Arthur Shilling: a closer look

Arthur Shilling: The Final Works

From February 20 to May 22, 2016 Arthur Shilling: The Final Works was on exhibit at the Art Gallery of Peterborough. Shilling (1941 – 1986) was an amazing artist and visionary.

This exhibition is of artwork by Arthur Shilling. He was born on April 19, 1941 on the Chippewas of Rama First Nation Reserve.

Rama is located in Southern Ontario, near Orillia. It is a vibrant Anishinaabe community with around 1,500 members, about half live on the reserve. The people take great pride in their community – it has its own schools, government offices, and businesses.

Reserve: Defined by the Indian Act as a tract of land, the legal title to which is vested in Her Majesty, that has been set apart by Her Majesty for the use and benefit of a band. There are over 600 Reserves in Canada.

Anishinaabe: The first Original Peoples, the names used by the Ojibwe (Ojibway), Odawa, and Algonquin Peoples to refer to themselves. The Anishnaabe Nation’s territories are in present day Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. There are hundreds of distinct Indigenous Nations across Canada.

While he mainly painted portraits, he occasionally painted landscapes.


Arthur Shilling, Girl with Red Scarf

Look at this painting titled Girl with Red Scarf, ca. 1981-1983.

It is really important that Shilling has included his community members in these paintings. The landscapes that the Group of Seven painted were often populated by First Nations communities or the site of logging work. Paintings that included First Nations settlements were not as popular. People and galleries did not want to buy them. People liked the idea that the lands of Canada were wild and untouched. So, First Nations people were often excluded from these paintings and unfairly erased from the Canadian imagination, shaping our ideas about wilderness.

Shilling painted many portraits and self-portraits.Arthur Shilling, Ojibway Dream (Self-Portrait 2), n.d., oil on board

Aboriginal people wanted to have ownership of how they were represented. They were often represented as living in the past and not as part of the contemporary world. Artists, writers, teachers, political leaders and many others have worked very hard to change that perception.

Think about selfies. 

  • Do you take selfies?
  • Do you post them on social media?
  • What makes a good selfie and how much work does it take?
  • How important is self-representation to you?
  • How would you feel if one of your selfies went viral?
  • What if one of your selfies became a meme?


Learn how the exhibition was developed:

On May 22nd, Curators William Kingfisher and Fynn Leitch discussed Arthur Shilling: The Final Works.


Download the full education guide for  personal study or use in classrooms.

Arthur Shilling Education Guide

Mask Guides

Bear pattern guide

Beaver pattern guide

Fish pattern guide

Frog pattern guide

Loon pattern guide

Nanabush pattern guide

Turtle pattern guide

Wolf pattern guide


Read more about the exhibition:


This online education component has been supported by the Ontario Arts Council through an Arts Education Projects Grant. The exhibition and publication have been supported by The Department of Canadian Heritage, Museum Assistance Program.

Regular Hours: Wednesday to Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. Admission is by Donation.

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