Painting at the Royal Alberta Museum

Teachings of the Sweat Lodge
24″ x 36″
Mixed Media
on Canvas
2010

A few days ago I was at the Royal Alberta Museum. I was asked to paint in their Aboriginal Exhibit, to gather inspiration there and put it onto canvas. I found the exhibit to be amazingly well done, but what was missing, what would be difficult to reproduce as a static display, was the living energy of the spirit of the people. The ceremony, the gravitas, the joy of the deep Spiritual Life imbedded in the culture. This painting was my response.

This is a painting of a very powerful ceremony, and because of that might invite some controversy. It is my intent to have this painting be used primarily as a teaching tool for youth. If we don’t share, we lose.

Going to Sweat a couple weeks ago saw my wife and I driving past a lake surrounded by autumn colours, a chill in the air. She noticed it first: a bald eagle sitting on an old dead tree at the side of the road. We stopped and moments later my sister in law and her husband came back on the road, having turned around and deciding to stop and look as well.

The eagle stayed and allowed us to snap some photos, to gaze at it in wonder.

Then it gave three cries and flew away.

We continued our trek.

There is more wonder I could share about those days but instead I will talk a little about the sweat lodge in general terms.

It is constructed of a wood frame and hide is spread over top, creating a pitch black interior. In the middle of the circular lodge a hole is dug into which are placed red hot stones collected from the land and placed in a roaring fire until they are ready to be brought into the lodge. There is one entrance.

When the door is shut, water is poured over the rocks creating a cleansing, steamy heat, and you sweat out your impurities, cleansing your body. You also let go of any thoughts that are keeping you down, any sickness that is robbing you of strength. You pray for family and friends, you focus on what you are grateful for. In this way, your spirit is cleansed.

Of the ceremony I will say only this: there are four sessions in which there is song and prayer, presided over by the elders.

Afterward there is a small, shared feast of tea, salmon and blueberries or saskatoon berries.

My sister in law made the best berries that weekend.

We drove home relaxed and happy, a sense of well-being in our hearts and bodies.

I slept well!

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3 Replies to “Painting at the Royal Alberta Museum”

  1. Aaron I stumbled onto your blogsite a couple of days after doing my first sweat. My heart was drawn in by your work. I am very interested in how you are thinking about using this as a teaching tool for youth. I would love to see the original, is it at the Museum in Edmonton and how long will it be there. Please continue with your inspired work.

  2. Thank you, Jen!

    Al, thanks for your comment and question. In it's most direct application, I would use this painting to illustrate to youth the spiritual nature of the sweat lodge, talk about the symbols and meanings, what they can expect to experience, and just the physical layout, how it's prepared, etc.

    I would probably also challenge them to portray some ceremony, event, experience that they themselves have participated in. After that I would have them share their work with each other, engaging in dialogue to see if the viewer can interpret the drawings, etc so that the young people become their own teachers.

    That's just off the top of my head, I am sure there are multiple possibilities for teaching here.

Share your awesome thoughts!