Fred Green, a.k.a. Greenefeather, really paved the way for First Nations artists in the Lake of the Woods area. Although he garnered much of his income from guiding in his younger days, he was creating art for sale in the early 1950s. His best work was sweeping lakescapes, full of the white pine and rocky shorelines characteristic of this area. Often he added local wildlife into the frame: wolves and deer his most common subjects. If you happened to meet him at his favourite restaurant, the staff kept a stock of heavy paper plates on hand for him to sketch out a quick landscape if you asked for one. My mother still has a pastel scene that he rendered on a fungus snapped off a tree trunk when he guided her on her nursing rounds through his home reserve of Shoal Lake back in the early 1950s. The man just loved to draw!
His career as an artist really picked up in the 1970s and 1980s. I had certainly heard of him by then, and had seen his work. But our first meeting was in Hennepin Lane – a rather sketchy place for a young girl to be. My left arm was encased in a fresh cast, the victim of a fall from my new horse.
A First Nations man called to me, and seeing my cast, “Here! That cast looks too white. Let me sign it for you!”
I was a bit taken aback. “Oh that’s all right, thank you. I’m trying to keep it clean (and I had been determined not to have it all messed up with signatures). Thank you anyway.”
“No, no, really. Let me sign it. I’m a famous artist, you know. There are people all over the world who buy my pictures. I just sent some to Saudi Arabia!”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Greenefeather.”
I introduced myself and told him he used to be my mother’s guide, and we chatted for long enough that my dad came out the back door of his shop to see if I’d met with trouble (Hennepin Lane was really not the safest place in town to hang out…). In the end, Fred broke my resolve, and I proudly wore his trademark signature down my left arm for the next six weeks.
Greenefeather worked in pen/brush and india ink on paper for most of his commercial pieces. He made prints from many of his originals, and these are quite readily found still. But his originals come available less frequently now. We always hope to keep one or two on hand for our customers.