A Haida Artist in the Field Museum of Natural History

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By Michelle Cyca

Posted on November 23, 2018 | Updated August 06, 2019, 9:07AM

Animator and Emily Carr alum Shoshannah Greene on her YVR Masterpiece Study Program Travel Grant.

2015 alum Shoshannah Greene has been keeping busy. Recently, she was the 2017 recipient of the YVR Art Foundation Masterpiece Study Program Travel Grant. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to catch up with her and her amazing artistic journey during what she refers to as “the biggest year of my life.”

Tell us about your journey.

My name is Shoshannah Greene. My work focuses on combining hand drawn animation with watercolour backgrounds, centering around the supernaturals within Haida culture.

I was born and raised on Haida Gwaii. The first time I lived anywhere else was when I came to attend Emily Carr University in Vancouver. I graduated from the Animation program in 2015. Between semesters, I was working at the Bill Reid Gallery and the Haida Museum as a cultural ambassador, working at the desk and giving tours, and working in the archives. I loved working in the museum space, working with the public and with research. I learned curatorial practices and how to set up exhibits, and lot of my museum work was focused on programming.

Animation was my first love. I wanted to be a character animator when I was younger. While at Emily Carr, I went on a field trip with Illustration Club to Los Angeles. We visited Dreamworks and Disney, it was so cool to me that little me from Skidegate was in Beverly Hills. I had wanted to be in LA so badly, but I realized that home was here, in the Pacific Northwest, so I focused on museums.

I took a break from Emily Carr for awhile in 2014 because I was in school full time and working part time, and I was working on a project I wasn’t connecting to. I felt like I’d lost my connection to animation. I withdrew before I could fail. I couldn’t animate anymore, but I wanted to stay in school, so I did two part-time classes. Then, in one class, we were given an assignment to create something on the topic of juxtaposition. I chose the natural and the supernatural, and that assignment was my first painting. My next adventure was doing watercolour, which was met with great reception. That really motivated me to keep painting.

From there I went back to working at the Haida Gwaii Museum. The new CEO, Scott Marsden, was talking about how the American Museum of Natural History needed a 3D animator for a Haida project. He told me this at a time when I was heartbroken because I’d broken up with animation, but Scott pushed me to do it. He told me, “No, this is a huge opportunity,” so even though I didn’t think they’d want my work because all my animation was 2D, I reached out with my portfolio anyway. The Museum got back to me and was like, “This is amazing, we need you on this project.”

It ended up being an augmented reality project, Dreams of the Haida Child. I illustrated the project. The work was created in Skidegate, sent to Texas, and then to New York. Josh Samuel did the 3D animation. Working on this project, I had a moment where I realized that I could still work in animation, which was great.

I’ve had the opportunity to travel and work in museums in other countries, which I’m so grateful for. Right now I work as an independent artist.

Describe your practice in three words.

I talk too much for just three words.

YVR Art Foundation - Masterpiece Study Program

Tell us about your experience with the YVR Art Foundation Masterpiece Study Program Travel Grant. How did you decide to apply?

Raven Pearson, the 2012 recipient of the grant, really encouraged me to apply. I was a recipient of the 2015 YVR Art Foundation Youth Art Scholarship, so in 2016 I got to travel to New York and work in Manhattan on my Dreams of the Haida Child project. I’d worked at the Pitt Rivers Museum, the British Museum, the Museum of Anthropology, and the Museum of Vancouver already, and working in Manhattan was fantastic.

I’d always wanted to go to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, it was the first museum in Chicago to repatriate. Susan Jackson, the executive director of the YVR Art Foundation, came and gave a talk, so I applied for the 2017 Masterpiece Study Program Travel Grant. It felt like my chance. I was awarded the grant and went to Chicago just this past May.

I loved Chicago. Everywhere you look, there’s something to look at. I’d been feeling bored, but when I got to Chicago and everything flipped upside down. I felt so safe there. Everyone came up to have a conversation with me, and everyone at the museum ended up being friends. The experience was really refreshing and inspiring.

What are you up to now?

This has been the biggest year of my life. My grad film was on display at the Museum of Anthropology, my work is in the Haida Now exhibit which includes 450 pieces of Haida Art, some pieces haven’t been seen in 100 years. It was really affecting to study the pieces. After the 2016 scholarship, I’ve been working with more classic Haida design. And then there was the Chicago trip!

What project that you’ve worked on has changed your perspective or practice?

A few: I was working in the world of museums. I was at the Bill Reid Gallery at 2015, there was a show called Box of Treasures with Beau Dick’s work. I worked behind the scenes and spent time in the gallery drawing and just studying the art and drawing.

The Haida Now exhibit has been really moving. It helped me think about how we talk about things. It makes me so grateful and excited for all of the things we have access to learn now.

If you weren’t doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing?

When I was five, my dream job was to be an animal rescuer and save the world’s tiger population.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

So there’s a quote back home that is the best compliment, and that’s “Bwyyy” and that’s how you know you’ve done a good job. But there’ve been lots of good responses. I’m really grateful for all of the positive feedback I’ve received.

What’s the most useful piece of career advice you’ve received as a practicing artist/designer?

“You learn from your mistakes and feedback.” But also, it’s so important to get a full night’s sleep. And have a routine. And drink water. Things are going to be okay. Ride the wave. Life is beautiful.

Where there any professors/classes that influenced you?

The whole Animation department was basically a family. Martin Rose is so kind and motivating. Darren Brereton really helped me technically, big learning curve for me because I could always draw, but not animate. I improved so much in a semester of his class. Ruben Moller helped me a lot too. I really enjoyed going to class.

If you were a type of pie, what type of pie would you be?

Lemon meringue pie. That’s easy.

What advice do you have for new graduates?

Take a break to debrief and go through the feels. Emily Carr is intense. Someone once told me art school wasn’t that hard, and I was like, “No, man.” Try something new with this time that you couldn’t do while you were in school.

Where can people find your work?

On my Facebook artist page.