AshevakLoonsProtectTheOwl Kenojuak Ashevak, Loons Protect the Owl, 2002.

Kenojuak Ashevak


Chosen by:  Gem Salsberg


“This print reminds of my childhood and a story my mom once told me about an owl. My mother raised me around tree-planting camps that were often so isolated from towns or roads that we would fly there by helicopter. We lived in tents in the forest all through spring and summer. I loved the wolves howling, the tadpoles and toads, picking wild berries and drinking straight from streams while lying on my belly in the mud and grass.

Many days I would walk the cutblocks with my mom while she planted trees. But one time it was such a long walk to the worksite that she decided that it would be better if I stayed with the cook while she was working. When she came home, she would tell me stories of what she had seen that day. On the first day, she heard a voice in the trees as she walked alone through the forest. So my mom walked off the path towards the voice and found a dead tree. When she looked up, she saw a massive great horned owl gazing down at her. Its head swivelled around and it hooted many times, looking at my mom as she looked at it. My mom resumed her walk to work, thinking about the owl. When she returned homeward, she went to the tree. And once again she saw the owl, and the owl saw her and swivelled its head and hooted. She visited the owl each day, and each day it called to her.

This went on for many days. But one day, as she was returning from work, she heard a terrible screaming. She ran to the tree and saw no bird. Only feathers everywhere. Beautiful feathers covering the ground like muddy snow. The owl was gone. She was sad. She put down her bags and walked all around the old tree and collected the owl’s plumes. Then she looked at the tree once more and walked homeward.

When she got home, she told me that the owl was gone. Then she gave me the beautiful feathers. They were root colours, browns and golds in thick lines. I kept them, and one day I had an idea. I found an old box and cut a shape out of the cardboard in the shape of a flying bird. I found a bottle of glue and began to glue owl feathers to the paper bird. I covered it entirely in owl’s feathers until it looked like it was flying. I gave the paper bird to my mom… her owl.

We are both artists, my mom and I. We tell stories and show feelings through our art, through illustrations and – in my case – photography. I work near whales and grizzly bears on the sea on a research vessel. When I take photos, I try to work as Kenojuak Ashevak does – to honour the animals and land, and especially the incredible stories and vitality that these both hold. When I am at sea or in the wilderness, I realize every time – ‘this, this is real.’ And it is like realizing again and again how good it is to be alive.”


Kenojuak Ashevak, Loons Protect the Owl, 2002. Stonecut on tissue. Gift of J. Ron and Jacqueline Longstaffe.


Gem Salsberg has been visiting the Gallery with her mom since she was a little girl, and still comes with her sometimes today. Gem is one of thousands of people who follow the Gallery on Facebook.

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