Born on the West Bay of Manitoulin Island in Ontario, John Eric Laford was a celebrated Anishinaabe Canadian artist who passed away in 2021. The artist’s heritage was Ojibwe/Anishinaabe First Nations. John Eric Laford was Inspired by the Ojibwe cultural legends and stories of Manitoulin Island. Laford was the grandson of hereditary Chief Dominic Migwans and Anne Commanda. Laford studied art at Algonquin College in Pembroke, Ontario, as well as pottery with the Zuni peoples at The Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He also spent considerable time painting with west coast indigenous artists in British Columbia and with artists in New York and Spain.
John Eric Laford interpreted visions, stories, and legends of his elders through his magnificent paintings. Laford used various materials including paper, birch bark, canvas, pine, cedar, and pipestone, as surfaces to depict his stories in paint. His works are poignant studies of all creation, including the spirits, elders, animals, birds, and plants. Laford’s paintings offer vivid colour and intricate geometric compositions to narrate his stories of the animal and spirit world.
In 1989 to 1990, John Eric Laford was selected as one of only two First Nations artists by Canada Council, Visual Arts Section, for the National and International Studies Art Program. He received a Canada Council award, which enabled the artist to travel and gain exposure in Canada, the United States, and Spain. His artistic skills were evaluated by the Institute of Contemporary Art, P.S.1 .Museum in New York. In 1995 to 1996, he was a sessional lecturer on Ojibwe art and culture at Algoma University, Sault Ste. Marie.
His paintings can be found in museums across Canada, the U.S. and Australia, as well as in numerous private collections across the globe.
From 1977 to 2010, John Eric Laford’s paintings have been shown in New York, USA, Vienna, Austria, Fribourg, Switzerland, Bad Nauhein Germany, Ibiza, Spain, Sante Fe, New Mexico, Petoskey, Michigan, Vancouver, and Montreal.
1982: Museum of Anthropology, UBC, Vancouver, British Columbia, Spirits in the Rock, An exhibition of paintings by Ojibwe artist John Eric Laford.
The Museum of Modern Art, Manhattan, New York, USA.
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, Gatineau, Quebec, Canada.
Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Canada.
Institute of Contemporary Art, P.S.1., New York
Some of the artist’s recent work can be seen at the new Agawa Canyon Tour Train Station, Sault Ste. Marie, ON. The station painting depicts Turtle Island and includes Whitefish Island, the locks, the water, beavers, bears and other animals, as well as pine and spruce trees. Power circles connect the sky to the earth.
“This is where we live,” said John Eric Laford of the painting in an August 2021 SooToday article. “We live in this sacred land, this sacred area.”