Jerry Chiasson

Region: 
Dehcho
Community: 
Fort Simpson
Primary Art Type: 
Phone: 
Address: 
P.O. Box148
9409 MacKenzie Drive
Fort Simpson, NT X0E 0N0

Artist Story

I started drawing when I was 10 years old. I still draw and paint portraits, wildlife and landscapes.  Over the years, I have worked in all the main mediums, specializing in black and white ball point pen drawings. Lately, I’ve been concentrating on carved sterling silver or copper jewelry, such as earrings, cuffs and rings.

I learned to carve under the famous West Coast artist Dennis Matilpi. I then studied and worked under master carver William Good. Even so, I always struggled with finding myself. My teachers knew I was struggling because I was always trying different designs and it just wasn’t working. Traditional Mi’kmaq designs are comprised of reversed curves and linear patterns. Ever since I was a kid, I was drawing these designs on paper, and people would ask: “Why are you drawing this?”, and I would never know what to answer. I was drawing instinctively, without ever really understanding where my art was stemming from.

As it turns out, DNA is a funny thing. I was adopted as a child, and after finding my birth parents, I learned that I am Métis - specifically of Mi’kmaq and French descent. I was 44 years old when I learned about my ancestry, even though my designs had always reflected my Mi’kmaq heritage. Connecting these dots was like opening Pandora’s box. I started studying traditional stories, and the inspiration was coming faster than I could draw!  I began putting my designs together while incorporating the Mi’kmaq hieroglyphic language. I love to see stories come alive through my jewelry in that way. That’s really powerful and it’s the avenue I want to keep pursuing.

Art is deeply spiritual for me. I find most of my inspiration in the Creator. Some of the pieces I make, I can’t take credit for. My ideas may come from dreams, or they may be something burning in my heart that I want to express. These stories come to me in imagery, and I am simply writing these stories down. More often than not, I find out afterwards that my Ancestors told exactly the story I’m depicting. I know I didn’t get here by myself; I have all my relatives behind me. I want to honour that through every piece that I create.

I’m currently halfway through completing my Masters degree in Indigenous Theology. My thought process and my artwork is morphing along with my studies too. In the past, the galleries were dictating my work: they wanted specific items and I had to provide. Looking back, I can see that something was missing. Being able to connect with my heritage has filled in those gaps for me. I feel really at home now. I’m finding my voice. I’m finding myself. I’m constantly reflecting on what my story is, on what I can give tribute to. Art is a language, and it is meant to be shared with - and for - the community.

Reconnecting with my Indigenous roots is a totally new territory. This journey is equally frightening and exciting. Among everything, it is asking me to reevaluate what art means for me and what I want to say. I keep telling myself that I do have something to contribute, that I’m not as lost as what I was before. In the past, the dots weren’t fully connecting between who I thought I was and the designs that were coming out of me. But it turned out that these designs and everything else I was doing was just laying the groundwork for what I am doing now.

Artist Bio: 

Jerry has lived in Fort Simpson since 2015. He was born in Saint John, New Brunswick and grew up in multiple northern communities including Thompson, Manitoba, and Whitehorse, Yukon. For that reason, the North has always been a warm blanket to him, offering peaceful solitude and comfort. Jerry moved to the Northwest Territories as a pastor for a small Pentecostal church in Fort Simpson. He currently sells his artwork in person, while he focuses on his personal journey, work and studies. He hopes to be able to partake in the Great Northern Art Festival in Inuvik one day.

Last Updated: September 27, 2021

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