Article: The Great Hare's Mission: Painter Rabbett Before Horses Strickland

Nomadic Mnidoos, 2016, oil on canvas

Nomadic Mnidoos, 2016, oil on canvas

WE ARE THE SEEDS

The Great Hare's mission: Painter Rabbett Before Horses Strickland

Online Article From Santa Fe New Mexican, Pasatiempo
Michael Abatemarco
Aug 11, 2017

My movement came from Botticelli, my color from Rubens, and my form from Michelangelo.
— Rabbett Before Horses Strickland

Nanabozho, an Anishinaabe culture hero, is a beloved figure among the Ojibwe. Also called the Great Hare, Nanabozho is regarded as a trickster figure, a shape shifter who can take the form of a rabbit. He is believed to have been sent by Gitchi Manitou, the Great Spirit, to teach humankind. But according to artist Rabbett Before Horses Strickland, Nanabozho is not an emissary from a distant realm — he came from our own world. “Both spirit (manitou) and human, Nanabozho embodies that which everyone must decide: Are you a part of the earth or did you come from someplace else?” Strickland writes on his website. The Great Hare is a constant presence in Strickland’s paintings, exemplifying a pervasive spirit that animates all things.

Strickland started incorporating the figure into his work after encountering Nanabozho in a dream. His paintings are narrative works that depict stories from Ojibwe mythology in a synthesis of European painting styles and First Nations lore. “I just try to depict the stories as well as I can,”  said Strickland, whose work can be seen at We Are the Seeds. While he draws from his Ojibwe heritage for his subject matter, compositionally his paintings relate more to the works of the artists of the Italian Renaissance and the Baroque, periods he has intently studied since first learning about them as a teenager. “My movement came from Botticelli, my color from Rubens, and my form from Michelangelo,” he said. These influences are visible in his work, although the imagery relates directly to Nanabozho and his appearance as the Great Hare, often depicted in Strickland’s paintings as a hybrid form — part rabbit, part man. “I started out doing Greek mythology,” he said. “The satyrs were of particular interest. My first stories of Nanabozho had him shape shifting into a rabbit (waabooz). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he came into my dreams as half a waabooz, like the satyr half-goat.”

Strickland’s compositions may recall the mythic scenes from Greek and Roman mythology depicted in Renaissance and Baroque art, but his work is less naturalistic than that of Rubens or Titian, whom he also credits as an influence. His own figures, such as muscled warriors and other characters, their long windswept hair blowing in a manner that evokes the graceful figures of Botticelli, are rich in Ojibwe symbolism. They tell traditional tales of heroism and adventure and stories of creation such as his Re-Creation Story, in which Nanabozho spreads mud over the waters to create Turtle Island (the world) and Nanabozho Lights the Sun. In a description of the painting, Strickland writes that the Great Hare “lights a new sun to grow a new medicine — the medicine being a Collective Consciousness, where all things come together to create Change.”

To Strickland, Nanabozho is not a trickster figure but an ambassador of Gitchi Manitou, and the Great Hare’s presence heralds the coming of greater consciousness. “The past and the future only exist in the present,” he said about the dedication to Ojibwe mythology in his work. “It is not only for the future generations, but also for the present and for my ancestors.” 
— Michael Abatemarco, Pasatiempo, Santa Fe New Mexican, August 11, 2107

Video: Native Report, Rabbett Before Horses Strickland (Resource for Teachers)

This video was prepared by Native Report, PBS stations WDSE and WRPT, as part of an educational offering about Rabbett's work, for use by teachers. Read the lesson plan. This video has the same information as the TV show video posted below.

Native Report is an entertaining, informative magazine style series that celebrates Native American culture and heritage, listens to tribal elders, and talks to some of the most powerful and influential leaders of Indian Country today. The series is attractive to both a general and tribal audience, promoting understanding between cultures, tribes and reservations...offering a venue for the stories of challenge and success coming from Minnesota’s tribal communities... and educating public television viewers about the culture and traditions of native citizens. Native Report is hosted by Stacey Thunder, an enrolled member of the Red Lake Nation, and co-hosted by Tadd Johnson who is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa.
— Twin Cities PBS

TV Show: Native Report, Season 10 Episode 4: Rabbett Before Horses Strickland

Rabbett appeared on Native Report, Season 10 Episode 4. In this episode he discusses his work, including Right to Consciousness. 

