Betty Albert Lincez a.k.a. Wabimeguil (which means White Feather) is an amazing artist. It’s unfortunate The Nation isn’t in colour so you could see the full glory of her work.
I found her name for the first time on the Worldwide Web, a sort of computer bulletin board that is amazing. Amazing because it could download graphics with enough quality to give me an idea of this artist’s potential. Some Crees have already seen her work hung up in such places as the Grand Council/CRA and Cree School Board offices, and others are lucky enough to have them at home. Her inner beauty shines through in the images that live on the canvas she paints.
Betty only recently discovered her birthright as a Cree. She was adopted and brought up by non-Native parents. For a recent artist, she has demonstrated that talent is appreciated and valued by Native people. Her paintings can be found all across the Americas. Not bad for a slow start that began only five years ago.
This was one fun interview. It was like a homecoming as I discovered that in my far-distant youth back in Moose Factory we had known Betty’s father, Lindy Loutitt. More than a few readers will remember him from his days as a pilot for Austin Airways.
I’m glad to say he is the same as always. A talkative down-to-earth man who would join in the interview at times. His section is in italics. I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed doing it.
The Nation: When did you start doing art? Betty: I’ve always done art in one form or another but I didn’t take it seriously until a few years ago. Then something very wonderful happened in my life. I met my father, Lindy. You see I was adopted. He saw my art and at that time I was in a bit of an unstable situation. I had recently separated and was starting a new life. My father told me, “You don’t have to try and find a job. You can make your art work for you.” So he took it and started marketing my art. That was four years ago.
That’s when I became more serious about my art in that I started to make a living at it.
Most artists go through what they call the starvation period or hard times. How has it been for you? Lindy, her father: We were living in a ditch! (laughter) Betty: I had to get a job in between working for the Tribal Council in Timmins. I had contracts working for them for two years and I would paint when I got home. We barely survived and eventually sales started happening. It began with one print, all that we could afford. We kept re-investing the money into the art, one print became five prints in a year. Then we started getting sold-out editions. It grew… blossomed from that point on.
With your father marketing your art, that’s a rather strong measure of support. Has the family always supported your art this way? No. I’ve been fortunate to have two lives. My first life… I’m not visibly Indian with my mother’s green eyes but I have a darn good tan in the summer (laughter)… I was adopted and never knew I was Indian until five years ago. It happened while I was undergoing a separation with my husband and decided to go back to university.
I needed to send them a baptismal certificate because I lost my birth certificate. When I went to see the priest he told me I had two. I told him it wasn’t unusual as I was adopted. When he showed me the original document I got my mother’s name. Within two weeks I met her and my sister. They told me about my father who was an Indian. Ittumedoutl was a wannabe who was (laughter)… I met Lindy about a year later just when my situation was being very difficult. That’s when I and my children moved in with him in Toronto.
After about six months we moved to the Wahgoshig reserve where he had been a Chief for five years. I started taking my art more seriously there. Before, I never felt I had permission to be an artist. I could always do it naturally because Lindy is an artist so maybe I inherited it. Before this I never knew you could take art seriously and make a living at it. It just seemed like it was another world all together. So it had been just a hobby for me and when I met him, he very strongly insisted that I learn to take this more seriously. That’s when we started our art business.
Would you recommend this to people as a career or do you think it requires a certain type of person to make it a career? I don’t know what kind of people but I know you need support and you need people around you that’ll help you along the way. There is so much to learn in this business and I was fortunate because I had my father. He was able to market it but I have to tell you the most difficult thing an artist has to do is market their own art. You have to have someone else who has faith in you and confidence in your ability. It’s hard for you and takes a lot of courage.
As a career I’ve found it satisfying. As an artist you have it within you and doing anything else can make your life awful miserable. There’s a certain personality type that I think you’re born into. I myself was never happy until I took my art seriously.
Basically then you feel that it has fulfilled some part of you? Absolutely. It was a fight every Monday morning to go to work because it was all I wanted to do. I had this great passion that was expressed in my art. I realized I had to go to work but I knew I was working towards not having to do that anymore. I was dreaming of the day when I could just paint and do it for a living. I never regret that decision to take it seriously because it has been the most fulfilling thing, the most exciting and challenging career for me.
I think when you are an artist the Creator brings people to you who will help you along the way but it requires that decision to take it seriously. Once you do that there is something set in motion. It’s metaphysical, inexplicable… you just have to trust because it is a gift.
It’s like all this cave art, it’s just being discovered that people didn’t live in those caves because it’s very uncomfortable so that’s where they did their spiritual ceremonies. For me art is like that, a very spiritual thing. Art and spirituality go hand-in-hand.
