Pictographs (Digital Edition)

Primary Author: 
James Simon

In Pictographs, Ojibway artist James Simon Mishibinijima brings to life the legends passed down to him by generations of Elders. In this collection, each image tells a story, silently communicating lessons of harmony, interconnectedness and peace.

About the Book


Transcending the familiar iconography of the Near North—the crows, the wolves, the loons and the ravens—the drawings of James Simon, known as Mishibinijima, propel readers into a fantastical spirit world, one that is as powerful and mysterious as it is beautiful.

In Mishibinijima’s Pictographs, smooth, quiet drawings serve as a reflection of place, not just of the wild geography of forest and rock of his native Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island but also of the ancestral wisdom of the Elders, whose telling images remain graven into stone on the north shore of Lake Superior and at the burial sites of LaCloche Island.

Mishibinijima’s world is quiet, devoid of language—a world in which the artist listens to the fauna, in which pictographs articulate the essential interconnectedness of nature and in which images themselves become texts of dimly-remembered lessons recited by Elders long passed.

Read an Excerpt


The development of a pictographic style

At the core of Mishibinijima’s pictographic art is a conception that pictographs painted on rock faces across the Canadian Shield and that are incised on sacred birch bark scrolls of the Great Medicine Society of the Anishnabek are the repositories of religion, ethics and history of the Anishnabek people. His art reflects a lifelong quest of continual searching for ways in which the past and present, the spiritual and the human, the animate and inanimate can co-mingle in things both seen and sensed.

Mishibinijima has spent much of life exploring the islands and waterways of Manitoulin Island, the shores of Birch Island, the La Cloche mountains and the northern edges of Lake Huron. Contemplative, patient, Mishibinijima’s purpose on his journeys of discovery is attuning himself to a place’s spiritual energy radiating from land and water, and from the souls that have lived and travelled along these routes for millennia. Watching, listening, being attentive to subtle visions that connect him with Mother Earth, her children and the souls of ancestors connect Mishibinijima’s present with the ancient past.

According to legend, spirit portals exist all around Manitoulin Island that allow access to the spirit world for prayers that are offered up to those who have come before and who have passed on. Conversely, these same portals also allow spirits to return to the human realm and initiate contact. Over the course of his time living in these landscapes Mishibinijima has developed a rare facility at reading—internalizing—the language of the pictographs that are painted and etched onto the rocks above the water line and making their ancient grammar tell his own stories. They are visual markers of these portals. His own pictographs are part of this ancient tradition.

—Tom Smart

[ Continued in Pictographs... ]

About the Artist


Credit: Jean Simon

James Simon Mishibinijima, one of Canada’s foremost Native artists, has created a unique body of work over the past four decades which has attracted a loyal following in North America and overseas. He was born in 1954 in Wikwemikong, Manitoulin Island, where he grew up immersed in the legends of the Ojibway people.

From the 1970s to the present, Mishibinijima has explored many of the sacred places around Manitoulin Island and originated the coveted Mishmountain series, among others. His uplifting philosophy has found resonance with those who seek solace in the midst of tragedy, and meaning in a world that is often confusing and frightening.

In his work he underscores the wisdom of the Elders’ teachings as a way to foster respect and peace. He also emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life and calls upon nations to preserve our natural surroundings for the benefit of our children.

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