On this edition of Native Report featuring the dream like works of artist Rabbett Before Horses Strickland, which have been compared to those of Renaissance masters, we learn about his inspiration and his life.
— Native Report, Video Description
Native Report is an entertaining, informative magazine style series that celebrates Native American culture and heritage, listens to tribal elders, and talks to some of the most powerful and influential leaders of Indian Country today. The series is attractive to both a general and tribal audience, promoting understanding between cultures, tribes and reservations...offering a venue for the stories of challenge and success coming from Minnesota’s tribal communities... and educating public television viewers about the culture and traditions of native citizens. Native Report is hosted by Stacey Thunder, an enrolled member of the Red Lake Nation, and co-hosted by Tadd Johnson who is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa.
— Twin Cities PBS

Opening: Right to Consciousness at Trepanier Hall

The Right to Consciousness exhibition opened to a packed house! Click the arrows above to view pictures from the event. These pictures were posted on Facebook.

WHEN: Friday, June 27, 2014 @ 6:00 p.m.
WHERE: Gimaajii Mino Bimaadizimin-Trepanier Hall, American Indian Housing Organization (AICHO), 202 W. 2nd Street Duluth, the former YWCA

To see more pictures from the event go to the Facebook Event page.

Review: “Right to Consciousness” Art Exhibition and Artist Reception

Right to Consciousness

Right to Consciousness

Last night I stopped in at Trepanier Hall to get a sneak preview of tonight’s “Right To Consciousness” exhibit featuring the paintings and drawings of Rabbett Before Horses Strickland of the Red Cliff Reservation...

His art depicts past and present injustices through dreams of spirits and humans centering around Nanabozho, the hero in Ojibwe stories and descendant of West Wind and a human woman...

It’s the scale of the work that is impressive. Though equally impressive is the beautiful manner in which he creates his stories on canvas, sometimes with simplicity and often with epic complexity. Hopefully, I will see you there.
— Ed Newman, Ennyman's Territory

Read the review in Ennyman's Territory: ARTS, CULTURE AND OTHER LIFE OBSERVATIONS

WHEN: Friday, June 27, 2014 @ 6:00 p.m.
WHERE: Gimaajii Mino Bimaadizimin-Trepanier Hall, American Indian Housing Organization (AICHO), 202 W. 2nd Street Duluth, the former YWCA

Review: Welcome to This World: mnartists.org

Welcome to This World: Rabbett Before Horses Strickland’'s Paintings and Drawings


Reviewer Hannah Dentinger took in the new Rabbett Before Horses Strickland exhibition at the Tweed Museum of Art in Duluth, and she came away floored by both the vision and the virtuosic execution evident in the work she found there.

This show is spectacular in every sense. The large canvases in it are all fairly new, created over the past ten years by an artist who began painting as a young man but who is now enjoying his first museum show, hosted by the Tweed Museum of Art.

Rabbett Before Horses Strickland is a figurative painter in the Western European tradition that harks back to Renaissance artists like Michelangelo and Botticelli, whose influence he is quick to acknowledge. Indeed, Strickland’s muscular, sculptural figures, captured in a variety of dynamic poses, their limbs faintly outlined in black and modeled in lifelike color, recall the figures that people Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Again, in Creation of the First Butterflies (Gaa-oshi’aad Nitam Memegwanay) Strickland deliberately evokes Botticelli’s Primavera, quoting the fluid, slow-motion dance of the three Graces. Some paintings bring to mind early Renaissance frescoes in that Strickland often favors a frieze-like arrangement of figures against a background that is featureless and flattened, as in the exquisite Nanabozho Gaagiigido Wiijayaaw Ajiaak Wag (Nanabozho Talking to Cranes), or one that is bounded by far-off outcroppings of jagged peaks like those of Leonardo’s invention (see, for example, Eclipse or Story Telling).

What is most striking about these paintings, though, is their coherence. Not only does each painting convey a sense of unity through color and composition, but the entire collection is also unified in subject matter, tone, and style: the work is unmistakably that of Strickland and no-one else.
— Hannah Dentinger, mnartists.org

Red Cliff Artist Donates Work to Keep Doula Project Going

 
Birth of Nanabozho

Birth of Nanabozho

 
Most newborns emerge with big medical bills, but a group of area women has been giving moms-to-be priceless emotional support.

