Beads and Pieces
Birks Building storefront windows, 101 Sparks Street, Ottawa
Winter 2022 to Spring 2023
Throughout the year, the City of Ottawa curates public art exhibitions from their permanent art collection and install photographic reproductions of these works throughout the city in public spaces, including vacant storefront buildings. The Birks building on historic Sparks Street is the site for the exhibition Beads and Pieces. This exhibition focuses on the use of beadwork contemporary Indigenous art and includes three artists: Barry Ace (Anishinaabe), Nadia Myre (Anishinaabe) and Shelby Lisk (Kanyen’kehá:ka).
Ace’s mixed media triptych work entitled Shaman’s Medicine Lodge (2019) is reproduced over three storefront windows directly facing Sparks Street pedestrian mall. The work incorporates fragmented drawings of painted medicine lodges and figures engaged in ceremonial activities that is overlaid with electronic circuitry (capacitors, resistors, light-emitted diodes and glass beads) floral motifs replicating beadwork. Traditional floral beadwork designs represent medicines and the glass bead in Anishinaabemowin is called manidoominens (or spirit-energy berry). Like the traditional medicines, and floral glass beadwork that either literally or mythologically release healing energy, these electronic components also store and release energy. There is a powerful simile between the glass bead and electronic component. The Shaman’s activities are also dependent on energy and medicine and the triptych work with the overlaying and connected motifs unite and bring together all these elements of power in art, science, medicine and technology.
About the Birks Building: This building is one of 19 buildings located on the north side of Sparks Street between Elgin and Bank streets, an area which has been, since the 1880s at least, the core of Ottawa’s central business district. The Birks Building was constructed for A. Rosenthal and sons who operated a prestige jewellery store on Sparks Street from the 1890s. In 1910 the firm commissioned the construction of an elaborate new store and office building. Shortly after its completion, the building was sold to Henry Birks and sons of Montreal. Henry Birks was born in England and entered the jewellery trade by joining the Montreal firm of George Savage and Company. Birks opened his own shop in 1879. In 1911, Birks began a continent-wide expansion, starting with the opening of a store in Ottawa. In 1982 the company moved to quarters in the newly opened Rideau Centre and the retail space has been subdivided without the loss of any of the original architectural detailing.