SACKVILLE, N.B. – The spectacular pageantry and fast-paced energy of the Fancy Dance is captured in a coin design recently unveiled by the Royal Canadian Mint – a design created by a former Sackville resident and Titan alumnus.
Kanienkehá:ka artist Garrison Garrow said it was a challenge to find a way to bring the Fancy Dance to life, as he wanted to reflect not only the fast and furious pace of the dance, but also the pride and cultural heritage of contemporary Indigenous people through this art form.
“Capturing the movement was essential, given the amount of energy required to be a fancy dancer. You have to be athletic to do this style of dance,” says Garrow, 44, who now lives in Ottawa and works as a program officer for the federal government.
He says the overall design of the Fancy Dancer was based off a blurry photo he had taken of a friend of his.
“It had the right movement and footwork depicted.”
But the finer details in the image were inspired from a variety of sources, he says.
“I watched a lot of powwow videos, remembered conversations with friends who dance and then tried to get a balance of regions depicted in the beadwork,” he recalls.
“So the apron is a Haudenosaunee design, that’s for my home; the design on the chest could be a Thunderbird or another being; the designs on the arms were for the Comanche, powwows took root from that land and spread out across the continent.”
Garrow said he was contacted by the Mint to come up with the Fancy Dancer image, likely as a result of the work he did in 2012 in designing a medallion that was gifted to Pope Benedict XVI in Rome, Italy during the Canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha - the first Mohawk (Kahnienkehaka) saint.
Although the design for the Fancy Dancer was originally a black and white drawing, the Mint decided to change it to a colour coin and Garrow said he’s pleased with how it turned out.
The $30 silver collector coin, with a mintage limited to 3,500, was unveiled recently at McGill University in Montreal, just before the grand entrance to the First Peoples’ House 17th Annual Powwow. It’s one of several coins released by the Mint over the years to honor First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
Born in Cornwall, Ont., Garrow spent his early childhood years in Massena, N.Y., before moving to New Brunswick as a young teen. Sackville became his home in 1987 and that’s where he would stay for the next decade.
“Wherever we were though, we would always go home to Akwesasne,” he says. “Drawing was always a way for me to connect with my home, with my culture.”
Through his work with the federal government over the years, Garrow has worked on Indigenous labour market programs and development, was involved with the implementation of the Indigenous Residential Schools Agreement and more recently has been working with Nanilavut, an initiative about Inuit and tuberculosis.
“Whenever I have some time though, I am drawing or creating something, and, for the past couple of years I have been doing that more often,” he says. “I am very grateful for the opportunities that I have been given. My daughter is always drawing so it is amazing to watch her carry that on, she already knows that she can become an artist if she wants, something that I only recently came to realize.”