Transformations in Material Culture: John Blueboy and the Tamarack Goose
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In 1965, tamarack goose sculptures were introduced in the southern James Bay Cree community of Moose Factory, Ontario. Taking inspiration from decoys used for hunting, John Blueboy, a Cree artist from Rupert’s House, Québec, constructed the sculptures by arranging and tying the twigs of the tamarack tree into the form of a goose, creating an artform that garnered attention from collectors of Indigenous craft and modern art. For his role in reimagining hunting decoys to create a new artform, John Blueboy was named “Inventor of the Decorative Decoy” by the Grand Council of the Crees. Within three decades of their debut in Moose Factory, tamarack geese were included in provincial, national, and international exhibitions including the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montréal, Québec, Canadian Indian Art 74 held at the Royal Ontario Museum in 1974, and craft exhibitions such as the influential travelling shows, Artisan’78 (1978), From Our Hands (1983), and the international show Old Fields/New Paths (1983/84), which toured Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Through these exhibitions and their mass collection in Canada and abroad, tamarack geese were folded into national art narratives and influenced the development of contemporary Canadian art and craft. This thesis traces the history of the tamarack goose artform between 1965 to 1990, when they were most broadly circulated, to explore the participation of regional Indigenous artists in shaping modern art and craft in Canada in the late twentieth century. Through an examination of their collection and exhibition locally, nationally and internationally, this thesis discusses the reinvention of the craft form and its effect on the economy of Moose Factory, traces the movement of tamarack geese through exhibitions and collections, and highlights the legacy of John Blueboy’s tamarack geese in the communities of Moosonee and Moose Factory.