Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Now that he’s achieving great things in the art world, one might expect Blake Angeconeb to tell stories about a lifelong passion and how he laid the foundations for his career as a young child.
But that would not be the truth for Angeconeb, a 33-year-old member of Lac Seul First Nation in northern Ontario, who is working as a full-time artist.
“I never took art in high school,” said Angeconeb, who now lives in Winnipeg. “And I was never really interested in it.”
His introduction to art came about a decade ago when he was invited to his cousin’s house to participate in a fun painting session with his niece, who was about five at the time.
His first piece of art turned out to be a Hello Kitty painting.
Angeconeb, who is a self-taught traditional painter, digital illustrator and mural artist, has come a long way since then.
Two years ago he quit his job with a child and family services agency so he could concentrate full-time on his art career.
It was announced this past Friday, March 3, that Angeconeb had designed the signage for American Express Canada’s Always Welcome campaign.
Merchants across the country can display the Angeconeb-designed signs to signify that all customers are welcome in their business.
“It’s definitely pretty cool,” he said. “I like it’s accessible to everyone and anybody can use it.”
Besides displaying Always Welcome signs in their stores, businesses are also allowed to utilize the signs on their websites and social media.
Businesses across Canada that accept American Express can order their Always Welcome sign for free. Those that choose so can also download the signs for free.
Angeconeb said he was approached last year by a Chicago-based company to see if he had any interest in being part of the American Express campaign.
“I was on board right away,” he said. “They asked me if I wanted to jump on a call with people from American Express. Everything just worked out from there.”
But creating his final product was a time-consuming process.
“There was a lot of back and forth in creating this,” Angeconeb said.
Angeconeb believes he sent samples of a possible design for the campaign four times to American Express representatives.
“It was mostly minor changes,” he said. “I would send it to them, they would send me feedback and then I would send it to them again.”
The final-approved Always Welcome sign features the thunderbird, which represents strength and protection and is a powerful symbol in Indigenous culture.
The sign also includes four faces.
Angeconeb said he was keen to incorporate themes of unity and connectedness is his artwork for this campaign.
“To me, always welcome means crafting work that speaks to those who are unrepresented to create a sense of belonging and acceptance,” he said. “Art is a form of medicine that has brought healing not only for myself, but for Indigenous people, and I’m humbled to be able to share my meaningful ‘Always Welcome’ signage with communities across this land.”
Angeconeb believes the American Express campaign will end up lasting about a year.
American Express had also used three artists from the United States for an Always Welcome campaign, which was launched south of the border in November 2021.
Angeconeb said creating the artwork for the Always Welcome campaign is indeed a career highlight for him.
Another highlight for him occurred last year when he worked with legendary Indigenous singer/songwriter/social activist Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Angeconeb provided all of the drawings for a pair of animated videos produced for the Downie Wenjack Fund. Sainte-Marie wrote the scripts for both videos.
The mission of the Downie Wenjack Fund is to build a better cultural understanding and create a path towards reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
The fund was launched in collaboration with Gord Downie, the late singer of The Tragically Hip who had urged Canadians to do their part towards reconciliation, and the family of Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 at the age of 12 after he ran away from the residential school he was attending.
Angeconeb is also preparing for his first solo art show, which will run from July through October of this year at The Muse – Lake of the Woods Museum & Douglas Family Art Centre in Kenora, Ont.
He is hoping the exhibit will include 15 pieces of his artwork.
“I better start painting,” Angeconeb chuckled, adding having a baby who is now 11 months old at home has taken up a good chunk of his time in the past year.
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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.