Betty Albert has always wanted her art to bring joy and beauty to people.
The Cree artist, who now lives in Winnipeg, says she's been doing art since a young age.
Albert was adopted and raised by French-Canadian parents in Northern Ontario, mostly in Kapuskasing and Smoky Falls.
She knew she was adopted since she was young. She says she was curious about her biological parents but never tried to actively look for them because she didn’t want to force herself on them.
“The way it happened was beautiful. I’m happy,” she says.
When she was in her early 30s, Albert met her biological parents and sister.
It all started when she was applying to university and needed her baptismal certificate. Albert was baptized twice and her godmother from the first time she was baptized turned out to be her friend’s aunt.
Events unfolded, and soon Albert learned about her biological mother, grandfather, sister and nieces, and where they all lived.
Albert first met her mother over the phone, on the day of Albert's birthday. A few days later, she met her mother and sister in person, spending the whole morning together, having lunch and getting to learn about each other.
“It was just wonderful,” she says. “It was a real big event for all our families. I met my grandmother — she was the sweetest — it was a beautiful reunion.”
Growing up, Albert wasn’t aware of her Cree background but she was always fascinated with Indigenous ways of life and ceremonies. Her biological mother told Albert she was Cree and said her father was a legendary bush pilot Lindbergh ‘Lindy’ Louttit.
It was Loutitt who encouraged Albert to become an artist. That was the best thing that has ever happened to her, she says.
That’s how Wabimeguil Fine Art came to life.
The name Wabimeguil, meaning white feather, was given to Albert by her father. She says she always tries to put white feathers in her paintings whenever she can.
“He was really relentless in wanting me to pursue this career, so he helped me out with it,” Albert says about her father. They got the materials they needed and had an artist from southern Ontario teach her how to use acrylic, blend and play with colours.
“I just have fun, watch where colours go and then my imagination and my curiosity go wild. I see something in the colours and the way they landed and I produce something from there,” she says.
She needed a theme in her artwork, something she was passionate about. As Albert feels strongly about women’s ways and spirituality, she chose the moon as a theme. She also likes to paint wildlife, mostly geese.
Albert’s intent has always been to bring beauty and joy to other people.
“I have gratitude that I’m able to do what I do, I’ve been given that opportunity to create and I feel it’s my job to bring as much beauty in other people’s lives as I possibly can,” she says. “I intend to live the rest of my life using that formula.”
Albert paints almost every day out of her home-based studio in Winnipeg. She goes through what she calls a “fever” of painting. During her last painting session, which lasted for over a month and a half, she created close to 18 paintings.
Now, she’s on the fever again and has six canvases on the go. Albert’s daughter-in-law manages the orders. Once the paintings are done, Albert ships them to her ex-husband Lawrence Martin in Cochrane who has been selling her art for two decades. They maintained a “great working relationship,” Albert says.
Albert also has a licensing agreement with the Canadian Art Prints company that sells different items with her art such as posters and canvas, mugs, puzzles, stationery items and art cards.
Being bilingual, Albert says knowing two official languages is helpful but she wishes she learned how to speak Cree. Albert is supportive of her son, who is interested in learning the language, and her daughter-in-law, who's learning Cree.
“It’s important to have as many languages as you can possibly can,” she says.
Albert has also been sun dancing since 2001. The Sun Dance is a sacred ceremony where people dance for four days, each year, for four years while fasting from food and water. Now, Albert goes to the ceremony as an elder supporting the dancers and people there.
The ceremony is a huge part of her family’s life, she says, and her sons are also sun dancers.
“It’s very hard,” Albert says about the ceremony. “You’re under the sun and you’re in your little nest for four days. It was a very difficult thing to do. But what happens to you during that ceremony is amazing ... Once you’ve’ done the Sun Dance, there’s nothing else you can’t do.”
Albert has been able to provide for her family through her art and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Cree people, she says.
“I’ve been so fortunate. I’ve had such an incredible life, I’m so blessed in so many ways,” she says.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com