Allen Sapp, RCA, 1929 -2015

Bringing in a Deer | Allen Sapp

Bringing in a Deer | Allen Sapp

Bringing in a Deer, 1979
Acrylic on canvas
Painting size: 18 X 24 inches
Price: $4,000

Details: Signed lower right.
Framed size: approximately 25 X 31 inches.
Provenance: Private Collection, Ontario; Lourie Gallery Toronto label & Lourie Gallery sales receipt.

Additional photos and information available upon request.

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Boy Going Tobogganing | Allen Sapp

Boy Going Tobogganing | Allen Sapp

Acrylic on Canvas
Size: 10.5" x 13.5"
Price: SOLD

Details: Signed lower right. Framed, measures 18 X 20 inches
Provenance: Private Collection.

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Allen Sapp found acclaim by portraying
his Cree upbringing in Saskatchewan


Born on the Red Pheasant Reserve in Saskatchewan, a descendant of Cree Chief Poundmaker, Allen Sapp was a child often bedridden due to illness.

At the age of 15, Allen Sapp contracted spinal meningitis and began to paint to pass the time.

His mother had a continual battle with tuberculosis and the illness took his mother’s life. Allen Sapp was then raised by his maternal grandmother, Maggie Soonias. They lived on a meagre subsistence level. Some of his income was earned from farm and ranch labour, the sale or barter of firewood and fence pickets.

In 1955 Sapp married Margaret Paskimin Whiteford from the nearby Sweetgrass Reserve.

Working at his odd jobs to support his kin he continued to paint and draw during free periods.

Painter Finds a Patron

When his grandmother died in 1961, Allen Sapp was 33 years old, married with one child. Allen Sapp decided to try to make his living as an artist in North Battleford.

Allen Sapp painted scenes that he thought would please the general public. His work has been referred to as “calendar art” although there were elements in his work that sometimes revealed a dreamlike quality. Allen Sapp sold his paintings on the street or from door to door for a few dollars.

In 1966 he walked into the North Battleford medical clinic to sell his art to Dr. Allan Gonor but was unsuccessful.

A few months later with the help of Eileen Barryman, who gave him some lessons in painting in her North Battleford hobby shop, Allen Sapp returned to the clinic with a portrait of Chief Sam Swimmer of the Sweetgrass Reserve.

The portrait was an especially fine piece of work, and Dr. Gonor this time became interested, bought the painting and realized that Sapp could do best by painting things he knew, and offered to help him achieve a decent living. He advised him to paint subjects he found on the Indian reserve. He offered to buy and resell all of the paintings Sapp could produce. Sapp agreed, and their partnership began.

Dr. Gonor arranged for  Allen Sapp to study under Wynona Mulcaster, one of Saskatchewan’s leading artists. She gave him formal instruction in art but she also encouraged him to paint the way he remembered life on the reserve.

Painted Life on Reserve

Later, Gonor’s brother-in-law, Bill Baker, became Sapp’s manager and agent, and chose which galleries would represent Allen Sapp  — some early works are signed Allan, but he later switched to Allen — and travelled with him to his show openings and took care of all the financial details.

With his natural ability to remember details from his early life on the reservation, and the help of Eileen Barryman, Dr. Gonor, Bill Baker, and Wynona Mulcaster, Allen Sapp’s life turned into a success story.

In 1969, Allen Sapp was awarded an Arts Bursary of the Canada Council. In 1971, he was the subject of a national CBC broadcast Allen Sapp – By Instinct A Painter. A chapter was devoted to him in the publication Portraits of the Plains (1971), written by Grant MacEwen, who was then Lieut. Gov. of Alberta.

In 1975, Allen Sapp was elected member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in recognition of his outstanding achievements in the visual arts field.

Allen Sapp’s work was first done in natural colours, browns, greys and greens, then evolved to a richness of colour, delicacy of painted skies, spacious vistas on the land of the reserve in all the seasons of the year.

The artist’s observations accurately reproduced the life as it was on the Red Pheasant Reserve and thus made a faithful historical record.

In 1986, when Dr. Gonor died, the doctor’s collection of 80 Allen Sapp paintings was given to the City of North Battleford on the condition that they would not be sold and be kept for public display housed in a facility to protect them.

Order of Canada

In 1987, Allen Sapp was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of his skill as a painter and for his contribution to the history of the Cree nation.

In 1989 the Gonor collection of Allen Sapp’s paintings were put on display in the newly renovated old Carnegie library in North Battleford, renamed the Allen Sapp Gallery, The Gonor Collection.

Allen Sapp has received many other honours including several books and films on him. A major retrospective was organized by the Mackenzie Gallery, Regina, in November of 1994 and toured Canada, ending at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, Quebec, in February of 1997.

More than 28 solo shows were devoted to Allen Sapp’s art since 1968 and there have been many more group shows. In 1999 he was the recipient of an National Aboriginal Lifetime Achievement Award. He is represented in many gallery, private and corporate collections throughout the world.

Allen Sapp died in 2015.

Source:  A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker. National Gallery of Canada, Artists in Canada database.