“It’s exciting and inspiring that these art pieces were created in a public forum where Stampede guests could watch them come to life,” Roc Spence, Calgary Stampede board member and long-time supporter of the Calgary Stampede Foundation, said while attending the private unveiling of two donated art pieces to ENMAX Park’s Sweetgrass Lodge. “Stampede Park has a lot of great public art pieces, but there’s something so captivating about watching pageantry in play.”

Amy Dryer and Bonnie MacRae-Kilb were participants of the Calgary Stampede’s 2016 Artist Ranch Project, where they had the unique privilege of creating works of art in the hustle and bustle of Stampede Park, during the first official Indian Village Opening Ceremonies in Indian Village’s new home in ENMAX Park.

Left: Amy Dryer’s Sound of Thunder
Right, Top: Bonnie MacRae-Kilb’s We Are All Treaty People
Right, Bottom: Roc Spence, Cieran Starlight, Amy Dryer, Bonnie MacRae-Kilb

Spence was immediately drawn to MacRae-Kilb’s piece; he decided to purchase it and donate it to the Calgary Stampede Foundation. Dryer’s experience was so meaningful that she knew the only suitable home for the piece would be at Stampede Park, thus she also chose to donate her piece to the Stampede Foundation.

Dryer, Spence, and MacRae-Kilb and her family, attended a small, private unveiling of their artwork in their new home in Sweetgrass Lodge on Friday, February 9, along with members of the Calgary Stampede Foundation. While standing in the room, each artist reflected back on the journey of turning a blank canvas into a meaningful work of art.

In anticipation of the big day, Dryer had been mentally planning to paint the dancers on stage during the ceremonies. When the time came, however, Dryer found herself surrounded by overwhelming energy from the Opening Ceremonies, mixed with feelings of eagerness from the crowds of spectators who had keenly fixed their gaze upon her canvas. She took a moment to reflect upon what her artistic calling for the day was and realized that she was captivated by the 2016 Indian Princess, Vanessa Stiffarm. Dryer asked if she could paint Stiffarm while she was dancing on stage, to which Stiffarm smiled and agreed.

Dryer looking at her masterpiece, Sound of Thunder, reflecting back on the experience

“I love to paint women and capture their strength,” Dryer explained. “When I first met Vanessa she had her hand on her hip, and just the way about her gave off a feeling of directness and character as a woman. So that’s what I tried to capture in this piece.”

Dryer’s piece showcases a unique artistic style that displays the interconnectedness of foreground and background, using numerous bright colours to depict the movement and gestures of Vanessa’s dance.

She titled the art piece after Stiffarm’s Blackfoot name, i’kiwayoht, meaning “Heard All Over”, which comes from the Sound of Thunder. “The name gives direction for an art piece so I hope all women can look at this piece and feel strength and inspiration,” Dryer explained.

(L-R) Dryer, Starlight and MacRae-Kilb in-touch with their inner strength, as inspired by Stiffarm’s pose in Sound of Thunder

Throughout the artistic process, Dryer built a strong connection with Stiffarm, who was thrilled to be featured in the art piece.

“Being part of this beautiful artwork makes me proud to be a part of the Indian Village history and bringing it to its new home at ENMAX Park,” Stiffarm said. “I just love seeing how much the Indian Princess program has grown since I was princess. I love that Sound of Thunder is here to support and encourage the next princesses to know they can achieve anything with this role.”

Dryer’s connection with Stiffarm led her to the decision to donate Sound of Thunder to the Calgary Stampede Foundation . Sound of Thunder now hangs in Sweetgrass Lodge with MacRae-Kilb’s four-paneled piece We Are All Treaty People.

MacRae-Kilb’s We Are All Treaty People features intricate details such as the beaded border and textured additions

“It turned me inside out!” Macrae-Kilb gushed when speaking of the moment she found out that Roc Spence wanted to purchase her artwork.

“When I saw Bonnie’s creation it touched my heart; it captured all that was the new Indian Village on the traditional land,” said Spence. “MacRae-Kilb’s dramatic colour interpretations and her amazing passion came to life on the canvas, so I knew I needed to own this piece. But then I thought – where would this art piece have the most meaning and representation? Its new home in Sweetgrass Lodge will capture the imagery of Indian Village to share with generations long after I’m gone.”

MacRae-Kilb’s piece depicts the four seasons through bold colours and textures in abstract form. “During the live painting, adults would come over and look at my canvas, not understanding the meaning behind the colours and shapes – but when young people and children would approach my art, I could tell that they felt a connection to the piece and could understand it in their own way.”

For this reason, MacRae-Kilb was glad to discuss her artwork with 2018 Indian Princess, Cieran Starlight.

Starlight (R) admiring MacRae-Kilb’s (L) artwork

“I love it!” were Starlight’s first words when looking at We Are All Treaty People. “I’m an artist too; I go to Alberta College of Art & Design (ACAD) and oh my goodness, the first year critique is hard. People are rigid and expect detail and order. So this piece really speaks to me because a lot of Indigenous youth are artistic and we like to work with our hands and create more free-flowing, experimental pieces.”

We Are All Treaty People features something unique everywhere you look, while always ensuring respect for the traditions and cultures of Indian Village. Cut-out coyotes add extra life to the piece, as does the general beaded inspiration for the canvas border. But what really brings the piece to life is the addition of MacRae-Kilb’s original poem.

“We can all live together,” MacRrae-Kilb said following a reading of the poem. “I’m enriched as I learn more about your culture,” she said to Starlight.

MacRae-Kilb reciting her original poem, We Are All Treaty People

A big thank you goes to Amy Dryer and Bonnie MacRae-Kilb for letting the inspiration of Indian Village come to life in two remarkably captivating and meaningful art pieces. Another huge thank you goes to Amy Dryer and Roc Spence for donating these pieces to the Calgary Stampede Foundation.

Sound of Thunder and We Are All Treaty People make excellent additions to Sweetgrass Lodge, making sure that the story doesn’t end here. Sweetgrass Lodge is used all year long for a variety of programs including Stampede School, the Indigenous Youth Program, Indigenous awareness training sessions and of course supports the residents and visitors of Indian Village during Stampede. Both of these art pieces will keep the stories of the Calgary Stampede and Indian Village alive for generations to come.

The Stampede is so thankful to display these beautiful art pieces in Sweetgrass Lodge, and for the meaningful experiences both Dryer and MacRae-Kilb were able to have as participants in the Artist Ranch Project.