Helen Pelletier Works Have Permanent Home at the Art Gallery

Story by Matt Prokopchuk, Photos by Chondon Photography

The Thunder Bay Art Gallery has added two new pieces to its permanent collection, acquiring a pair of wiigwas skirts by Fort William First Nation Anishinaabe artist Hellen Pelletier.

Pelletier, who has been working with wiigwas, or birchbark, for 20 years, created the two skirts called Alyssa Memengwaa Ikwe (2023) and Nevaeh (2023); the pieces are named after two young women from Thunder Bay: Alyssa Lentz and Nevaeh Morrisseau, according to a press release from the art gallery. “They are close family friends of Helen’s and represent a younger generation following their own creative paths in life, including powwow dancing,” the release states. The two skirts were shown at the gallery, along with a selection of Pelletier’s other work, in her first solo show Wiigwas Manidoog Descendants earlier this year. The gallery says that these are the first of Pelletier’s works to be added to its collection.

Helen Pelletier, Alyssa Memengwaa Ikwe, 2023

“I am beyond grateful and completely overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude,” Pelletier was quoted as saying in the gallery’s release. “I appreciate my family, friends, and community for always encouraging me to keep creating and to push my boundaries when making.” Pelletier’s work with wiigwas has expanded to include creating wearable art like backpacks, hats, and skirts. The gallery says that Pelletier’s work also often encompasses home-tanned hide and other natural materials sourced from friends, family, and fellow artists.

“Helen’s skirts are one-of-a-kind, they are a special gift to our collection,” gallery curator Penelope Smart was quoted as saying in the art gallery’s release. “I’m excited to see where Helen’s practice takes her.”

Helen Pelletier, Nevaeh, 2023

The gallery was able to acquire the pieces through the receipt of the Ontario Arts Foundation‘s Elizabeth L. Gordon Art Program Acquisition Grant, which, in part, assists public art galleries and museums in Ontario with growing their permanent collections.