Vision Circle: The art of Roy Thomas

Canadian Ahnisnabae artist Roy Thomas (1949 – 2004) was one of the leading representatives of the ‘Woodland School of Art’. Working in a pictographic style, Thomas painted images deeply rooted in his heritage and the Ahnisnabae culture.

Vision Circle, a retrospective exhibition of Roy Thomas’s art and career is on view at the McMaster Museum of Art now through February 23.

“We are very pleased to be able to host this exhibition as it presents a comprehensive look at the oeuvre of one of the senior artists of the Woodland School,” says Museum Director Carol Podedworny. “We are also particularly pleased to have the exhibition at the Museum as it is curated by Dr. Elizabeth McLuhan who, along with Tom Hill, curated the ground-breaking and infamous exhibition Norval Morrisseau & the Emergence of the Image Makers at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1984. That exhibition included Roy’s work, and was a turning point in the history of First Nations art history and First Nations relations with museums globally. The exhibition and panel are a real coup for us.”

McMaster Museum of Art is the only Ontario venue other than the organizing institution, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, to host this exhibition. Vision Circle: The Art of Roy Thomas constitutes the first critical examination of Roy Thomas’ artistic career from 1965 to 2002.

The exhibition includes more than 40 paintings drawn from private collections and the Thunder Bay Art Gallery as well as two works from McMaster’s Paul R. MacPherson Collection of Woodland Art. The title encapsulates two recurrent themes in Roy’s work: the visions that shape the fabric of the Ahnisnabae worldview, and the circle, a symbol of inclusion which invites viewers to consider the interconnected richness of Ahnisnabae thought.

As a further complement to the exhibition, the Museum will be hosting a panel discussion on February 7, titled: Ahnisnabae Art of the Woodland School: The search for a new critical context for First Nations (Aboriginal) Art History. Expert panelists include Ahmoo Angeconeb (artist), Tom Hill (curator, writer, art historian, artist), Elizabeth McLuhan (curator) and Ruth Phillips (art historian) and opening remarks by the artist’s wife, Louise Thomas.

Roy Thomas said, “When I use my paintbrush I understand that I am not the only one doing the painting even though my name goes on the finished work.”

This quote struck a chord with Joseph Boyden, award-winning novelist and guest writer for the exhibition catalogue (which is translated into French and Ojibway). “Roy captures the spirit of the Ahnisnabae. And he captures the spirit of his art. We are all inter-related. We are all connected. We are all one family together in the same boat.”