The first thing you notice about Moonstone Creation in Calgary is the building’s pale pink exterior with blue trim and the six-foot-long banner proudly announcing, “Real Native Art Made Right Here, Eh!”
The art gallery and gift shop in Inglewood is owned by Cree artist Yvonne Jobin and her daughter, Amy Willier. Inside the pink building, you’ll find a range of artwork. Many of the pieces available at the gallery are crafted in the store by Jobin and Willier. Others are made by Jobin’s niece, Kim, and Indigenous people from across the province.
Through the gallery and classes that teach decorative art, the pair work to share Indigenous culture, “break down barriers between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people,” and reclaim success where Indigenous people and art have historically been devalued and exploited.
Before opening the gallery in Inglewood (its original location opened in 2009 on 9th Avenue), Jobin operated a home business selling her artwork. Often, Jobin would bring her work to trade shows and conferences, but she was always conscious and deliberate in defining her work as art.
“I never went to craft shows. That’s not my work, you know. Mine is an art. It’s wearable art,” Jobin says. “So I aligned myself with artists. I do shows with artists rather than a crafts show. And part of it is to bring all of our work to the level that it needs to be.”
While the difference between art and crafts may seem menial to some, defining and showcasing Indigenous artwork as art is a subtle but significant move in emphasizing the artistry and value of work like Jobin’s. Historically and continually today, Indigenous artists and their work face devaluation, appropriation and exploitation.
“I have a little bone to pick around all the things that were stolen from my ancestors. People didn’t value it. My mother-in-law used to sell moccasins for $1.50 to the Hudson Bay Company, and she couldn’t even take cash. She had to take an uncredited trade. She sold the whole moose-hide for three dollars,” says Jobin. “But, I’ve been to collectors, to Sotheby’s in Sante Fe, and a baby pair of moccasins is $2,000. When a collector owns it, then it’s up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
“When I sold my first jacket for $10,000, I thought, ‘Yay, celebration,’ not only for myself but for all those artists that come behind me,” says Jobin. “Because, if I can do it, they can do it.”
Moonstone Creation features a number of wearable art pieces by Jobin and other Indigenous artists, including jewelry and clothing including beaded necklaces, moccasins and ribbon shirts.
In the centre of the gallery, Jobin sits in the studio working on a pair of moccasins made from authentic tanned hide. “[The hide] is very hard to get,” says Jobin as she works. “It’s high-end. So anything made with this hide versus commercial hide is going to be a considerably different price.”
Dozens of different necklaces, like the buffalo necklace and the beaded wire necklace, are displayed in the front of the gallery.
Moccasins are handmade using tanned hide with beadwork by various Indigenous artists.
These beaded barrettes come in pairs.
Ribbon Shirts are designed by Jobin.
Journals, Bags, Pouches and More Art
Alongside the wearable art pieces, Moonstone Creation also features other pieces of art made from materials such as tanned moose-hide. They are embellished with decorative beadwork, quillwork and animal hair tufting.
Business card holders are available in both moose-hide and leather.
Strike-A-Light pouches are crafted by Jobin from tanned moose-hide and are either beaded with glass beads or decorated with porcupine quills. On the bottom, fringes are used to represent the sun and cone danglers “invite the ‘Good Spirits’ to walk with us.”
Woven baskets are decorated with caribou fur floral designs.
Details of caribou fur thistle designs on a woven basket.
Journals with split cowhide covers and beaded decoration.
Bentwood Boxes originate from British Columbia where the traditional containers were used to store precious possessions.
In the backroom of the gallery, stunning pieces of fine art by Indigenous artists are displayed across the walls. All the pieces are available for purchase, but you can also stop by just to view the art.
This painting is by Ron Disbrowe, a Metis artist from Red Sucker Lake First Nation in Manitoba.
This acrylic on canvas Inukshuk painting is also by Disbrowe.
These paintings are by Jerry Tony.
Other Items at Moonstone Creation
Moonstone Creation also sells traditionally smoked dried bison meat.
Art Classes Offered by Moonstone Creation
Note: Classes have been suspended until fall 2020.
Along with running the gallery and gift store, Jobin and Willier also teach classes for people who want to learn the techniques, methods and artistry of Indigenous decorative art, which includes beadwork, quillwork, moose hair tufting and more.
“Part of my willingness to teach is because I’m fortunate. I’ve had lots of teachers who are all gone now. Knowledge is worthless if you don’t share it, so we hold classes. I’m very willing to share,” says Jobin.
Classes are open to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike Jobin says. “I have a lot of non-Aboriginal people that do take my classes. They’re very interested because of appreciation, not appropriation where they want to learn and go sell it. Those are the kind of people that are attracted to what I offer.”
Due to COVID-19, when you visit the store, please wear a mask. Moonstone Creation, 1219 10 Ave. S.E., 403-261-2650, moonstonecreation.ca