On a warm October afternoon last year, a group of artists, amateur historians, learners and lovers of the land gathered on the site of Original Humboldt for a special event. Elder Gilbert Kewistep and his son Myrone Neapetung joined the group in a circle to educate everyone about beliefs, language, history and the Indigenous people’s connection to the land.  

Artists spent the afternoon gathering images and mental and spiritual fodder for their works which were shared with the public on Saturday, February 17 at the Humboldt and District Gallery. The presentation Inspired by the Land showcased their work in progress and shared updates on the intended outcomes.  

Bonnie Conly, a well-known Saskatoon metal artist, has turned her attention to ceramics. Bonnie has had several exhibits at the Humboldt Gallery, and she was one of the participants at the Original Humboldt site. The learning event prompted her to reflect on a parallel experience for those escaping to Canada from the war and strife in Ukraine. The resulting project was a ceramic wreath that bears elements of both Ukrainian and Indigenous cultures. 

“The circle is significant in both cultures in a spiritual way, a cultural way, and a teaching way,” explained Conly. “When I think about my Ukrainian culture, the circle is a pagan symbol representative of womanhood and the earth. We see and hear about that in Indigenous teaching, how important it is as the circle relates to the Medicine Wheel. They teach from that the seasonal and life cycles.” 

Conly reflected on the Ukrainian people who are refugees here and on Indigenous people, who have always been here, but have been systemically marginalized to the point where they are “like a refugee in their own land,” Conly expanded. Her design incorporates floral symbolism, seeds and roots to illustrate the growth cycles.  

Zyg Kondzielewski was at the October session, camera in hand to capture images that spurred creative ideas. He was inspired to dig out some bison skulls that were around 65 years old and juxtaposed them with various artifacts. One shot was the skull nestled on a split limestone rock that’s positioned near the Humboldt Golf Course entrance. He also introduced a reproduction of an archival photo illustrating Chief Whitecap and his family being detained at the Original Humboldt site in 1885.  

Becky Zimmer shared phots she captured in October 2024, one of which showed Gilbert Kewistep welcoming Canadian newcomer students to Canada, as is tradition in Gilbert’s culture.  

Michelle Lafayette is a teacher at the Humboldt Public School who translated her artistic vision of the experience through a quilt. The stitchwork portrays are vibrant array of colours inside a traditional circle, each shade bearing its own meaning.  

“In the bottom, we have our crops and our prairie fields along with the brown of our soil. On top of that, we have the pond that was out at Original Humboldt and the bright sky. The blue sky was very prevalent on the day we were out there, and I always think of us as “Land of the Living Skies,” so I had to include our Northern Lights, and our pink, purple and orange sunsets.” 

Glass artist Elaina Adams shared her vision of a project in the works that aims to reproduce photos in sepia tones on glass to be used as a template. Then using hand crafted designs, she plans to superimpose a clear glass overlay to define the current boundaries of rural municipalities, zones and other modern map structures. Gilbert Kewistep has been gathering original place names for many traditional locations in the area. Adams hopes to work with him to incorporate those traditional names and places, so important in Indigenous culture and lore.  

Finally, Cristine Andrew-Stuckel talked about her striking monochrome interpretation of the telegraph station and its surroundings. A rough textured palette of grey was created using gesso, a primer generally used only for stiffening canvas. In her hands, the product created striking tones, splashed with sparing but striking treatments of bright orange-red to draw the eye to key elements. The telegraph lines attached to the station were stitched into the canvas. Some were broken, while another was attached to a tin can, evoking the childhood tin can telephone and a haunting reminder of failed communication in the evolution of relationships. 

Since many of the works are in progress, the plan is to have the artists return to the Gallery in the fall for an update and exhibition.