Sep 24 - Jan 21, 2023 Douglas family art centre

Piitwewetam: Making is Medicine

Randolph Parker, Shoal Lake Elm Tree, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 101.6 x 76.2 cm / 40 x 30 in, N 49º 30' 22.24" W 95º 02' 32.59"

Justine Gustafson . FIRST PORTRAIT, 2020  Velveteen, felt, seed beads, 51 x 38 cm




One of the gifts of being human is to love. We love so deep and so forever that generations forthcoming can feel our love. Another gift of being human is to grieve: a most natural and challenging response to a loss. This is a story of an Anishnaabe family’s journey of love and grief and grief and love.


Piitwewetam: Making is Medicine is a commemorative art exhibition presenting work by the Gustafson family: Shannon, Ryan, Justine, and Jade. This exhibition honours their son and brother, Piitwewetam (Rolling Thunder), also known as the late Jesse Gustafson who travelled to the spirit world in 2015. Piitwewetam is an offering from the Gustafson family to each of us. As an Anishnaaabe family, the act of giving is an integral part of their life. Gifts are offered out of kindness, out of love. To give is to simply offer without the expectation of receiving something in return. When we give, we are enacting a sacred law that acknowledges life. Within Anishnaabe tradition, a part of the grief ceremony is gifting. This beautiful exhibition acknowledges all of the good life, including relationships, teachings, singing, and dancing that Jesse experienced when he was here on Earth. Each piece in this exhibition will be gifted to friends, family, or to one another. These gifts come from kindness, from a deep love that honours Piitwewetam.


Through their grief, each family member received messages from Piitwewetam to attend ceremony. Some were led to the Midewin lodge and its spiritual teachings, which provided sustenance and help to ground this exhibition. For others, these messages meant thriving at school. Healing can find us anywhere, including beading around the kitchen table. The Gustafson’s show us that beading has a way of soothing a wounded spirit. Their way of coming together, to make, is the essence of this show: making is medicine.


Chi miiigwech to Piitwewetam and all the spirit guides that helped us prepare for this exhibition.  Miigwech to all the elements that connect us to the spirit world. Miigwech to the land and her medicines that cleansed and grounded us. Miigwech to the ceremonial people and spaces that serve to strengthen our people. Miigwech to the Thunders that roll in, powerful in their presence, teaching us how to release.

As a grieving parent, your biggest fear is that your child will get forgotten. By doing this, it will speak to him, it will speak to his life, it will somehow preserve that. Our journey is something that, despite how hard it is and how challenging it is, there is beauty in all of it. And like, even in all the pain, hurt, tears and it just speaks to love, really, the love that we have for him.
– Shannon Gustafson

Curated by Leanna Marshall and Jean Marshall

Organized and circulated by the Thunder Bay Art Gallery with support from the Ontario Arts Council


Logo for the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. Features a black circle with lower case "ag" inside.
Logo for the Ontario Arts Council.

Did you know?

Many of the properties in the Kenora area were originally gold claims— the properties on Hilly Lake were originally gold claims owned by inventor Thomas Edison