”We serve the community, and the community serves us,” said Erin Tenney of Bayfield, a volunteer doula with the Bami-Ondaadiziike Birth Doula Program. “It’s really a circle of giving.”

Since its start at the Red Cliff Health Center in 2005, the program has established a network of nearly a dozen trained doulas to help Chequamegon Bay-area women and their partners. Playing a role that’s existed since antiquity, doulas don’t replace a woman’s doctor or midwife. Rather, they provide services these others can’t always give — like help writing a birth plan or a giving a soothing massage during labor — which empower women to feel more in control of the situation.

And now, to help sustain the project’s grassroots efforts, the Ojibwe artist Rabbett Before Horses Strickland has given the program permission to use the image from “Birth of Nanabozho.” It’s a large oil painting that depicts the birth of Nanabozho, a central figure in Anishinabe cosmology, whose laboring mother Winoah is being supported by her husband, the spirit Epingishmook.
— Ashland Daily Press: A Circle of Giving, November 26, 2007

Tweed Museum Exhibition Catalog: From Dreams May We Learn

The exquisite exhibition catalog From Dreams May We Learn, designed by Topher McCullogh for the Tweed Museum exhibition in 2007 is a good source of information about Rabbett and his work. The 52-page illustrated book has an introduction and interview by Tweed Museum of Art Director Ken Bloom. The book's main essay is written by David Treuer, an Ojibwe author from the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota. To add meaning to the paintings the book also contains some Ojibwe stories told by Jean Buffalo, former Tribal Chairperson and Tribal Judge for the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Click the arrows in the slideshow below to see excerpts from the book.

Reproduced with the permission of Ken Bloom, Art Director of the Tweed Museum.
To purchase the book, click here.

Artist Profile: Dreaming Big, San Francisco Chronicle

Rabbett Strickland with "Dreamer's Rock," which depicts a dream of Nanabozho, a rabbit-eared trickster of Ojibwe legend who appears in all of Strickland's paintings. Chronicle photo by Katy Raddatz

Have you ever walked through a door and dropped into another world?

I did, at artist Rabbett Strickland’s tiny apartment in Bernal Heights. Strickland, 53, from the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, is a painter. But that hardly begins to explain him or his art.

Just ask his landlord, Art Siegel, who had stopped by to make repairs and found an “epic mythological scene” covering his tenant’s living room wall. “It was quite a shock to be transported from Bernal Heights to far in the Ojibwe past.”

Strickland’s works are portals into an allegorical feast for the senses — woodland scenes inhabited by ancient Manitou (Ojibwe spirits) with flowing Botticelli hair and powerful, sculpted bodies, almost as I would imagine angels to be like. Wind sweeps through every scene he paints, ruffling cloaks, sarongs and braided hair, even lifting some figures up as if they are floating.

Yet there is powerful tranquility about it all. In the large panels Strickland favors, his figures — bathed in a strangely luminescent light — seem engaged in opera.

”There’s a tremendously powerful surrealism in his paintings,” said Stephanie Russell, executive director of the nonprofit Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland, where two of the artist’s paintings were exhibited this month. “They’re utterly visionary.”

Strickland’s work blends exquisite drawing skills and strong narrative with obvious Renaissance influences. Not that he was formally trained. Raised in Wisconsin and San Francisco, Strickland dropped out of George Washington High School in the 11th grade. But that didn’t stop him from hungrily absorbing every book he could find about Rubens, Titian, Michelangelo and other masters.

Strickland has been painting for 38 years but didn’t start selling his work until four years ago. A housepainter by trade, he often gave his art away to the sick to help them heal, something his mother, Beatrice, and his whole family of accomplished painters did. It took years for him to come around to the idea of making a living by selling his work.

But he’s made the shift. He’s exhibited in Santa Fe, N.M., and London. Recently the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center in Connecticut, the largest American Indian museum in the world, bought his “Spilling of the Minidoo,” a 6-by-10-foot oil on canvas, for its permanent collection. And he’s becoming known in the Indian world. Another painting, “Birth of a New Turtle,” graced the cover of the quarterly American Indian Review. He now has a Web site, www.arenacentral.com/rabbett.

On the cusp of fame, Strickland is gratified, though he’s still of the mind that money is just “a medium of exchange. If I sell just one, I could pay the rent.”

