(Leo Arcand with his partner Shawna and children Morningstar, 18 months, and Sakihitiwin, 7. The family drove down from Driftpile First Nation to the Bear Claw Art Gallery in Edmonton where his soap stone carvings are on display. He said his life has been “Like a Song.” APTN/Brandi Morin)
APTN National News
A First Nations artist from Alexander First Nation in Alberta is quickly becoming world famous after one of his works was gifted to U.S. President Barack Obama by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Washington D.C. Thursday.
Leo Arcand, who now calls Driftpile First Nation home, drove to the Bear Claw Art Gallery in Edmonton to celebrate his art being recognized.
“It’s a great honour. What are the odds of having the prime minister choose one of your works to give to another world leader?” said Arcand. “I’m still absorbing it.”
The soap stone carving of an eagle and a human intertwined that was given as the gift has deep meaning, said Arcand who conducts prayer for inspiration before creating his artwork.
“The meaning of the carving was love, humanity, courage, working together. The spiritual aspect of it was to bring together the human form, the spirit animal representing mother earth and the human representing humanity itself,” he said.
Since learning of his art going to the White House, Arcand said his life has been “like a song.”
The stunning news came as a complete surprise to Arcand Thursday afternoon. The Bear Claw got a call from the Prime Minister’s Office just over a month ago and things unfolded from there.
“They were looking at a few different pieces and decided on ‘Courage’”, said Hope Wright, of the Bear Claw gallery. “But they said we had to keep it on ‘the down low’ and if it’s chosen as a gift to a world leader they’d let us know.”
Little did the Bear Claw or Arcand ever suspect the work would be given to the most famous leader in the world.
He said he believes it’s a symbol of reconciliation that Trudeau took with him to the U.S.
“Yes, I believe it’s a symbol, and that things happen for a reason,” said Arcand, who has been soap carving for 25 years and working full time in art for almost two decades.
He’s also grateful for the support of the Bear Claw Art Gallery which has showcased Indigenous art for over 40 years.
Since word broke of Arcand’s eagle carving gifted to the U.S. president the phones of the gallery have been ringing off the hook. Indigenous art is flying off the shelves, said owner Jackie Bugera.
“In our 40 years of selling and representing First Nation artists we’ve never had this kind of media response to an artist the way the media has really embraced Leo and his work,” she said. “Times are definitely changing. 40 years ago First Nations galleries couldn’t even get native gallery’s to represent them. I think there’s so much more appreciation of the culture and the art. And I’ve always believed that art is a way of learning about culture. You can explain culture, go see the art. Go see it.”
Arcand said he is “rich in his culture” and that helps to express his gifts within to the world.
“Thank you (Trudeau) very much for selecting my work. It’s truly an honour. It’s truly a gift. I think there’s a lot of spiritual happening there because I do come from a spiritual background. As you can see in my work,” said Arcand.