Métis artist draws on great-grandmother's design for public art project in Winnipeg's Exchange District

When Bronwyn Butterfield looks up at the art now featured in one of the entryways of the Artpace building in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, she sees both her own work and her great-grandma's. 

Artspace project brings art including beadwork, embroidery outside building and to the public

Bronwyn Butterfield's art, inspired by her great-grandmother's design, is displayed in one of the entryways of the Artpace building in Winnipeg's Exchange District. (Darin Morash/CBC)

A new public art piece featured in one of the entryways of the Artpace building in Winnipeg's Exchange District not only shows off the work of local Métis artist Bronwyn Butterfield, but also her great-grandmother's.

A photograph of a piece of Butterfield's beadwork, titled A vamp for my cápán, was blown up and included as one of two public art pieces displayed in the Arthur Street building's vestibules.

"Cápán" is a Cree word that can refer to either a great-grandparent or great-grandchild, according to the Alberta Language Technology Lab's Plains Cree Dictionary.

"It's my great-grandma's design," said Butterfield. "Our family's been really lucky to have had some of those designs passed down. To my knowledge, our great-grandma did a lot of beading." 

"I just kind of made my own rendition of it. It's not exactly the same as her design. I felt like I wanted to … put my own spin on it." 

An enlarged photograph of Bronwyn Butterfield's beadwork piece, titled A vamp for my cápán, is one of two public art pieces displayed in vestibules of the Artspace building in Winnipeg. (Submitted by Bronwyn Butterfield)

Butterfield said she's been focusing on beadwork for the past couple of years, but beading has been in her family for at least four generations. 

She first got the call to get involved in the Vesti_Art project, focused on adding art to Artspace's entryways, last year. Her piece went up on the corner of Arthur Street and Bannatyne Avenue earlier this month. 

She hopes it will draw the attention of both people who are familiar with beadwork and those who haven't seen it before.

In particular, she hopes Indigenous people who are familiar with beadwork will "see themselves in it and feel that … comfort of being around Métis art."

Bringing art outside Artspace

The Artspace building is home to galleries and studios inside, but the new Vesti_Art project aims to bring art outside, as many spend time outdoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said executive director Eric Plamondon. 

"The building — not only in its contents inside, but itself — can serve as a canvas," he said.

Plamondon said in choosing artists for this project, Artspace wanted to include those who create in media that aren't often chosen for public art spaces. 

"We wanted to push ourselves to go beyond painters," said Plamondon.

Artspace executive director Eric Plamondon, left, and Bronwyn Butterfield outside the Artspace building in Winnipeg's Exchange District. (Mike Peters)

Artspace also wanted to give a voice to emerging artists from underrepresented communities, he said. 

Artist James Turowski's floral embroidery is displayed in the building's vestibule on the corner of King Street and Bannatyne Avenue.

Turowski's piece, titled Queer in Bloom, merges queer history and the symbolism of certain flowers, along with a personal journey, he explained.

James Turowski's art installation, titled Queer In Bloom, is displayed in one of the vestibules of the Artspace building. (Mike Peters)

"You grow up and you bloom into kind of who you are, as you sort of go through the process of … accepting yourself and coming out, and kind of working through what that means," said Turowski, adding his piece explores a "seed to bloom sort of idea" of acceptance.

The embroidery is encased in resin to preserve it for Winnipeg's weather, he said.

Turowski is thankful Artspace is using public space to showcase both his embroidery and Butterfield's beading. 

"It's a great opportunity to present sort of those more underrepresented craft mediums, as well as … our underrepresented identities," he said.

Butterfield said while the project has been an amazing opportunity for her, it's more about honouring her family. She never had the chance to meet her great-grandma, she said. 

"I'm really grateful to represent my family and … represent our culture in such a public place," she said.

"We face a lot of silence as Métis people," she said, so it's good "to have something visible in a way that's not loud but just kind of there … a presence."

Turowski said his embroidery piece is encased in resin to preserve it in Winnipeg’s weather. (Darin Morash/CBC)

Turowski hopes to see more art make its way to public spaces in the Exchange. 

"It's a lot more accessible to people," he said. "It's kind of available for everybody. There's no barriers."