Carl Ray: a powerful talent lost too soon


Carl Ray was born on the  Sandy Lake Cree Reservation in Northern Ontario – this is a fly-in  reserve to the north of Sioux Lookout that has been in the news lately because of a summer of bushfires and subsequent evacuations of most of the population.

At the time that Carl was growing up the educational policy was to gather children together to live in large residential schools where it was an agreed policy to educate the children in the English language only and with strictly non-traditional future goals in mind. Carl left school upon his father’s death to help earn a living  at home where the main living for a man was still hunting and trapping – skills Carl had never acquired. Needless to say, hunting was not a success.

He was interested in drawing and began to draw and paint as a self taught artist – retelling the sacred stories of his people until discouraged by elders from doing so depite his shamanistic family background – at that time the tradition was passed down by oral means only, but the language and interest was being lost due to residential schooling.

Feeling pressured he left the community for a Gold Mine in Red Lake where he developed tuberculosis and spent a year undergoing treatment in Thunder Bay before returning to Sandy.

On returning to Sandy Lake this time he was encouraged and inspired by Norval Morrisseau, another Anishinaabe artist from Sandy Lake who was meeting with success in artistic circles in the south and who had also prevailed upon the elders to look more postively on  visual representations of their traditions. Carl began to develop his vision with this postive support and in 1967 he and Morrisseau travelled to Montreal to bring to life Norval Norrisseau’s sketches for the mural at the First ations pavilion at Expo ’67. Morrisseau later left Carl to complete the mural by himself.

It is indicative of the state of flux of Native Art in Canada that the pavilion was allowed to deteriorate, the mural was not salvaged, and was subsequently lost. It is an interesting conjecture whether the same thing would happen now almost 50 years later.

The above site relates the formation of the First Nations Group of Seven – Daphne Odjig, Alex Janvier, Jackson Beardy joined by Carl Ray, Norval Morrisseau, Eddy Cobiness and Joe Sanchez in 1973/74.

James Stevens enlisted Carl Ray’s assistance in developing a book called “Sacred Legends of the Sandy Lake Cree” which was published in 1971 by McClelland and Stewart (ISBN 0-7710-8355-6).Long out of print, the book is still available at a reasonable price through used book sellers, and I found a good ex-Public Library copy for under $10 plus postage. Carl Ray illustrated the volume with powerful line drawings and also had a hand in producing translations into English from the stories the elders related.

Having long been exposed in Nova Scotia to the Mi’qmak legends as told by Silas Rand in the 1800’s at the time he was acting as a missionary to the Mi’kmak Nation and developing a system of syllabics, the myths are somewhat similar, but perhaps of more scope as due to the time at which he was working (early to mid-victorian) and the fact that he was a minister, Rand’s M’iqmak stories lacked the spice that this more recent telling of Anishinaabe legends contains!

"Shaking Tent 24x30 paint on paper Carl Ray

Today while hunting for more information, I came upon a fascinating looking blog and plan to explore it completely as soon as I have an hour or two to spare. I’ll leave you two particular posts to read as they touch on Carl Ray:


When I mentioned to Mich that my post this week would be about Carl Ray, he reminded me that Westbridge Fine Art Auctions –

Medicine Fox - carl ray


will be selling this painting at auction on September 25, 2011 – this is a great opportunity to purchase a very strong Carl Ray original.

For this week, then – you have lots of interesting sites to explore, maybe a great book to search for and an auction to view – enjoy your evening!

Janet and Mich


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s