“I’m a better artist than a speaker,” Alex Janvier told a group of friends, dignitaries and school children at the unveiling of his artwork that will grace the floor of the Rogers Place in Edmonton.
That was a bit of an understatement because his creation was beautiful and will dominate an already impressive part of the new arena. He was a good speaker but a great artist.
When I introduced myself to Alex he recognized me from my time as an employee for the Alberta Native Communications Society. He introduced me to the person sitting beside him as said this guy is the biggest troublemaker around. We had a good laugh and I later found out that the person beside him was Don Iveson, the mayor of Edmonton. Later he would tour the new arena and meet Wayne Gretsky who was out doing a few laps of the new ice surface. Gretsky gave Alex his stick and the two posed for pictures.
That was typical of Alex; no person is too important or insignificant to him. He isn’t impressed by fame or wealth, just people.
The unveiling ceremony began and ended with a prayer in the Dene Language by John Janvier who is Alex’s brother. He told me that Alex is four years older than him so Alex was his big brother.
On this important day, Alex was surrounded by his family and friends as well as the dignitaries from the city, the Edmonton Oilers and others. The grade four class from Kensington School were on hand to pull back the sheets of black cloth that covered the mural. Alex pointed out that he wanted children there for the unveiling because they represented the next generation and both the city and the First Nations were looking to the future.
The traditional also played an important role with the Dene Drummers from his home community and the Cree drummers from the Enoch First Nation. In his comments, Alex gave special thanks to the Cree Nation. Rogers Place and his mural sit on top of traditional Cree territory. It was because of this respect that the Cree drummers were asked to attend.
Alex and his wife live on the Dene First Nation at Le Goff, Alberta. They have six children. One daughter, Jill Janvier is following in her father’s footsteps and pursuing a career in art. Another, Tricia Janvier is his daily assistant, and apprentice of Alex and is herself an experienced potter.
The artwork called Iron Foot Place is a floor-mounted mural that consists of about a million glass tiles. It took a team of 20 artisans six months to complete it. At the unveiling, Alex stated that he travelled around the Edmonton area and selected the colours from the natural landscape in the surrounding prairie, and the river valley. The mural is a rich mix of curves and swirls that describe the land and the river, the colours come from the water, the sky and the trees, flowers and undergrowth in the area.
The committee designing Rogers Place invited Alex to submit some designs for the mural. He came up with nine ideas and the committee selected the one he called Iron Foot Place.
The ceremony ended with a round dance and a travelling song to assure safe travel. The round dance is a healing and friendship dance that brings people together and strengthens friendships and alliances. The dancers hold hands and dance in a circle. A circle represents the circle of life. The mural is also a circle and it carries the same symbolism making it a strong statement of Alex’s vision for a better world.
Iron Foot Place
Alex Janvier is one of Canada’s foremost First Nations artists. He was one of the original “Indian Group of Seven” that revolutionized Aboriginal art in the 1970s. This group broke with artistic tradition by going back to their Indigenous tradition.
The group consisted of; Daphne Odjig, Norval Morrisseau, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Carl Ray, Joseph Sanchez and Alex Janvier. Haida Artist Bill Reid was considered the eighth member and he participated in their shows. Sadly Alex and Joseph Sanchez are the only surviving members of the group.
Alex’s abstract and original style is evident in the Piece at Rogers Centre called Iron Foot Place. The name is Alex’s tongue in cheek reference to hockey. The artwork is designed to show a meeting place with dark lines curving and intersecting. The colours came from the local landscape with the greens and browns representing summer and fall colours with the white symbolizing winter and the snow and the ice surface of the arena.
The artwork is also a symbol of reconciliation as it is circular and embraces all people. The mural is located in a pedway that crosses the street to the arena and Alex pointed out the symbolism of his artwork sitting on a bridge.
The mural is a rich addition to an otherwise drab cement floor and it stands out in contrast as a beautiful flower on a cloudy day. I’m sure his friends in the group of seven would agree.