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Arviat man views father’s 80-year-old drawings

Some things are just worth the wait.

Almost 18 years have passed since Eric Anoee Jr. was passing time on a routine flight by flipping through a magazine when his eyes landed on the face of his father staring back at him through the pages of time.

Arviat's Eric Anoee Jr. views some of his father’s drawings with retired curator Katherine Pettipas at the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg, Man., earlier this month. photo courtesy Eric Anoee Jr.

The article informed him of a collection of early drawings done by his dad as a teenager in 1937 and 1938 that he didn't know existed.

After years of trying to contact the author and connect the dots to the collection, he was standing in the Manitoba Museum earlier this month holding a pencil drawing done by his dad.

Now in his mid-forties, Eric Jr. began to softly sob as he tried to put into words how he felt during that moment in the museum, as the drawings rekindled the closeness he and his father had shared for so many years.

He paused, takes a slow, deep breath, and tried to harness his emotions and put them into words.

“I had to imagine and wonder about the time period when he started exploring art as a young person,” he said. “I could sense from the drawings that he was free-spirited, had a lot of imagination that, being a kid, was all over the place, and that he was happy, carefree, well-cared for and well-adjusted for a young person of that era.”

The collection had been donated to the Manitoba Museum by Winifred Marsh, said Eric, husband of Reverend Donald Ben Marsh who opened an Anglican mission at Eskimo Point in 1926 and went on to become the second Bishop of the Arctic.

Katherine Pettipas, curator of Native Ethnology at the Manitoba Museum, arranged to have the collection displayed for Eric upon his arrival.

A photograph of Eric Anoee Sr., taken by Gabe Gely at the Arviat Cultural Centre in 1984 was among the 100 pages of his father's drawings that Eric Anoee Jr. of Arviat viewed at the Manitoba Museum earlier this month. photo courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, University of Manitoba

“There were so many different emotions going through my mind as I looked at them, that it was almost overwhelming,” he said.

Eric said looking at the drawings of his teenaged father, he was amazed at how early in life Eric Sr. displayed the amazing gift he possessed. He said Winifred (in addition to being a missionary) was also an artist who taught at the Anglican Church, and she encouraged everyone to try getting into art.

“When Katherine (Pettipas) talked about the drawings, she said they were created when my father was in an iglu around Arviat in the winter, so it's pretty neat to know that while he was at home in his iglu, he spent a lot of time learning how to make art,” he said. “I started picturing him being young and with his mother, and I wondered how things must have been for him during that time period.”

Many of the drawings depict a lot of the every-day life Eric's father observed, such as all the buildings in the small village of Arviat. There are also drawings of people he must have known like his friends, traders or missionaries, and it looked like his favourite subject was animals, especially caribou, which he learned to illustrate very well, said Eric.

The sketches that really reached out and grabbed him were the ones depicting themes of his father's life, said Eric, and together they told a story of how life was back then, including what Eskimo Point was like at the time.

“My father passed away in 1989 and this was my first sense of a real connection with him since he passed,” said Eric. “I found the gap between the early sketches and his later work very interesting because the father I knew, of course, was more or less a master artist who liked doing oil paintings and, by that time, he was very skilled at it.”

Eric hopes to take his older brother Obed to see the collection in the near future, as well as the rest of his family and the community of Arviat if he can.

“When I saw his drawings, I thought somehow my father wanted me and my family to do something with them, so I'm starting to think about how I might have many more people see them, and, through this experience, I've also come to appreciate museums a great deal more, and understand just how much curators research, learn about, and care so deeply for, the artifacts they're entrusted with.”

When he told Obed about their father's drawings, his older brother expressed a lot of admiration and was happy to learn more about his history, he said.

“Being the youngest of his children, my dad and I were really close, and my favourite memories of him are of being out on the land every spring,” said Eric. “As soon as school was over we would go camping and spend the whole summer out the land, and he would be in his element out there hunting with me and my family.”

“He was as skilled on the land as he was at his art, and he showed me a lot of things in life such as hunting and surviving here in our environment.”