Fredericton artist channels experience as a Sixties Scoop survivor through painting

·4 min read
Cyndi Nash, left, posing alongside a visitor to the Fredericton Region Museum with one of her original pieces. (Provided by Melynda Jarratt - image credit)
Cyndi Nash, left, posing alongside a visitor to the Fredericton Region Museum with one of her original pieces. (Provided by Melynda Jarratt - image credit)

When visual artist and basket maker Cyndi Nash goes to sleep at night, she lets her dreams take the reins on what she will later bring to the canvas.

"I dream about my vision and what I would like to paint … it just comes to me," said Nash, who is originally from St. Mary's First Nation, also known as Sitansisk Wolastoqiyik.

"If I feel sorrow … if I have pain, it makes me cry when I do my paintings. And that is because I feel the pain and  emotion."

These days you can find Nash alongside a plethora of canvases, painting outside the Fredericton Region Museum, where she is artist-in-residence this month.

WATCH | 'We're not going to be silent,' Fredericton artist says

The program has been around for over a decade, and two more artists that will be featured during the summer.

Since the start of her residency earlier this month, visitors from across North America have come to see and purchase Nash's art.

Her work on display includes a collection of colourful paintings of feathers and hearts to represent missing Indigenous women, alongside imagery of Indigenous children, and teardrops to showcase her own resilience as a survivor of the Sixties Scoop.

Griffin Jaeger (CBC)
Griffin Jaeger (CBC)

The Sixties Scoop is a name for a series of policies by child welfare authorities across Canada between the 1950s and 1990s, peaking in the 1960s. During this period, thousands of Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and homes, placed in adoption centres, and adopted to white families across North America.

Many of these children were abused and lost their names, language and connection to their heritage.

"I came from a family of eight children born in 10 years," Nash said. "I was the second youngest. I was two when I was taken away one day and never seen my family."

Nash finds her experience after she was stolen away a painful subject, and she doesn't like to talk about it.

Griffin Jaeger (CBC)
Griffin Jaeger (CBC)

'It helps me heal," said Nash 

"It's a lot of pain because even as a grown adult, I still don't have that connection that other people have with … their siblings," she said.

For Nash, art is healing.

"And that's hard. So in painting, it helps me to release that pain."

Her work is not only rooted in her own experiences, but is also for other Indigenous women and children.

Provided by Melynda Jarratt
Provided by Melynda Jarratt

"It's for missing and murdered women and unmarked graves of the children," Nash said. "It's got to be talked about because we're not going to be silent.

"I like painting them because I don't want the world to forget."

Granddaughter as inspiration for recent works

Nash recalls painting from a very young age, smiling at the ways it has inspired her through the years. She recalls visiting an artist in Saskatchewan as a young girl, who guided her in painting a young Indigenous girl.

"She showed me and it was just like I could see it like, I can do this. And I just love it."

Her granddaughter, who reminds her a lot of herself at the age of two, inspires her recent work.

Provided by Melynda Jarratt
Provided by Melynda Jarratt

"I just couldn't fathom the idea of someone taking her … it helps me to cope better,"

When asked about her favourite piece, Nash describes a painting of her granddaughter walking away with her doll, surrounded by a detailed feather, walking toward a man resembling Nash's father.

"I just can't imagine. How much pain he went through. Not being able to see me grow up … and that pain is why I paint."

Each piece tells a story

Melynda Jarrett, executive director of the Fredericton Region Museum, first came across Nash's art online in November  2021. She said that Nash's work had a colourful wow factor and appreciated that there was a story behind each piece.

"I think it's important that Indigenous artists get an opportunity to showcase their work in a … very non-threatening art environment," said Jarratt.

" Especially now in these times when we're dealing with issues of reconciliation and the recognition of the sufferings of Indigenous people ... since the early colonization period of this country, it's so ... important that we give those opportunities to people."

Inspiring young creatives

Nash said she feels honoured, blessed and appreciative to be showcased this year..

"It's a lot easier to paint it out than it is to go and  let out your inner secrets revealed and bring back that pain again," she said. "But it is getting easier, which I'm happy for.

Provided by Melynda Jarratt
Provided by Melynda Jarratt

"I hope it inspires other people too — to paint and be creative in any way that is even possible."

To cap off the end of her time at the museum, Nash plans to meet community members for a Meet the Artist event at 571 Queen St. on Saturday at 2 p.m.

The artist-in-residence program will continue in August. Jason Willcox will be at the museum Aug. 1 to Aug. 15 followed by Kim Stillwell from Aug. 17 to 27.

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