THUNDER BAY - Northwestern Ontario is rich with natural beauty and wonders and local artist, Janet MacDonald-Hannam, wanted to bring these elements to life, quite literally.
“For me, I knew that with a human face, people could relate to what I was trying to evoke,” she said.
MacDonald-Hannam's new exhibit, Gifts of the North, is on display at the Thunder Bay Museum and features several hand-crafted dolls and figures representing the natural world of the north, from amethyst, the forest, water, snow, to tree planters.
The exhibit has been more than 10 years in the making. The first doll was made 12 years ago and the entire collection took four years to put together. Before opening at the Thunder Bay Museum, Gifts of the North was toured throughout Southern Ontario.
“It has toured eight museums in Southern Ontario, teaching them what life is like here, what is really special about this place, what has always been here, and what will always be here,” MacDonald-Hannam said.
Photographs by Megan Hannam-Arpin, which feature the figures in the natural elements that they represent, accompany the exhibit, along with audio of forest sounds to allow the viewer to feel like the are walking through the boreal forest.
But what really makes the pieces come alive is that they are human representations of these natural elements.
“I’ve always enjoyed dolls,” MacDonald-Hannam said. “Dolls are really important to our psyche as we grow, whether it’s a teddy bear, a sock you stuffed and made a snake out of, or if it’s grandma’s doll.”
“This is so rich and sometimes I think, for me, it’s about reflecting back to the people of Thunder Bay about the beauty we all share and it’s about telling the people who are not from Thunder Bay of the beauty they could find.”
The exhibit was first offered to art galleries, however, MacDonald-Hannam said she did not want the pieces to be sold, but rather stay together and travel together to educate people across Canada about the beauty of Northern Ontario.
MacDonald-Hannam has gifted the exhibit to the Thunder Bay Museum, which will then loan it to other museums across Canada.
“I know they are safe and I know they are doing their job,” she said. “It is not to acquire skills and make things and sell them, I really had a mind for a show. It was ambitious, but I had support from the First Nation Community, the Métis community, the Ontario Arts Council, and from the art gallery.”
Gifts of the North will be on display until Mar. 3. MacDonald-Hannam said she hopes anyone who comes to see the exhibit will leave with a new appreciation for what the north has to offer.
“I hope they will look for these kinds of personalities in the woods,” she said. “I think we always have a sense that the forest is watching us as much as we are looking at the forest. And I hope they will take pride in the fact that this is being offered across Canada.”