If you walk into the authentic Native art gallery that is Moonstone Creation, the first thing you’ll notice — aside from vast quantities of beautifully beaded items for sale — is the wonderfully smoky smell of moose hide.
“We use moose hide in our pouches, moccasins, business card holders, purses, custom jackets and jewelry. Moose hide is kind of, well, everywhere!” says an enthusiastic Amy Willier, who co-owns the Calgary-based gallery with her mom Yvonne Jobin, a Cree woman originally from High Prairie, Alberta.
“We started our operation representing six Indigenous artists and now we feature over 50,” says Willier, adding that her artists include Peepeekisis First Nation sculptor Lloyd Pinay from Saskatchewan, who specializes in bronze sculptures, and Phil Gatensby, an elder with the Tlingit First Nation in the Yukon who carves mammoth ivory.
“We’re very much about the appreciation of Native art, not the appropriation of Native art,” says Willier.
Her gallery promotes traditional art in local schools and corporations, and offers in-house workshops on everything from beading to fish-scale art. “When my mom was in her late 20s, she took a native clothing design class and loved it. It was like the grandmothers were working through her, like they had waited for this moment,” says Willier.
“Later, my mom was able to learn about hide-tanning, basket-making and other traditional arts from her elders before these skills were lost. I’ve learned everything I know from my mom.”
Willier’s son Colton also provided inspiration for the gallery, which opened in 2009. “I didn’t want to have to work somewhere else and put him in daycare,” she explains of the young boy who is now making a name for himself as the world’s youngest Indigenous filmmaker (that’s another story). “Our customers have watched him grow since he was a baby in a Jolly Jumper.”