When Anishnabe artist Robert Houle wanted to come to terms with his residential school experience on Sandy Bay First Nation in Mantioba he turned to the medium that he knew best. In just one month, August 2009, Houle created 24 striking paintings that tell a story of survival and hope.

Schoolhouse by Robert Houle

Robert Houle (Saulteaux b. 1947), schoolhouse from Sandy Bay Residential School Series, 2009, oilstick on paper, 58.4 x 76.2 cm. (courtesy Robert Houle)

Now the Sandy Bay Residential School Series will have a permanent home at the School of Art Gallery at the University of Manitoba. The gallery can make this purchase because it just won the York Wilson Endowment Award, administered by the Canada Council.

"I'm just so honoured," says Houle, who still has family ties in Manitoba."It's very special because my family will be able to come and see them, thereby figuratively and metaphorically, they're coming home." 

"I'm also honoured because this is my treaty territory, Treaty One, and also my alma mater," he adds.

Houle, who now makes his home in Toronto,  says that during the process memories came back that he had previously suppressed. "Half way through, the faces began to actually appear, began to be recognizable. I would try to capture them and I would get so angry. I would want to judge them and that became the struggle, the need, and the delirium for retribution. And I would constantly stop myself from completing that emotion."

He says he found the whole experience cathartic. At the end, he felt a sigh of relief, a sigh of liberation.

pretending to pray by Robert Houle

Robert Houle (Saulteaux, b. 1947), uhnúhméahkazooh / pretending to pray from Sandy Bay Residential School Series, 2009, oilstick on paper, 76.2 x 58.4 cm.. (courtesy Robert Houle)

Robert Houle is one of Canada's most significant Aboriginal artists. He is also an active art curator, critic and educator. Among his activities, he was the first curator of Contemporary Indian Art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization from 1977 to 1980.

He studied Art History at the University of Manitoba and Art Education at McGill University. In 2004, the U of M named him a distinguished alumnus. He is a member of Sandy Bay First Nation in Manitoba and currently works in Toronto. 

The acquisition of this collection comes at an important time for the School of Art Gallery as it moves location to the Art Research Technology lab (ARTlab). It also coincides with the School of Art's 100th anniversary as well as the decision with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to host the National Research Centre on Residential Schools at the University of Manitoba.

​Houle's last Winnipeg exhibit, enuhmo andúhyaun (the road home), opened the School of Art Gallery in September 2012.