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National Aboriginal Day

Sculptor finds inspiration and a new life
through his art and native culture
Artist featured at event in Vancouver June 21-25, 2006
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An Aboriginal artist, creating unique sculptures out of diverse materials which reflect both native traditions and modern societal issues, is the last thing Darren Gowan imagined he would ever become. But a rare and true talent is what found Gowan when, as a young man, he launched a journey into his past and discovered his calling.

Gowan was born a Plains Cree and Saulteaux Indian in Winnipeg. Unable to properly care for him, his mother gave him up for adoption as an infant. Gowan was welcomed into the home of an upper-middle-class family in a quiet Ottawa suburb, leaving his heritage far behind and somewhat forgotten.

Gowan had no exposure to the native culture he had been borne into. The National Geographic book on the Indians of North America, a gift he received for his tenth birthday, though certainly well intentioned, didn't quite cut it . As a teenager, Gowan quickly became restless. There was trouble in school. There were difficulties with the law.

"I don't think I was such a bad kid, but at such a critical and defining age, I felt like I didn't belong, " admits Gowan. "Like so many adopted kids, I don't think I was fully equipped to deal with all these feelings, so I often acted out. What I really needed was to know where I came from and who I was."

By the age of 15, Gowan was on his own and a search for his past began. Gowan found himself becoming increasingly empowered and inspired as he learned about the history of his people, embraced the traditions of his culture, and got involved in the aboriginal community. He met Harvey Ironeagle and the late James Ironeagle, and told them his story.

"We know some of your people," they said, and invited Gowan to join them in their travels west. They made their way across the country, stopping at reserves along the way, and ended up at a reserve just outside Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan. Gowan later moved to the mountains of Grande Cache, Alberta.

Gowan's artistic talents were discovered somewhat by surprise. One day on a supply trip, Gowan, who had begun noticing the raw beauty in the natural materials surrounding him, purchased a used dremmel at a pawn shop, and he simply began to carve. Gowan started with smaller pieces, using antler and bone. He soon moved on to larger and more complex pieces as he further refined his craft , as his passion for his work grew, and as people began to pay him for his sculptures.

Today, at 34, Gowan lives and works in Saskatoon. Although he has had no formal artistic instruction, he has had the benefit of being guided and mentored by other native artists of note, such as Dwight Pinay, Lloyd Pinay and Wayne Nattaway.

He works with a diversity of materials, including soapstone, alabaster, limestone, marble, wonderstone and antler. His sculptures also tell a broad range of stories -- from native folklore and traditions to themes relating to the modern family, community and society.

According to Gowan, he must balance his ideas with what the material will allow. " The relationship between humanity, the elements, and the entirety of creation are a large part of my inspiration," he says.

Gowan finds it rewarding to carry on the Northern Plains tradition of carving stone, an art form established by his ancestors thousands of years ago. Figurative stone sculpture has been practiced in that region for at least 1,500 years. And some decorated bone objects found in archaeological sites are even up to 5,000 years old.

In addition to sculpting and showing his works at various exhibits and galleries throughout North America, Gowan has also been a multiple recipient of the Saskatchewan Arts Board's Artist in Residence grant program, through which he has been able to inspire would-be artists, and give them the skills and knowledge they need to discover their own abilities. His works can be found across Canada, in private and public collections, and they have often been presented to ambassadors and other dignitaries from around the world.

Gowan's carvings and sculptures will be featured at the 9th Annual National Aboriginal Day Arts & Culture Celebration from June 21 to 25, 2006. The event is a free outdoor celebration that will include arts and crafts and artist demonstrations; traditional and contemporary music and dance; teepee displays; as well as traditional food. It takes place at the Vancouver Art Gallery, located at 750 Hornby Street in Vancouver, B.C., and is organized by the Aboriginal Art & Culture Celebration Society. (For event details: www.aboriginalday-van.com )

For more information on the artist or to arrange an interview, please contact: Anne-Marie Hayden Tel: (613) 868-8437 Email: ahayden73@gmail.com

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