Indigenous creators are in touch with nature’s healing and creative properties. Many entrepreneurs have honoured the Indigenous traditions and have brought a more eco-conscious approach to modern-day items that negatively affect environmental and human health. Conventional art supplies are typically crafted with toxins and heavy metals to give them pigmentation. Indigenous-owned Beam Paints is an art supply brand that uses natural, safe ingredients that do not compromise quality or beautiful colours. The watercolour paints and packaging reclaim elements of the earth to leave as little of an ecological footprint as possible.
When asked about the process of creating safer art supplies, Anong responded, “It wasn’t difficult. It was more about taking the time and ensuring the safety of pigments. It’s not obvious when looking at anything whether it is or isn’t safe”. Anong wanted to receive approval from the experts who are considered the golden standard of art supply safety. “I joined the Arts and Creative Materials Institute at Duke University. Their toxicology department has been specializing in certifying paints since the 1940s. I sent them my recipes and samples of pigments that I wanted to use. They conducted third-party tests, and they let me know if it was suitable for what I wanted to do”.
Raised by two full-time artists on M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Anong’s experience in visual art began as a child. An incredible asset to working as an artistic entrepreneur is the connection to the child-like creativity that shaped her as a person. Anong is passionate about bringing that feeling to people’s lives through Beam Paints. “I get to go back to a lot of the things that I did when I was a kid with my parents, so in many ways, it was like coming home. I like working with pigments and developing new colours. It’s been wonderful to share colour with people, and to be closer to land experientially”.
Creating and educating people on the safety of art supplies is personal to Anong. “My father passed away in 2005. When he was ill, he had to do chelation therapy, and they found that he had a high amount of heavy metals in his system. A lot of that came from art supplies over his prolonged use of them as a career artist. He did use paints that had heavy metals such as cobalt”.
With visual art being a significant part of who she is, Anong honours her late father through providing safe and high-quality art supplies to today’s artist. “I remember my parents’ art supplies vividly, and learning about the different materials. I find all of the names so poetic. Getting to be connected to so many creative people is wonderful. I love that I get to be a small part of these amazing artists that go forward and do fantastic things with these paints”.
With Indigenous rights at the forefront of social justice conversations within Canada, it is essential now to support Indigenous creators and listen to their stories. Recognizing the value of Indigenous culture will enhance representation in commerce and will normalize the diverse languages. When asked what she hopes to contribute to the conversation through Beam Paints, Anong reflected, “as a business owner, it was essential for me to put my language front and center for young people.
To show them that our language can be used in a modern way and that it was valid and useful”. Anong found inspiration to embrace the Cree language through the work of artist Joi Arcand. “She [Joi] does amazing work where she digitally edits community photos and replaces all of the English with Cree. I thought those photographs of Cree language being used the same way as English was wonderful and hopeful of a future where our language can flourish”.
Anong is hopeful that Canadian society is moving in a direction where Indigenous history and practices will be heard, understood, and validated nationally. After generational suffering through Residential Schools, activists are holding Canadian politicians accountable for the mistreatment of Indigenous people. Anong is hopeful that this passionate call to action sets the foundation for a better, more inclusive future.
“I feel that we are moving into that kind of recovery, where our traditional knowledge is gaining this space to breathe and be respected. It’s really what is needed now, to reimagine things as being presented in a way that has an ecological conscience”. With Beam Paints, artists can get in touch with rich pigments that preserve the environment and honour the practices of pre-colonization. “That is the spirit of the design of our products, it’s vintage in its spirit, and it is of the land. I think that is what makes these paints enjoyed by many. It’s a wonderful hybrid of European and Indigenous paint traditions”.
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