Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Louis Riel Day!

well, at least if you're in Manitoba. it's not Louis Riel day in any other province, and apparently it's President's Day or something in the US.

remember how i mentioned my never ending "work safe" project? the one i've been hauling to every single medical appointment for months, because it was the only piece i was working on that wouldn't offend someone who saw it?


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this is it. it's a portrait of Louis Riel, who is alternately considered to be a folk hero, a criminal, the founding father of manitoba, a murderer, and what we would now in a post 911 world call a terrorist. he was a metis leader in what would later become manitoba, and he was instrumental in creating a provisional government in the area, one that was alternately ignored and recognized by the canadian government as it suited them, but did eventually lead to the formation of the province of manitoba. it was through this provisional government that a man named thomas scott was executed for insubordination. this is the incident that many refer to when calling louis riel a murderer, while others maintain that it was perfectly within the rights of the provisional government to conduct the execution, given the law of the day.

louis believed that the metis should receive rights and goods the same way that the natives in the area had (and ya know, years later we recognize that it was all fucked and not the best deal anyway, but at the time....) and was considered to be a leader of the metis. he was from a french canadian metis family which was very religious, and originally it was thought that he may be a priest. he was sent to montreal as a young teen to study with priests there, but lost interest after his father's death and eventually returned home. as a result of his time in montreal, he had a lot more education than the majority of the people around him back home, and this combined with his ability to inspire a group through public speaking was a large part of why he became a leader of metis people.

he was also elected as a member of parliament multiple times, but due to the faction that considered him a murderer (including the cdn gvnt), it was never safe for him to attend the house of commons. he went once, and signed in, and it created a massive uproar. he spent a lot of time in exhile in the US, and then later returned to what would later become saskatchewan to again lead the metis people (at their request). the battle of batoche/the north west rebellion occurred at this point, and while he was eventually hung for treason due to his part in the battle, it was widely believed that he was truly executed in response to the death of thomas scott some years earlier. the canadian government's treatment of riel greatly indicated their respect for french canadians. john a macdonald, canada's first prime minister after confederation, was famously quoted as saying "he shall hang though every dog in quebec bark in his favour."

in addition to the political aspects of louis riel's history, he was also a very fascinating man from a religious standpoint. raised roman catholic, to the point of the expectation of entering priesthood, he had a strong and complicated relationship with the religion. in the later years of his life, he denounced the catholic church, claiming that the pope was an imposter, was not who god truly wanted to be leading the the church, and that riel himself needed to bring the church back to truthfulness. (part of this was encouraged by priests which sided with the english cdn govnt, louis saw this as a huge betrayal of their metis church members) louis professed beliefs which branded him as mentally insane by many, and in fact did spend time in a quebec mental hospital under an assumed name.

i think the red river rebellion and the battle of batoche/north west rebellion are kinda like the prairie's version of the civil war/the war between the states/the war of northern aggression, etc. this piece wouldn't have been as "work safe" if i'd been in manitoba working on it, because back there people have VERY definite opinions about Louis Riel! a vancouver friend of mine was visiting winnipeg last summer and she seemed so surprised that people still cared so much, over a hundred years later. but we do. and i assume people in saskatchewan probably do as well, at least to some degree.


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i really really love how it turned out, though tat times i thought i'd never finish it! the basic outline is backstitch, very very tiny stitches which took forever, and then parts are filled in using satin stitch and a kind of adapted long and short stitch. the frame itself is about 8x10".


(if you're interested in the life of louis riel, and it really is super interesting, there are a lot of books on the subject, focusing on various aspects. Chester Brown wrote Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography, which is an excellent book to start with. i originally contemplated using an image from the comic book, but decided that this image, based on old photos, and which is most commonly associated with him, was most appropriate.

2 comments:

romham a. bear said...

this is really beautiful :) fabulous job!

Poppyprint said...

This is freakin' awesome and I'm sending the link to my husband and son who both really liked the comic book (I haven't read it yet, but want to). Son just did an English project on Louis as a 'memorable' Canadian.

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