Dozay Christmas

A visual artist who became a messenger of Glooscap, helping to bring the stories to life.

About Arlene “Dozay”

Arlene “Dozay” Christmas is a Wolastoqiyik artist who was born in 1954 on the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, Canada.  The Wolastoqiyik people are also known as the Maliseet and they are part of the Wabanaki Confederacy (Wolastoqiyik [Maliseet], Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot) and their territory includes areas in the Canadian provinces known as New Brunswick, Quebec, as well as the American state of Maine.  Arlene’s body of work consists of conventional brushstroke oil paintings, as well as acrylic paintings created using airbrush technology. She has produced large-scale interior and exterior painted murals and limited edition prints based on her original paintings. Her paintings draw inspiration from ancient and historic traditional visual art forms, natural landscapes, and oral traditions descending primarily from her homelands and the surrounding areas.

Dozay Christmas

Arlene’s art career started when she was a young child thanks in part to encouragement from her basket weaver mother and a thoughtful uncle.  Arlene’s supportive uncle gave her the name Dozay, which means “Little Daughter”–the name which she uses to sign her works of art. Dozay’s uncle would take and sell her early drawings for ten cents or a quarter, while her mother often offered her gentle artistic encouragement.  This repeated motherly verbal encouragement eventually led a hesitant young Dozay to realize she really could become an accomplished artist.

Dozay attended high school in the city of Saint John, which allowed her to further her budding artistic ambitions.  While in Saint John, she was fortunate to get a job working at the New Brunswick Museum during the summer. While working at the museum, Dozay was shown cultural art and artifacts stored away in boxes, which the majority of her own people did not have the opportunity to study and learn from. This experience inspired Dozay to start to bring the traditional knowledge and history being kept in museum storage rooms and archives back to the members of her community.

Dozay Christmas

In her late teens, Dozay left her home to attend classes at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her initial intention was to pursue a career as a conventional formal educator, but in her third year at NSCAD, she decided to transfer to the fine arts program and pursue a career as a full-time artist. During her time at NSCAD, Dozay realized that many First Nations artists of the time were borrowing artistic conventions, aesthetics, and styles from traditional Ojibwa and Haida works of art known through mainstream media sources.

Dozay wanted to be herself, to be known for a distinct art form unique to her people and to not follow the tendency to paint in the western traditions of abstract or realist painting. When she submitted her final piece in her third year at NASCAD she had a run-in with one of her professors. While examining her work in progress one night he asked her what the painting represented. Dozay’s response was that it was “aboriginal art”. The professor’s response shocked her when he said, “That’s not Aboriginal Art”. Incensed her response was that it was her art, therefore it was Aboriginal. The professor scoffed at that but she decided he was driven by a different value system and that she would develop her own style, regardless of western hierarchical views of art.

By this time she had decided to follow a different path and develop a personal art style that drew inspiration from her own Indigenous Northeast coast culture and history.

Dozay’s Work

Soon after leaving NSCAD, Dozay was hard at work developing and growing her distinct personal style of painting. She spent time sketching traditional medicines shown to her by her mother and grandmother and was soon asked to illustrate a storybook telling a traditional Wolastoqiyik legend. This opportunity led to Dozay illustrating other children’s books telling traditional legends–something she loves doing because when combined, the story and her accompanying artwork are able to help teach young First Nations children their culture and history through a very readable and digestible format.

Dozay Christmas - Tree
Who Has Seen the Wind

Around this same time Dozay also really began studying other prominent First Nations artists’ works and personal styles.  Even though she admired and respected these other artists styles, she staunchly stayed true to developing her own distinct personal style.  She honestly expresses how she feels and how she sees things through her art, rather than producing homologous mainstream and standard art pieces in the styles already being accepted and consumed by the Canadian public.

