Francine Francis, a Mi’kmaq visual artist from Metepenagiag First Nation, has always been an artist. As a child growing up, she often used her drawing and colouring skills to share how she saw her environment. Today, she continues to express herself through mixed media where she utilizes various mediums and incorporates natural materials like porcupine quills, hide, feathers, shells and beadwork. Some of her work has evolved into creating a 3-dimensional effect with acrylic paint to make it resemble porcupine quillwork.
“My art is a part of who I am,” said Fran. “It keeps me sane and keeps me grounded. Art making keeps you tied to your people and our roots go deep. Through our art, our language and our culture, our voice, the voices of our ancestors, communicate to the mainstream contemporary society that we are still here, and we are a distinct culture. That is what art means to me.”
That distinct Mi’kmaq culture is reflected in Fran’s contemporary paintings. She is inspired by Mi’kmaq Rock drawings (petroglyphs), hieroglyphs, and traditional porcupine quilled birch bark baskets. Much of her work revolves around animals, nature and the environment and she uses vivid colours to create a sense of place and time in her pieces.
Fran started her formal education by taking a Commercial Design program at Holland College in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. There, her instructors encouraged her to apply to a Fine Arts program, so she applied to the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College now known as First Nations University of Canada in Regina, Saskatchewan.
“I applied to this particular program because I wanted to learn more about our rich and diverse Aboriginal/Indigenous cultural histories and Art making practices,” said Fran. “I learned how to carve in yellow cedar and soapstone, to tan a moose hide, to do porcupine quill applique on hide, moose-hair tufting, beading, and to do feather-work. I also learned art fundamentals which included drawing, pottery/ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, and painting and finished off my B.A. Degree in Aboriginal Fine Arts.”
Fran has been involved in the arts most of her life, from being a sessional lecturer, doing workshops, serving on the artsNB board, being an arts juror, and sitting on various arts committees. Just recently, Fran was involved in a group exhibition called “The Path We Share” with artists Alan Syliboy, Charles Doucette and Courtney M. Leonard. The “Path We Share” Exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax is currently on display from Feb. 5 – April 24, and then moves to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Yarmouth.
She does all of this in addition to caring for her parents full-time. Fran wakes early in the mornings and paints for a couple of hours, does homecare for her parents during the day and then spends her evenings painting again. Like many artists, she relates to the struggles of managing two jobs.
“Money and time are always challenges for any artist,” said Fran. “I primarily work on commissions and I get most of my work from word of mouth within First Nations’ communities. It is important to me to have my work hanging in First Nations’ institutions and in First Nations’ homes. I regularly donate paintings to various fundraisers to accomplish this.”
Fran’s upcoming plans involve illustrating a children’s book, working to complete 5 more paintings in an artist residency at the Metepenagiag Heritage Park this coming summer, and she has agreed to participate in another group exhibition in Moncton in the Spring of 2017.
“Art makes everything beautiful,” said Fran. “It doesn’t matter if its hanging on someone’s living room wall, or business office or in an institution… it lends to that particular space some character and soul.”