An elder once told Bruno, “The gift of creativity was given to you by the creator. As an artist, you’re a storyteller, a history keeper. That’s your purpose.”
That theme is woven into everything Bruno Henry produces; clothing, jewelry, photographs, paintings, baskets, even music. The list is never ending; he explains that there’s a line through life that connects all things together, forming patterns out of chaos. Kahowahkeho, the Cayuga name his clan mother gave him which means ‘canoes lined on the shore’, speaks to those patterns in his life. Everything is connected, and everything has a purpose.
His connection to Earth’s elements has brought him to the Superior North area from Toronto. He and his beloved, Kerry, arrived in Marathon on Dec. 31, 2021, and are blissfully embracing the peacefulness and harmony of country living. Their home is just a few minutes’ walk from the lake, and find the cool, fresh air, broad skies, and the sounds of nature spiritually nourishing.
Art has always been a part of Bruno’s life, but the medium has changed over his lifetime. He started out painting on canvas and paper, but soon branched out into new horizons. He wandered out into the world of fashion, where he was drawn to traditional materials, using moose and deer hide to create custom fit clothing, which he embellished with cotton, wool and hand stitched embroidery of his own design. To accentuate the clothing, he began to design and fabricate jewelry, and another new path opened up for him to follow. Materials such as rawhide, antlers, pine needles, horsehair, and porcupine quills are used in the creation of the jewelry, enabling him to incorporate elements of nature into his work. To add beauty and colour, he paints intricate designs on the thin, tanned rawhide earrings, bringing him back to his original love of painting. A full circle.
During this voyage through the art world, he’s had the opportunity to showcase his work in Pow Wows, festivals, fashion shows, and art auctions all over Canada and the United States. He was featured at the 2020 International Indigenous Fashion Week in Paris, France. His designs have been worn by models in many prestigious pageants and festivals, including 2018 Mrs. Globe pageant contestant, Karen Gaudry, representing ‘Mrs. Native American’, the 2007 Top Native Model search at the CANAB Festival in Toronto, and the 2008 L’Oreal Fashion Week, just to mention a few.
Despite the glamour and prestige of these shows and accolades, Bruno is a very humble, very gentle being. He speaks calmly about his upbringing, and mentions many family members who have influenced his life in different ways. He quietly grieves the lost culture of his people, but without blame or anger. He is sadly bothered to see so much mass-produced, imitation art pieces being sold at roadside gift shops and Pow Wows, but he understands. The Indian act, which banned native ceremonies and traditions until the mid 1960s, removed the images from his people’s memories. Although he would rather them cherish the genuine creations of native artists, this may be the only way that some people can reclaim their lost culture, due to cost or circumstance. Their traditional art is being exposed to the light again.
The price factor is another dilemma. His work is time consuming and there are expenses he has to cover. A single piece can take 70, 80 or more hours to complete, but because of the availability of budget knock-offs, the value of his work, and that of all artists, is becoming watered down. Customers know that true art comes at a cost, but are unwilling or unable to pay a fair price, and so the artists suffer. But still they create.
Ultimately, art is priceless. As the elder expressed to Bruno long ago, the creators and story tellers keep our sacred images and traditions and the tales of our ancestors alive. We all have a purpose.
Bruno Henry is an Ontario Arts Council Indigenous Arts Support Grant recipient for 2022. He will be showing and selling his art at various community markets and Pow wows all throughout Northern Ontario this summer. You can connect with him on his website at: BrunoHenry.com or his Facebook page.