When I went to his apartment, he was finishing another panel. Answering my knock, Strickland — 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds, with a head of flowing dark hair and a shy smile — filled up the doorway. Once inside, you see only the canvas.

This one was called “Dreamer’s Rock,” representing the dream of Nanabozho, a rabbit-eared trickster of Ojibwe legend — half hare, half man — who appears in all of Strickland’s pieces. Like 22 others he’s done, this painting is based on dreams he began having when his mother died 18 years ago.

”I dream, not every night,” he says. “But when I do, I get up and write them down right away. They recur until I draw them out or get it right.”

It’s a small room we’re in, just 12 by 9 feet, and the painting — a gathering of Manitou on an island shore graced by talismanic turtles, crows and butterflies — has a looming presence.

”I’d show you more, but this is the only wall I got,” he says.

There’s a small kitchen, where he stores his bedding, and a nub of a bathroom, which he gets to by negotiating a hallway so narrow he has to turn sideways so his broad shoulders don’t knock off the curtain rods. Strickland jokes that he has to open the front door and go outside to get a better perspective of his paintings.

It’s a solitary life, good for an artist. Strickland and his wife are separated, and his four kids are grown. So he paints and composes music on his keyboard and guitar. He dabbles in mathematics, too — pondering his favorite problem, Goldbach’s Conjecture, an unproven 260-year-old mathematical hypothesis suggesting that every even number greater than 2 is the sum of two primes.

”I’ve been working on it for years,” he said. “But I can do it all in my head. Everything I work on is right in my head.”

That, said Russell of Pro Arts, fits with the internal power of his work.

”It’s a powerful, meditative take on the world.”
— Annie Nakao, Chronicle Columnist

Artist Profile: Tea Party Magazine

Click the right arrows in the slideshow above to read the article.

 

Rabbett was the featured Artist Profile in the 2003 Issue 13 of Tea Party Magazine, Oakland, CA. Denise Mewbourne wrote the article. 

Like the practice of drinking tea, Tea Party has roots in many cultures. We publish art and word that reflects the wealth of cultural voices in our world today. As do all the best tea-inspired gatherings, we celebrate creativity, mutual understanding and freedom. May you find inspiration within these pages to create greater beauty and justice in the world.
— Tea Party Magazine

Artist Profile: American Indian Review

Birth of a New Turtle

Birth of a New Turtle

The article, "Native American Renaissance Man", appeared in American Indian Review, No. 28, Spring, 2001. The painting Birth of a New Turtle graced the cover of this magazine issue.

Rabbett is an Anishinabe member of the Red Cliff Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of northern Wisconsin. Rabbett grew up in the San Francisco Bay area with art as his constant lifestyle. His mother, aunts, and uncles were all talented artists. They never considered art in a commercial context; rather they shared it with others as a source of healing. It would be many years before Rabbett would change this altruistic approach and seek to make a living from his art.

Rabbett realized he could draw at an early age and attempted his first oil painting at the age of fifteen. At the time college was not an option for him but he sought his inspiration from the great masters. He immersed himself in every book he could find on Botticelli, Rubens and Michelangelo among others of the great masters. Later impressionism and surrealism also fascinated him, but it was his love of the Renaissance Masters that helped him develop his talent. Although formal training was not his prerequisite, Rabbett’s talent grew by endless studying of the work of those painters that he so admired.

Rabbett’s paintings each have an individual story of Nanabozho that take the viewer to new and unexpected realms of personal relevance and universal meaningful content. “My dreams are filling in the gaps of the stories of Nanabozho. That’s why some people would call it “living mythology.”

Rabbett paints Anishinabe inspired allegories filled with complex energy beyond their substantial aesthetic and visual enticements. Underlying all the beautiful balance of forms, color relationships, and sheer virtuosity of technique, the intuitively perceptible power of the mythos, cultural history, legends and conceptual brilliance of an entire people asserts itself in the person and artistic genius of this extraordinary man. Rabbett both learns and teaches from his dreams. In transmuting them into living myths, he adds immeasurably to the cultural richness that the totality of the American experience encompasses. The intensities of beauty, purpose, meaning, and effect that characterize his heroic canvasses are the issue of an exceptionally active and intense mind and spirit. “I see the birth of my own creations.”

Rabbett is also a musician and mathematician, his goal is to become the first accomplished native mathematician known.
— from the article by Roz Dunford, "Native American Renaissance Man", American Indian Review