November 06, 2023

Naaahsa is an Artist!

Written and illustrated by Hali Heavy Shield
Second Story Press
24 pp.
Ages 6-8
October 2023 
Hali Heavy Shield's story, the winner of the Second Story Press Indigenous Writing Contest, is a special one for the depth of the child-grandmother relationship, but it is given life, colour, and texture through the author-illustrator's artwork.
From Naaahsa is an Artist!, written and illustrated by Hali Heavy Shield
A child recalls spending time with her grandmother, whom she calls Naaahsa, an artist. Naaahsa doesn't just babysit her grandchild. She opens doors for creativity and connection to culture, always encouraging the child to try her best. They bead together, sing together, draw together, cook, and paint, and more. They take walks to inspire them, with Naaahsa telling stories in Blackfoot, especially meaningful for her as she had been prohibited from using her language when forced into residential school. Now Naaahsa makes art to help her feel better.
From Naaahsa is an Artist!, written and illustrated by Hali Heavy Shield
Her art is healing but it extends beyond herself, earning her accolades and a show at the National Gallery. She shares that experience with her grandchild, the two travelling by plane to Ottawa. The child hears the praise for Naaahsa, proud of her accomplishments and the recognition she deserves, but it's the little things like her hugs and her inspiration that mean all the world to this child.

Hali Heavy Shield is a member of the Blood Tribe of Southern Alberta and the daughter of an acclaimed sculptor and installation artist. Perhaps Hali Heavy Shield took seeds of her story from life with her mother or a grandmother or someone else but what parts of Naaahsa is an Artist! are true or imagined is irrelevant. (We never see the grandmother's artwork.) What is important is the connection the child has with her Naaahsa that inspires her to do her art, and perhaps fuels the author-illustrator in her own artwork.  Naaahsa was able to use her art to heal and live beyond the tragic circumstances of the residential school experiences, and find work and joy in her art, while imparting those important lessons onto her grandchild.
Art is a language everyone understands.
From Naaahsa is an Artist!, written and illustrated by Hali Heavy Shield
Hali Heavy Shield is a multidisciplinary artist who has used digital media here to evoke both the simplicity and the intricacy of this grandmother-grandchild relationship. Their togetherness may be set on a grassy lawn or against the important Chief Mountain, in a kitchen or in a hotel room, but those landscapes are austere to keep the emphasis on the two as they paint, or walk, cook, or travel. The economy of Hali Heavy Shield's art helps us see the patterns in the child's dresses, the love in their eyes, and the enormity of the world beyond them. They are in their own bubble of love and art. They are, in fact, both artists who create with the inspiration of the other and more.
There is more than a story here. There is storytelling. But it goes beyond words and is firmly planted in the artwork of Hali Heavy Shield. There is a new voice and artistry with Hali Heavy Shield's debut picture book and I look forward to seeing more of it,

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The dual-language (Blackfoot and English) edition, translated by Norma Jean Russell and Faye Heavy Shield, is also available as Naaahsa Aisinaki! / Naaahsa is an Artist!

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