why art was such an important part of my heart and soul.
The above photos are of my paternal grandfather, William Moore. Obviously I never had the opportunity to meet him, but the research my wife uncovered indicates that my grandfather was a great artist in his own right. Yes, he was a potato farmer, but he also made beautiful birch baskets, birch bark canoes (like the one pictured above), birch bark biting art and games, such as the nabahon game (spearing moose toe bones threaded on a leather thong) he is seen playing with above.
We learned that he was a great storyteller and that he got great joy out of sharing his creations and stories with others. Not only did I learn something about my biological family, I also came to understand at least part of the reason why art is such an integral part of my life.
It helped me understand why, at different points in my career when I was prepared to give up and go back to the regular work force, I was never able (or completely willing) to abandon my art.
For me, art is more than a hobby. It’s not just something I do in my spare time or on weekends when I get bored. It’s something I’ve devoted my life to and it’s how I make my living. As much as I get frustrated with this artist life at times, I know I’d be lost without this tremendous gift I’ve been given.
Art is in my blood – and now I know why.