Nfld. & Labrador

Inuit artist Michael Massie becomes a member of the Order of Canada

Massie's work in silver and wood pushed the boundaries of what was considered Inuit art.

Artist originally from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, pushes the boundaries of Inuit art

Artist Michael Massie waits to become a member of the Order of Canada in Ottawa on Sept. 6, 2018. (Government of Canada/Screenshot)

When Michael Massie began his art career in the 1980s he had no expectations of being named a member of the Order of Canada. He just wanted to make the art that he wanted.

"At the time when I first came onto the scene with Inuit art, there were only three major mediums that were considered Inuit art and that was stone carving, print making and tapestry," said Massie, who is originally from Happy Valley-Goose Bay and now lives in Kippens.

"For me, that was like a restriction for people to explore their imagination and what they love to do."

Artist Michael Massie at work in 2004. (CBC)

Over the years, Massie's silverwork and sculptures, inspired in part by his Inuit heritage, have received national and international accolades. As of Thursday's investiture ceremony in Ottawa, he can add being a member of the Order of Canada to that list of honours.

Early, and unexpected, controversy

Massie's early career involved some controversy, though not of his own design, he says.

When he did his first workshop in Nain through the Inuit Art Foundation, an image shared of his work after the fact happened to be one of his silver ulu bowls.

Art is about exploring and opening up minds and making people think.- Michael Massie

"Because it was made of metal and wood it created a huge controversy, and a lot of people were saying it wasn't considered Inuit art — and that was everything from collectors to other Inuit artists themselves to other museums and galleries," he told the Corner Brook Morning Show Thursday.

Massie had just finished four years of study at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where he said that such restrictions weren't put on art, so he didn't pay much mind to the criticism and continued working in the mediums that made sense for him.

"I never, ever thought it would lead to something like this, where they consider my work or my ideas to be anything trailblazing," he said.

Massie's work in wood and silver was controversial when his career first began. (CBC)

In the years since, Massie has continued his own work and advised younger artists to also explore different mediums to find the ones that are right for them.

He's heartened by modern Inuit artists who are making art with a wide variety of mediums, including modern ones like digital art and videography.

If his own work has had anything to do with the freedom those artists now feel, he's proud.

"Art is about exploring and opening up minds and making people think, and I'm just glad things have changed." 

With files from the Corner Brook Morning Show

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