Sharing grandfather teachings through art

Acclaimed Aboriginal artist Eric Voice leads 13-week art workshop Getting to Know Father Sky

Workshop facilitator and artist Eric Voice.
Workshop facilitator and artist Eric Voice.

Honesty, humility, love, wisdom, bravery, respect, and truth — these are the seven grandfather teachings that guide the conscience of the First Nations people. 

They are also the foundation of Eric Voice’s 13-week art workshop, Getting to Know Father Sky, which runs until Dec. 12 at the H’art School. 

Voice, who has had a distinguished career as an Aboriginal musician, said he doesn’t like the word “teaching” to refer to the workshops. The four-time Canadian and American Native Music Award nominee has toured Ontario several times. 

“Teaching is what elders do,” he said.  “When someone says teaching, it puts you in a student position. Sharing invites perspective.”

In the workshops, participants are encouraged to do whatever feels most comfortable to them, whether it’s visual art, poetry, music or movement. 

Throughout the sessions, Voice is a wonderful guide in the process of digging deep into the soul to find artistic expression. 

Many of the participants in the workshops are youth with developmental delays or disabilities who express themselves through poetry and art. 

Among their work were drawings that illustrated the participants’ love for their families and things that are most important to them. 

They were encouraged to incorporate symbolism from Aboriginal culture into their art and movements.

Two young men at a workshop I visited showed me their artwork. 

One of the participants showed me a picture that he had drawn of a wolf print. Within each finger was the name of someone important to him. 

Another participant let me read a poem he wrote on the seven grandfather teachings and said he planned to represent the teachings on stage through group movement. 

Participants were encouraged to use their bodies to represent the naturalistic elements that are quintessential to the First Nations mythos, such as the standing family, water family, and flying family — trees, marine life, and birds, respectively. 

The name of the workshop is a reference to Father Sky, who stands as the counterpart to Mother Earth and is joined by Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon. 

Voice said the workshops are a way for people to learn more about First Nations culture through the lens of self-reflection. 

“Our culture is always learning about self,” Voice said. 

Voice, a registered nurse who now works as a caregiver for youth with disabilities, believes every person should have the ability to share the feelings within themselves in a creative way, even if it’s out of their comfort zone. 

“Every single person that walks on the earth is creative and it’s our job to figure out how they’re creative,” he said. 

His method of sharing, rather than teaching, reflects what he’s trying to achieve from hosting this workshop. It is his hope, he said, that every person walks out of the workshop feeling as if they have accomplished and created something that’s an authentic representation of themselves.

In its entirety, Getting to Know Father Sky is about building community.

“It’s about coming together as a community and creating something,” Voice said. “You don’t have to be able to see or hear or be good at art. It’s what’s created when you come together.”

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