Project Thunderbird

A symbol of power. This piece is a record of Karalyn’s material investigation into how the original object was made. To better understand its materials, dyes, beading and weaving techniques she remade the panel in real time using contemporary materials – coloured plastic-coated electrical wires woven into a copper circuit board.

The circuit board and wire are made of copper. They are transmitters of electrical energy, which signal the handing down of Thunderbird narratives through generations. The circuit board references communication, transmission, and the propagation of thunderbird energy. The image and colour of both the original panel and the contemporary model provide a pixelated surface texture that suggests movement, mapping, and a tradition of visual story telling.

About Karalyn Reuben

Karalyn Reuben is an urban mixed Oji-Cree German-British artist from London Ontario. Through her interdisciplinary work, she explores different possibilities of questioning life and different ways of being human. She is drawn to the responsibility to share her thoughts and feelings with hope to connect with others through her efforts of learning more about her Indigenous identity. It is a mutual and grounding understanding she seeks.

Reuben is recovering her Oji-Cree identity through learning the processes and knowledge embedded in spirit of Indigenous art, material culture and history. To further her knowledge base, she welcomes the concepts of Anishinaabe traditional knowledge passed on to her from her father.

In 2013, she received an Interdisciplinary BFA with a specialization in printmaking from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University in Halifax Nova Scotia. She is currently completing her second BFA in Indigenous Visual Culture at OCAD University in Toronto Ontario.

About the Original Artifact

Beaded Thunderbird Panel

Quillwork panel // Belonged to Ek-wah-satch and grandfather, Anishinaabeg // Baptiste Lake and Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada // Hide, porcupine quills, plant fibre // early 19th century // 12.6 × 13.4 × 0.1 cm

This panel from the late 1700s or early 1800s was probably part of an ornament that hung from a person’s back. It was collected in 1890 from Ek-wah-satch, an Anishinaabe of Baptiste Lake. It had belonged to his grandfather from Georgian Bay. Such panels are made from dozens of fine hide strips, bound together with dyed porcupine quills. Depicted is a sacred thunderbird with zigzags that perhaps represent lightning produced by the blinking of its eyes.

About the Process

Emanating with Power, is my Uncover//Recover project, it encapsulates the teachings I’ve learned through my studies in the Indigenous Visual Culture program, of symbolic representations of The Thunderbird in objects; such as bags and pouches, created by Great Lake artists during the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century.

Our first visit to the ROM is when I chose the object I wanted to creativity respond to. I came across a panel, made with wrapped porcupine quill beads, woven with strands made from vegetable and plant fibre. It was designed in a simplified geometric pattern with the motif of the Thunderbird, surrounded by zig-zags representing lightning. The Thunderbird is a great and powerful Manitou; a great spirit, and is embodied in Anishinaabeg culture and belief systems. When we started this project, what first came to my mind was thinking how the objects would have looked like, if the traditions weren’t interrupted and were instead continued up to today. My first instinct was to re-create the object in

drawings and watercolour studies. We then had a workshop with Anishinaabe (Odawa) artist Barry Ace, who instructed us to re-create our objects with contemporary materials from his own creative practice.

From this starting point I worked with our project leader, Bonnie Devine, to source out materials which were chosen to communicate concepts of electric conductivity and the concept of animate objects emanating with power, both spiritually and physically. The materials we chose were a computer copper prototype board and thin coated wire. I manipulated the wire, creating my own beads and then inserted and attached these beads into the board. Using the original objects’s design, I replicated it in my re-creation piece. For this project, I wanted to give respect to this object and its unknown maker, to put in the work to show my love and respect to the kind of dedication that is needed to acquire the patience and endurance in creating such an intricate object. I also wished to appease the great Thunderbird, and give thanks and respect to the Great Manitou.