Dozay’s decision to produce original artwork and develop her own personal style is inspired and motivated by her culture and homelands.  Although Dozay has achieved a successful career as an exceptional professional artist, her main focus has never been on the business aspect.  She instead has chosen to focus on the spiritual and educational potential of the arts, and as a result, has been able to bring vast amounts of relevant knowledge and awareness into the public’s consciousness through her work.

Dozay Christmas - Porcupine
Spirit of Matuwehs (Porcupine)

Dozay’s painted artwork is infused with many direct and indirect influences including local ancient petroglyphs, traditional Wolastoqiyik basketry, and various wonders of the natural world.  Her paintings often project dreamy scenes from Wabanaki history painted over soothing east coast maritime or riverine landscapes. Many of her paintings also display impactful yet earthy paint tones combined together using a masterfully complementary formula.

Throughout her career, Dozay has produced countless paintings while developing and perfecting her unique personal style, as well as expanded her technical skills by learning modern painting techniques.  Her paintings have been displayed and exhibited throughout the Maritimes, Ontario, British Columbia, as well as in the United States, France, and Australia. Her paintings can be found in the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia located in Halifax. Dozay has completed a number of large-scale murals based on her original designs and painting style. She is quick to give credit to fellow Tobique First Nation artist Anne Nicholas, who has been her trusted assistant for each of the sizable mural projects.

Glooscap’s Canoe

Glooscap / Kluskap

Glooscap/Kluskap is a legendary creator figure prominently featured in the mythology and oral history of the Wabanaki people throughout the northeast region of North America.  It has been noted that similar legendary heroic creator god-like figures can be found throughout North America in the form of Nanabozho among the Ojibwe, Wisakedjak among the Cree, Raven among the peoples of the Northwest coast, Coyote among some nations located in the southwest of North America, and the Hare/Rabbit featured in some southeastern United States area First Nations’ mythology as well.

Each nation within the Wabanaki Confederacy has its own regional variations of the Glooscap/Kluskap myths.  Many of the myths reference specific landmarks or ecosystems within the Wabanaki nations’ traditional territories.  Despite geographical differences, each nation’s version of the Glooscap/Kluskap stories portrays the cultural hero as a well-meaning magical warrior whose actions and teachings have helped to bring that region of the world into the current state of being.

How Niscaminou Made Glooscap
How Niscaminou Made Glooscap

Dozay began researching and depicting scenes from different Glooscap/Kluskap legends early in her art career through her illustrations for storybooks as well as a project designing a poster for the breathtakingly scenic Cabot Trail. These early projects sparked an innate interest in the traditional Glooscap/Kluskap mythology, the associated messaging, and real-world locations mentioned in the myths for Dozay. In her quest for traditional knowledge and understanding, Dozay has travelled to many of the different locations mentioned in various Glooscap/Kluskap tales. She has also gained an enhanced appreciation for her natural surroundings and the powerful history contained in many specific places through her paintings based on these ancient stories and legends.

Dozay has dedicated much of her time over the past thirty-plus years researching Glooscap/Kluskap stories and creating paintings depicting these stories. Dozay has focused on speaking with knowledgeable Wabanaki elders in her quest to learn the many different regional Glooscap/Kluskap stories and has produced a number of paintings and books that depict and document these valuable pieces of traditional information.  She is currently working on producing additional Glooscap/Kluskap paintings to add to the over thirty works she has already amassed, with the hopes of having the entire series exhibited at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia complimented with a published book on the subject.

Looking for Beaver
Looking for Beaver

Although Dozay chose not to follow her initially planned path in life as a conventional formal educator, the method in which she produces her artwork results in the education of anyone who views her paintings.  Many of her artworks offer the viewer a chance to experience an enhanced appreciation for and connection to many powerful locations all throughout the traditional
Wolastoqiyik and Wabanaki territories.

It is with great sadness that she did not live long enough to see this documentary come to completion. Dozay passed away unexpectedly on Thursday, November 21, 2019, at the age of 65. We raise our hands to her siblings, her husband, children and grandchildren whom she left unexpectedly to begin her spirit journey.