Two Dollars Please: 2004, photograph and oil paint on canvas 24” x 36” (Cultural Memories and Imagined Futures: The Art of Jane Ash Poitras, a book by Pamela McCallum featuring 25 colour illustrations of Poitras’ work, was published by the University of Calgary Press in August.)
Jane Ash Poitras, ’77 BSc, ’83 BFA, has a list of solo exhibitions that stretch back over a quarter century and have taken her around the world. Her work can be found in numerous public collections—such as the National Gallery of Canada, the City of Edmonton, the University of Alberta Hospital and the Royal Ontario Museum—and five universities including the U of A and Yale.
A Cree Indian, Poitras was born in the northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan. She was orphaned at the age of six and, growing up in Edmonton, spent many hours drawing, colouring, cutting and pasting. However, despite her artistic leanings, she was persuaded by the woman who raised her to pursue a more pragmatic science degree. Later, while working as a microbiologist, she was encouraged by friends to present a portfolio of her artwork to the U of A’s Department of Art and Design. She was accepted into the program and, after graduation, went on to get a master’s degree in printmaking from Columbia University in New York City.
Her work began to gain recognition even before her Columbia graduation. One of the prints she created for her master’s thesis was purchased by the Brooklyn Museum and featured in its “Tiffany Collection” that toured across Canada. Poitras’ work features elements of collage and painting, often referencing native history in an ongoing examination of the issues surrounding acculturation. She describes her style as “deconstructive, spiritual, political, non-political. It’s a little bit of everything, like chicken soup.”
A longtime sessional lecturer for the U of A’s Faculty of Native Studies, Poitras has garnered numerous awards acknowledging her achievements including a 2006 Alumni Award of Excellence and, most recently, the 2011 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award.