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Shoshana Wasser

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Samuel Thomas honoured with 2016 Ontario Arts Council Aboriginal Arts Award

June 9, 2016

Samuel Thomas
Samuel Thomas

Beadwork artist Samuel Thomas is the recipient of this year's Ontario Arts Council Aboriginal Arts Award. This award, created in 2012, celebrates the work of Aboriginal artists and arts leaders who have made significant contributions to the arts in Ontario.

Sam will receive this $10,000 award at Brantford’s Woodland Cultural Centre on Saturday, June 25 at 7:15 p.m. The public is invited to attend the ceremony, as well as an exhibition of Sam's new work, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. that evening.

The OAC Aboriginal Arts Award also honours emerging artists: each year, the award recipient is invited to nominate a rising Aboriginal artist to receive a $2,500 prize. Sam has selected beadwork artist and corn-husk sculptor Elizabeth Doxtater as this year’s emerging Aboriginal artist. Elizabeth’s work will also be featured in the Woodland Cultural Centre exhibition.

About Samuel Thomas

Treasured Memories by Sam Thomas

Treasured Memories by Sam Thomas.
(Beaded trunk, wood, leather, velvet and seed beads; lined with a handwritten manuscript by his mother on paper and shellac.)

Wiping Away the Tears by Sam Thomas

Wiping Away the Tears by Sam Thomas.  
(Moccasins, deerskin, 17th-century wampum shell beads and Swarovski crystals.)

  • Samuel Thomas is a member of the Lower Cayuga Band of the Iroquois Nation. He lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
  • For nearly 40 years, Sam has worked to resurrect beadwork styles from the 18th and 19th centuries. He has recovered several “lost” techniques, and in the process, has garnered international respect for Iroquois beadwork.
  • Sam’s meticulous style is self-taught, based on his extensive study of museum/collector pieces, books and illustrations. He further developed his technique by training with tanner Juliette Meness-Ferguson, beadworker Faith DuBuc, and Royal Ontario Museum curator Dr. Trudy Nicks.
  • Sam endeavours to bring people together and break down cultural divisions through sharing knowledge and the arts. He has led collaborative beading workshops involving over 800 people across two continents, as well as cross-cultural initiatives with East African beadwork artists.
  • Sam’s current projects include Opening the Doors to Dialogue, a reconciliation-focused series of collaborative sessions. Residential school survivors, their descendants and members of the public learn beadwork techniques, which they then apply to doors salvaged from former residential schools. The creative process of these sessions provides a forum for open dialogue, in turn facilitating the healing process for participants.
  • Sam is deeply dedicated not only to his art, but also to its endurance beyond his own time. As president of the arts service organization Neto Hatinakwe Onkwehowe Native Arts, he works to ensure Aboriginal artists in the Niagara region have access to training, mentorship and professional services.
  • Sam’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the British Museum, the Canadian Museum of History, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Smithsonian Institution, along with museum, gallery and private collections in the Netherlands, Germany and Australia.


“Working tirelessly to resurrect Iroquois beadwork techniques, Sam has elevated this art form to a new level,” noted the jury. “Along with being a respected craftsperson, he has demonstrated strong leadership both in his community, and through his international collaborations.”

Elizabeth Doxtater 

Elizabeth Doxtater

“Sam shows the utmost dedication to his craft, and has raised the profile of this traditional art form throughout Canada and beyond,” said Peter Caldwell, Director & CEO, Ontario Arts Council. “At the same time, he is tremendously generous with his time, skills and knowledge. We are proud to recognize him as this year’s OAC Aboriginal Arts Award laureate.”  

About the emerging artist

  • Elizabeth Doxtater is from Six Nations Grand River Territory.
  • Her work celebrates traditional Haudenosaunee corn-husk sculpting, especially corn-husk dolls. Her art practice also incorporates beadwork, acrylic painting and oil painting.
  • Elizabeth’s work has been exhibited at galleries and cultural centres in Ontario, New York state and Germany.

About the Award

Peacemaker & the Queen of Peace

Peacemaker & the Queen of Peace by Elizabeth Doxtater.

  • The Ontario Arts Council Aboriginal Arts Award is a $12,500 award program: $10,000 is awarded to the laureate, $2,500 to the emerging artist.
  • The laureate and emerging artist are announced in June each year to mark National Aboriginal History Month.
  • Jurors for the 2016 award were actor Glen Gould (Toronto), Digging Roots musician Raven Kanatakta Polson-Lahache (Barrie) and visual/media artist Shelley Niro (Brantford).
  • Learn about the 2015 laureate, Daniel David Moses; the 2014 laureate, Christi Belcourt; the 2013 laureate, Basil Johnston; and the 2012 laureate, Shelley Niro.