Actually that is one of my questions. Your art seems bound in spirituality. How did they come together so well? When you’re seeking within yourself the truth you take a spiritual path to the truth. That’s what I was doing all along. Trying to find something spiritual and meaningful in my life. That progressed as I took the art seriously. I wanted to remain truthful in all ways because I needed to express something that came from me. A point of reference from deep within me. I didn’t want to do a photograph and paint it, that’s a point of reference outside of myself. That wasn’t what I wanted, I wanted a deep meaningful truth to emerge. In the process I dismantled a lot things about myself and my spirituality.
I am a woman and I understand that—what being a women is.
That’s another point of reference I developed in my spirituality.
So you feel your art has helped with your spiritual growth and yourself as a person? Yes. It’s continuing and developing, and I’m doing so at the same time. My art is the vehicle. My art is a progression of my spiritual growth. It’s a picture of how I feel spiritually within and I have to tell you that the art is alive. The canvas becomes alive.
We made a bit of a mistake because we travel so much. We shrink-wrapped the paintings to protect them. Somehow we stopped selling. Our work wasn’t selling anymore. It dawned on me through dreams that I remember you can’t wrap the art. That it’s alive and it needs to breath. We took the wrapping off and things changed. So it’s alive, what I do, it’s living. It’s also my personal biography of my growth.
The first series I’ve seen on the Worldwide Web featured the moons. Why did you choose that motif and where do you hope to go from there? I was looking for something meaningful to a woman spiritually and I’m hoping in a sense that I can connect with other women at that level. Men too, on their feminine side.
Along the way you never do anything alone. People come and tell you things when it is necessary for you to learn them. Knowledge and helpers come in many different forms. It can be people just dropping in and telling you what you need to hear or it can come even through a movie where you learn something moral or significant, books, something you read at the right time to help you grow. The Great Spirit has many ways of helping you evolve.
The moon came through an author I’ve been reading for several years now. This woman has been very significant. What she is doing with her books is what I am trying to do with my art. To give a strong message. The moons are based on her interpretations of her people.
Who is this influence? Janie Sand. The Thirteen Clan Mothers was a good book for me on these Seneca teachings. She’s learning a lot and sharing that through her written word.
Have there been other spiritual influences, Elders, conferences? Yes. I’ve met spiritual medicine people. They’ve come to our home and talked. It’s been really motivating for me. Somewhere along the line you learn we have such tremendous power within us. If you search you’ll find the guidance is there within you.
I’m beginning to trust in my own inner voice to connect with the Great Spirit. I don’t feel that it’s necessary at this time for guidance in that direction but it will eventually come to that.
Right now I find a lot of strength in myself, my own concepts.
But we have had a lot of people come into our lives. Lindy, you tell him.
Well there’s one guy, Albert Kine, an Elder in Ontario who travels sometimes with Grand Chief Mercredi. I met him when I was a Deputy Grand Chief.
So I’ve known him for a while and I asked him about my daughter. He told me she had to continue to give the message to the community, the people so we don’t forget that message. So we don’t forget about who we are and where we come from. He talked about the pictures as a way to get that message about ourselves so as not to forget who we are. This was one of the things he had said.
Of course I gave him a couple of prints of Betty’s. Also Fred Plane, head of an Elders’ committee in Ontario. He calls the Elders from all over Canada when they have meetings. He enjoys Betty’s art too… Well, I’d better let Betty talk.
You could go on forever (laughter)…
So you have the support of the traditional community? Just in September I went to Kewadin Casino. We have quite a large collection there. There’s a very traditional lady there. She has quite a few gifts. There’s an energy you can feel whenever she’s around. Then suddenly when we were sitting in the cafeteria there, she started to tell me why tiling had happened in my life the way they had. I had never talked to her about what had happened in my life but she knew it all.
She talked about what I had gone through before I knew I was Indian and why that was so important for me to have experienced those things. Everything in my life had happened at the right time in order for me to become an artist and do what I’m doing. She described things in the future for me too. It was with things happening to me that I had never told anyone. Things happening to me creatively and she gave me a description of the picture she saw in her mind. I’m surprised I didn’t faint. It was such an incredible experience for her to have been so intuitive. It was interesting that it happened at a time when I needed to hear this. People come to you when it’s time.
Lindy: Her art is accepted wherever we go. I’ve been to many reserves and nowhere have they refused her art. They love her art. People who can’t afford a piece of art will phone us months later and they still remember the name of the piece they want.
Now let’s get on to some material stuff, re-enter that material world.
Let me pinch myself and find out (laughter)…
How do you feel about your art hanging in so many Native businesses, entities, councils? That’s where I want them to be. That’s where they want to be too. You never know where things are going to lead, where they’re going to take you. I simply go with what wants to happen and this basically is what wanted to happen. I feel very strongly about art finding its own way—where it belongs—and you have to follow through with it.
I feel very proud that Native people have accepted me. That makes me feel a lot of pride and reassures me that this is the right