The legacy of Dr. Joane Cardinal-Schubert - Part 1

Date: Jan 20, 2023

On September 29, 2022, we marked the 50th Anniversary of the AFA Art Collection. As part of the celebrations, we are sharing snippets from the history of the collection. 
Learn more about the celebrations

By Gail Lint, Arts Collections Consultant

In 2008 and 2009, the AFA supported a special curatorial initiative focused on building the holdings of the AFA Art Collection with contemporary Indigenous art. The initiative addressed the work of senior artists not properly represented in the collection, as well as a new generation of artists who are now making an impact.

For this initiative, artworks were acquired through a variety of sources. Curatorial assessment and recommendations by Indigenous artist Dr. Joane Cardinal-Schubert were an invaluable part of the process. Through Joane’s insight, wisdom and guidance, the artworks acquired have significantly enhanced the AFA's holdings.

Creating new relationships with Indigenous artists

Joane provided an avenue to acquire artworks by Indigenous artists unknown to the AFA Art Collection prior to 2008.

2008.085.001 Aaron Paquette, Aniti Anemos 2007, acrylic & gold leaf on canvas, AFA Art Collection

Through her mentoring and respected reputation in the art community she approached both established and emerging artists, conducting interviews and studio visits. She presented recommendations for curatorial acquisition into the AFA Art Collection.

Through the efforts of Joane, balanced by additional curatorial recommendations from the Collection’s Acquisition Working Group, the Indigenous curatorial initiative increased the AFA holdings by an incredible 73 artworks over a two-year period. 

2009.021.002 David Garneau, At the Fiddle Camp 2009, acrylic on canvas, AFA Art Collection

Narrative Quest exhibition

In celebration of Alberta Culture Days in September 2009, the AFA created an exhibtion of artworks by Indigenous artists entitled Narrative Quest. It was displayed in the gallery at the Capital Arts Building in Edmonton.

Curated by AFA Art Collections Consultant Gail Lint, Narrative Quest featured a selection of 60 artworks by 22 Indigenous artists from the AFA Art Collection, and included several of the artworks acquired through the Indigenous curatorial initiative.

2008.086.004 George Littlechild, Cross Cultural Examination #2 2007, ink jet print on paper,  AFA Art Collection

The exhibition combined a variety of traditional and contemporary styles in diverse media. The prevalent themes in these artworks are often based on storytelling.

These are stories that have been shared by the elders, stories of a search for understanding and meaning, stories of identity and belonging, and stories retold to preserve a threatened culture. They are stories immersed in the past, reflective of the present and hopeful for the future

The passing of Dr. Joane Cardinal-Schubert

On September 16, 2009 while installing the Narrative Quest exhibition in the Arts Branch gallery for the Alberta Culture Days celebration, word reached the staff that Joane Cardinal-Schubert had passed away.

2008.106.004 Joane Cardinal-Schubert, Flutterby (Birchbark Letter) 1998, mixed media on canvas, AFA Art Collection

Until that day, there had been no indication from Joane that she was ailing. She was determined to complete her curatorial contract and source artworks for the AFA Art Collection and, through her valiant commitment, she introduced new artists and assisted in building the representation of senior Indigenous artists.

The next day, during the official opening of the Narrative Quest exhibition, which was accompanied by a traditional smudge led by an Indigenous elder, there was a large raven sitting on top of the Capital Arts building above the location of the gallery. It was believed that Joane attended the ceremony in spirit.

The Narrative Quest exhibition was dedicated to the memory of Joane Cardinal-Schubert (1942 – 2009).

 “Let the next 
be born 
with the knowledge 
of what has passed.”

(excerpt from the poem Keeper by Joane Cardinal-Schubert)

Narrative Quest on tour

Narrative Quest Exhibition (installation view) Capital Arts Gallery, Edmonton (Sept. 2009)

After the Culture Days exhibition at Capital Arts Building in 2009, Narrative Quest toured to:

  • the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton
  • the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery (edited selection)
  • the Museum of Contemporary Art in Calgary (edited selection)
  • the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie

An edited selection of 32 artworks from the Narrative Quest exhibition then travelled to the Embassy of Canada, Prince Takamado Gallery in Tokyo, Japan (November 25, 2014 to February 27, 2015). It was met with critical acclaim.

Joane's ongoing legacy

In 2016, the National Gallery of Canada hosted a major retrospective exhibition featuring Alberta’s celebrated Indigenous artist from Cold Lake: Alex Janvier: Modern Indigenous Master (November 25, 2016 to April 17, 2017). 

Nine AFA artworks by Alex Janvier were included in the exhibition. Almost half of these artworks were acquired through recommendations by Dr. Joane Cardinal-Schubert.


2009.001.004 Alex Janvier, Untitled 2009, acrylic on canvas, AFA Art Collection

In 2017 the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary hosted a major retrospective of Dr. Joane Cardinal-Schubert: The Writing on the Wall. It was the first retrospective since her passing in 2009.

19 artworks from the AFA's holdings and an additional two artworks from the Government House collection were loaned for inclusion in the exhibition. An edited selection of these artworks toured to four other galleries across Canada until 2020.

1989.025.001 Joane Cardinal-Schubert, Moonlight Sonota: In the Beginning 1989, oil on canvas, AFA Art Collection

In part two of our look back at the tremendous impact Joane has had on the AFA Art Collection, we will take a look at the AFA's Fellowship for Indigenous Curators and the next generation of acquisitions by Indigenous artists.