Skip to content

Artist chooses Nakusp for his new home

Mark Jacobson wants to explore reconcilliation and healing projects with the community
Mark Anthony Jacobson working in his studio in Nakusp: ‘I thought it would be easier to form connections and relationships here than in a big city.’

A First Nations artist who moved to Nakusp last year plans to open the village’s first-ever aboriginal art gallery.

But that’s just the start of Mark Anthony Jacobson’s plans in the community.

“I have connected with some amazing people so far,” he says. “I’m looking forward to getting projects up and rolling, and participating with community.”

An artist for more than 30 years, Jacobson produces work in the ‘Woodland’ style: using vibrant colours, and abstract, cartoon-like figures that represent spiritual and mystical objects, people and creatures. It’s a style created and made famous by artist Norval Morriseau, who won the Order of Canada for his achievement. He died in Nanaimo in 2007.

Jacobson, of mixed Swedish and Anishinaabe descent, grew up in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. He has worked in Toronto, Los Angeles, New Mexico, and most recently, Vancouver. His work is in major galleries from Ontario to B.C., and he has won awards for his work, including a 2012 Moonbeam award for his illustration of a book on Anishinaabe clans and totems.

But it was the birth of his first child — a boy — that prompted Jacobson to look for quieter surroundings for his new family.

“He’s like three months old, and oh my God, he’s the greatest thing I’ve ever known,” he says. “But I didn’t want my son growing up in the city.”

“I thought it would be easier to form connections and relationships here than in a big city. There’s less violence, less situations and circumstances that can put him in harm’s way here. It’s scary in Vancouver, with the drugs, the problems- how can you raise a child safely in a place like that?”

Since moving to the Nakusp, Jacobson has linked up with local business people, and that gave him the idea of opening up an aboriginal art gallery. Working with Prima Materia Gallery on Broadway, Jacobson plans to display his work, and that of other aboriginal artists. It’s the first time a gallery with such a focus has opened in Nakusp.

“I thought it a real golden opportunity to share something I am an expert in, and that is my culture,” he says. “And to share that expertise with as many people across the planet as possible. I know Nakusp is a tourist attraction in the summer, so there’s a lot of people visiting, a lot of action here.”

Jacobson has also been in touch with the school district, and with other local artists, to explore projects and potential partnerships. It’s part of a larger goal he has — to help further reconcilliation between First Nations and non-native Canadians.

“Our people are a loving people, open and welcoming,” he says. “We have always been that way. But we would like some dance partners now, know what I mean?

“Rather than appeal to the politicians of this country, I want to appeal to the people of this country. Because that’s where I believe the power is, not in the politicians.”

And that is also what brought him to Nakusp, he says — to work at the huge concepts of truth and reconcilliation and de-colonization at the grass-roots, individual level.

“I feel really excited by it,” he says. “We have to work together as a people — white, red, black, yellow — and we have to practice those teachings by getting our hands dirty and making relationships with those in the community. And I kind of feel like, yeah, y’know there’s a lot of Canadian citizens that are open to that healing, to the wellness.”

For now, Jacobson is busy working on new art, planning events around Aboriginal Day in June, and making connections in the community. Once he gets settled, he says he’ll also look at buying property here.

He’s pretty certain he can make a living for himself, and his new family, in his chosen home town.

“I like to dream big,” he says. “My Indian name is ‘Rainbow Thunderbird’ and thunderbirds are about protectors of the people, protectors of the culture, and protectors of the spiritual songs and teachings we carry.

“And we live in a time when a lot of us are carrying big messages. We have big visions to share. I feel this is the perfect time to share what I bring to the table. Whats’ most important thing we can all relate to when it comes to a vision like that? Love. Love and healing.

After struggling with his mixed-heritage identity, with a troubled youth and with substance abuse, Jacobson says he’s healed, and ready to embrace his new world.

“What does the White man in me want and what does the Indian in me want? Love and healing,” he says. “So if I can get that for myself, and I have an unlimited supply of that, why don’t I share that with others?

“That’s how i really feel.”

With his work on display across Canada, Jacobson plans to open a gallery of his own and other aboriginal artists work in Nakusp.