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IceBear’s exhibit at an Ontario gallery a return to his roots

Crofton artist back in Wiarton to showcase his work near the reserve where he was taken as a child

The artistic works of Crofton’s IceBear have always been considered eye-openers.

Not only are they eye-opening creations in the literal sense as sights to behold, but also because his world-renowned paintings, sculptures and other mixed media open peoples’ eyes to today’s important issues that spark productive conversations.

The art is about meaning, purpose and beauty. “That’s my three principals I’ve evolved into,” said IceBear, who uses his totem name rather than his given name, Chris Johnston, to signify the source of his talents.

He explains his work is the embodiment of visions assigned to him for most of his life and not his own personal creations. IceBear transforms those visions through his work which leaves the viewer to interpret it in their own way.

“Art is about life; it’s about growing,” he said.

A rare glimpse into his extensive collection, IceBear’s The Modern Age Dreams of a Dreamer, drew an enormous response last summer at the Portals Gallery at the Cowichan Community Centre in Duncan.

Related story: Art exhibit largest assembled collection of IceBear’s work

Now, IceBear and wife Charronne have hit the road for a particularly poignant exhibit titled Along Came A Muskrat (and other Modern Age Dreams of a Dreamer) that opens Sept. 9 and runs until Oct. 10, an initiative of the Wiarton and District Chamber of Commerce at the Deep Water Gallery in Wiarton, Ont.

The exhibit is another telling of one of the Ojibway creation stories. It is essentially a lesson people should not be judged on size and bombast, that even the smallest among us often has something to contribute, and can work miracles that cause the bigger and stronger individuals to humbly crumble.

While at the gallery, IceBear will be finishing a cedar round called the Raven and the Hawk plus a new painting, Loon.

IceBear was born into the Ojibway community known as Chippewas of Nawash just north of Wiarton before being scooped off the Cape Croker Reserve at a very young age and raised by the state, but fortunately his art was already ingrained in him and proved to be his salvation.

“I was drawing way back when I was three years old,” he said. “I was taken off the reserve when I was four.

“I ended up going through the system. Living on reserve one of the things I remember was being hungry.”

Through his formative years and particularly at 14, “everything was constantly a learning thing,” IceBear said. “I started to find out that life was about learning.

“In terms of survival, there was only one option to do that. I don’t think I necessarily totally gave in to it.”

IceBear discovered in later years that he also had a considerable family of four brothers and three sisters in the region when he originally was told he had none.

During a previous visit in 2004, he actually met some of them and “all these elders came to see me and they remembered me when I was dreaming,” he added.

It promises to be another significant reunion over the next eight weeks plus a celebration within the community of such an accomplished artist who hails from the region.

IceBear and Charronne left in their RV Monday morning and planned to stay overnight in Tsawwassen to get an early start for the border at Blaine, Wash. Tuesday. “How far we get that first day will depend on how well the loaded RV goes up Snoqualmie Pass and then onward,” noted Charronne.

The plan was to take the route through Coeur d’Alene, Idaho that they have done many times, perhaps spend a day there and then head east for some serious travel.

They’ll cross back into Canada at Sault Ste. Marie and head along the north shore of Lake Huron, take the bridge to Manitoulin Island, stop at the huge Ojibway Cultural Foundation and gallery where IceBear showed some years ago and then catch the ferry to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula and drive south to the Cape Croker Reserve before making the short drive to Wiarton and the Deep Water Gallery. Wiarton Willie, the famous groundhog, officially lives in the park just a few doors away.

The gallery is considered Canada’s smallest public art gallery and will surely be overwhelmed with IceBear’s art.

Patrons there will soon find in IceBear’s world, it’s a place where imagination rules, with wonder and curiosity the order of the day.

From IceBear’s website: “Translation and meaning is often left entirely to you the viewer; interpret and take away from any individual piece of art what you will. Some will find magical beings, spirits or imaginary creatures floating through, others will find nothing but the most obvious. There is no right or wrong. But we have been told by many collectors that even years after living with a painting, one day when they look at it, they find things they have never seen before. Perhaps it is a trick of the light, a shadow, a fleck of dust, but that original sense of wonder is recreated, and we receive happy posts of thanks and appreciation.”

Major road trips are nothing new for IceBear and Charronne and he talks fondly about the experiences – some of them even harrowing, like winding up in the middle of Times Square in New York in the RV – but all of them memorable. His work has also been exhibited in other major U.S. cities like Dallas and Sacramento as well European countries like France and Italy and major Asian destinations like Beijing and Taiwan.

For more on IceBear, visit his website here and additional information can also be found on his Facebook page.

Don Bodger

About the Author: Don Bodger

I've been a part of the newspaper industry since 1980 when I began on a part-time basis covering sports for the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle.
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