30 March 2012

Historic First Nations Artifacts Return to N.B.

Published Friday March 30, 2012
Times-Transcript
By Shannon MacLeod

Two Aboriginal pieces have made it home to New Brunswick after about 200 years.

The two fans were created in Fredericton and the handles are European. The fans themselves are very unique, with a birch bark frame with moose hair tufting and in the centre are painted pictures.

One is of Kingsclear First Nation and the other is of Tobique First Nation, said Jane Fullerton, CEO of the New Brunswick Museum

“They show landscapes and individuals and housing from the period,” she said. “They are incredibly early representations of the First Nations people and landscape. They are created in a way that combines the First Nations artwork and culture with the English culture that was in Fredericton at that time as well.”

The fans would have been used by women to cover their faces to shield the heat from a bonfire, Fullerton said.

“They were created in the early 1830s, approximately 1835, by either the wife or daughter of then lieutenant-governor,” she said.

The lieutenant-governor of the day was Archibald Campbell, so they were either created by his wife, Lady Helen Campbell, or his daughter, Lady Helen Marie-Campbell.

The Assembly of First Nations Chiefs of New Brunswick were meeting in Moncton on Wednesday, so they invited the New Brunswick Museum to come and show the two pieces as part of their meeting.

With the help of the federal and provincial government and encouragement from the First Nations communities, the New Brunswick Museum purchased the two artifacts for $13,000 to bring them home.

“We really wanted to be able to show what it was that we were able to bring back to New Brunswick and care for,” said Fullerton.

Fullerton said the story behind the pieces is very clear. At some point, in the 1830s or 1840s, the fans travelled from New Brunswick to England. They remained in the same family’s possession in storage there and were passed down from generation to generation until they went up for auction.

“An antique dealer purchased them knowing that they were of great significance to New Brunswick and then contacted New Brunswick to see if we were interested,” Fullerton said. “Our thought is that they were in storage for a lot of that time because they don’t show a lot of signs of wear. They needed some cleaning, but they didn’t need a lot of real conservation work.”

The colours on the paintings are still very vibrant and most of the moose-hair tuftings are still there.

“They’re beautiful pieces. It’s very likely that the birch bark and moose hair tuftings were created by a First Nations individual. So you have two pieces that combine the First Nations work with the English art work.”

Chief Stewart Paul of Tobique First Nation said they are impressed by the New Brunswick Museum’s efforts.

“The efforts of the New Brunswick Museum are very much appreciated by the Aboriginal community. What they’re doing is helping us reconnect with our history,” he said.

“We’re extremely pleased to have these items back and we’re hoping that it’ll spur private collectors to come forward so that they can also share in this rejuvenation.”

Representing Kingsclear was elder Natalie Soloman-Grey. She performed a ceremony with sweet grass to welcome back the pieces into the community.

“They’re 200 years old and have been away and they found their way home.”

Not only are they beautiful, Soloman-Grey said, they’re a learning tool.

“An educational tool for a number of people to see what it was like to live along the Saint John River and Tobique River compared to now.”

The fans themselves are 36 by 23 centimetres (14 inches by nine inches) and the images are about nine by 13 cm (3.5 by five inches).

“They’re not large, but there’s an incredible amount of detail in them. They represent some really good stories about First Nations stories in New Brunswick,” said Fullerton. “To be able to see the details of the dress, the housing and everything is just incredible.”

The two fans will rest at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, at the exhibition centre. They will only be on display occasionally because they’re very sensitive to light.

“They will be something that we will have out at times,” Fullerton said. “But we’re also offering to take them to First Nations or other communities by invitation for an event. So if people want to be able to see these pieces, they can actually see them in their own community.”

Angle:  'They show landscapes and individuals and housing from the period,' she said. 'They are incredibly early representations of the First Nations people and landscape.

They are created in a way that combines the First Nations artwork and culture with the English culture that was in Fredericton at that time as well.' The fans would have been used by women to cover their faces to shield the heat from a bonfire.

'They were created in the early 1830s, approximately 1835, by either the wife or daughter of the lieutenant-governor,' she said.

Chief Stewart Paul of Tobique First Nation said they are impressed by the New Brunswick Museum's efforts.

'What they're doing is helping us reconnect with our history,' he said. 'We're extremely pleased to have these items back and we're hoping that it'll spur private collectors to come forward so that they can also share in this rejuvenation.'