Keewaywin’s Derek Harper has been painting traditional legends since he was introduced to acrylic paints about 20 years ago.
“I started off with pencil crayons at first,” Harper said. “Then my father-in-law (Lloyd Kakepetum) introduced me to acrylics.”
Harper had been ill at the time and was not able to go outside for the whole winter.
“So that’s when I started painting,” Harper said, explaining he likes using acrylics because they are easier to work with than other paints. “It dries up a lot quicker, I can water it down to like ink to make those fine lines.”
In 1995, he made his first major sale as an artist during an art show with Kakepetum in Toronto.
“I sold every piece I had,” Harper said. “It felt pretty good and I made money, what I thought was a lot of money. I was pretty excited that somebody would buy all my paintings, so that kept me going.”
Although Harper has made his living from his art over the past eight years, first in Thunder Bay and currently in Dryden, he said the market in Dryden is slow so he has to send his art elsewhere or travel to bigger centres to make enough sales.
“I usually come here or go to other towns to try to sell my art,” Harper said, noting he has sold paintings to people from California to Sweden to New Zealand. “They like when they see the (fine) lines; they are really surprised about that.”
Harper focuses on the traditional teachings his grandfather passed on to him, the events that happened to him or his grandfather during hunting trips, the events that happened to his grandfather while he was watching him or the stories his grandmother told him in his paintings.
I have never really been that political and I don’t think most Indigenous people are. We come from a very natural history in terms of living, communicating...