Jackson Beardy, "Balance in Nature", 1981, screenprint. 46 x 56 cm. MacKenzie Art Gallery, University of Regina Collection.

About the Artwork

In Balance in Nature we see the work of a more mature Beardy and, as the title suggests, it communicates ideas related to ecology. In this stylized work, two figures are joined in one body, ‘man’ on one side and ‘nature ‘, represented by the bear, on the other. There is a suggestion of motion created by the curving upswept line and the two characters appear to be wrestling. They are balanced asymmetrically and outlined with a brown-coloured paint. ‘Man’ is reaching out and looking toward ‘nature’ while ‘nature’ turns away and maintains a powerful untamed expression. 

The struggle suggested in this work represents ideas of mans survival within the environment. Thinking about tsunamis, cyclones and unforgiving prairie blizzards, we can see that while we think we may be superior, nature is a powerful force that needs to be respected. Beardy, storyteller/artist that he is, visually counsels us to revere our environment and protect it if we hope to support future generations. We cannot turn our back on nature and our environment or there will be serious consequences. 

About the Artist

Jackson Beardy was born on the Garden Hill First Nation in northeastern Manitoba in 1944. He died unexpectedly at the age of forty after suffering complications following a heart attack. In his short life he was an artist and storyteller as well as a teacher, consultant and strong  advocate for Indigenous people and artists. 

Beardy was the fifth of thirteen children in his family. At a young age he went to live with his paternal grandmother and learned many of the traditional First Nations stories that would provide inspiration in his adult life. 

At age seven, Beardy was required to attend a residential school where he was immersed in the English language and the traditions of the instructors. While there he developed his artistic skills but was forced to leave his Indigenous culture and his language, his very identity, behind. This loss of identity contributed to alcoholism later in his adult life. 

After graduating he attended the Technical Vocational School in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1963 to 1964, where he studied  commercial art. He worked for a short period at a Winnipeg department store, but health problems forced him to return home. During that time, he started to paint images representing the oral traditions of his culture. The images were not always accepted within his community, and controversy arose over his visual recording of the ‘traditional spoken word’ of his culture. 

In 1965 he had his first exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. He also enrolled in classes at the University of Manitoba. His artistic career really took off when he was commissioned to do work for the 1967 Canadian Centennial, and again, for the Manitoba Centennial in 1970. This work was featured at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, but he was denied entry by security guards when he and his family tried to attend the celebration. This incident strengthened his resolve to become a strong advocate for native artists and his people. 

Beardy was a founding member of a group established in 1972 called the Professional National Indian Artists Inc. They were a strong-willed group whose groundbreaking work influenced Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Writer Cheryl Petten writes: “Beardy, along with fellow group members, [Daphne] Odjig[Alex] JanvierNorval MorrisseauCarl Ray, Joseph Sanchez and Eddy Cobiness worked to promote Native control of Native art, and to change the way the world looked at Native art, shifting the emphasis from the ‘Nativeness’ of the art to its own artistic merits.” 

Because of their similar styles of working, this group became known as the Woodland School of Art, which is different from the Inuit and the West Coast traditions of art making. The Woodland group’s work was often based on traditional native stories and was characterized by strong black outlines, solid areas of rich colour and the use of x-ray vision to depict the inside of the person or animal. Since then, many new Indigenous artists have gained prominence and have explored a variety of styles and media, but it was this group who initially paved the way for the acceptance of the Indigenous voice and images in galleries and museums. 

Things to Think About

  • Have you ever experienced the power of nature and felt threatened by its force?  
  • What can be done to ensure that the environment is preserved for future generations? How can you contribute to the health of our planet? If you are not already doing something, why not start in some small way? We all can make a difference!  Name three things you might do.  Choose to begin one.  Make a contract with yourself.  
  • Learn about policies and rules established by the Canadian government to control Indigenous people in the early decades of the twentieth century.  Find out how things have changed.  What has happened to make things different/better? What could be done to make it better? 
  • View this resource to learn about Canada’s history with Treaties and treatment of Indigenous communities. 

Post your artwork online using the hashtag #studiosundaysyqr!

Studio Activity


After Jackson Beardy died in 1985, a teacher named Jerry Johnson took on a class project to paint a Beardy mural. He involved his Graphic Arts Class at R.B. Russel Vocational School in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and they painted a mural titled, Peace and Harmony on the Indigenous Family Center on Selkirk Avenue. The mural was one of the last projects Beardy designed, although he never had a chance to paint it. 

What you Need:

  • White or colored paper 
  • Markers, pencil crayons, pens, pencils etc. 
  • Tape 
  • Chalk 
  • Outside surface (sidewalk, stones, etc. 

What you Do:

  • View examples of murals in your own community. Talk about the impact and meaning they convey. 
  • With family or friends discuss about your family’s background. Has your family always lived in Canada? Where did they move from? Use these answers to create ideas and imagery for your mural. 
  • Take several pieceof plain white paper and tape them together it in any form you wish. 
  • Working either alone or with your family and friends, design a mural.  
  • Find a place outside like a sidewalk, piece of bark, stones, etc that you can make a mural on. Use chalk to make the design.