As It Happens

Celebrated Saskatchewan Cree artist, Allen Sapp, dies at 87

Saskatchewan Cree artist Allen Sapp has died. He was best-known for his paintings depicting indigenous life on Saskatchewan's Red Pheasant reserve, near North Battleford.
Allen Sapp was best-known for his paintings that depicted life on Saskatchewan's Red Pheasant reserve. He also loved singing and drumming. (Allen Sapp Gallery)

Saskatchewan artist Allen Sapp, 87, has died. Sapp was best-known for his paintings depicting indigenous life on Saskatchewan's Red Pheasant reserve.

Saskatchewan artist Allen Sapp, 87, died on Dec. 28. (CBC)

"His work is so steeped in tradition and cultural value," Leah Garven, curator at the Allen Sapp Gallery in North Battleford, Sask., tell As it Happens guest host Helen Mann. "He was able to capture something beyond reality."

Born in 1928, Sapp grew up on the Red Pheasant reserve -- a location which featured in many of his paintings.

Painting by 'grandfather of Saskatchewan art' Allen Sapp. (CBC)

For much of his childhood, Sapp was ill. At 14, he suffered from spinal meningitis.

"Because he was frail he was not able to play with the other kids easily," says Garven. "So, he was always observing. He watched the other kids play and that's evident in his painting."

Sapp also attended residential school. Despite this difficult upbringing, Garven says, "His generosity ... overshadowed any loss that he has experienced throughout his life."

Painting by 'grandfather of Saskatchewan art' Allen Sapp. (CBC)

One of Garven's fondest memories of Sapp is the way he would interact with children at the gallery. Sapp would often sing and play his drum with them. 

"He was at the gallery recently, and even at this age, he extended his drum to somebody else. It was a very beautiful, touching moment," she says. "He took a very strong, vested interest in ensuring that children who visited the gallery got to know about his culture and his people." 

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