In Memory of Sam Ash

April 19, 2021 | Jamie

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Last week, the Indigenous arts community lost an incredible Ojibway artist, named Samuel Ash (1951 - 2021)

Ash became Deaf at a young age and was raised by foster parents in Umfreville, Ontario. He learned how to read and write at the "Ontario School for the Deaf in Belleville (now The Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf)." He was "a self-taught painter of the Woodland School" since 1974, and began painting at the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre. His works as a Woodland School artist "has amassed a body of work worthy of recognition among Canada's most notable Indigenous artists."

In 1978, Ash won an award at the Red Cloud Art Show, which is based on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

From the early 1990s to 2005, Ash took a break from painting "due to personal difficulties." His first painting he exhibited in 2005 is called "Rising from the Ashes," and it can be seen at the Mackenzie Hall Cultural Centre in Windsor, Ontario. At this same launch, he sold almost 60 pieces of his work.

Sam Ash with Donation 2018-2

Sam Ash standing next to his donation on the second floor at the Toronto Reference Library. 

In 2018, Ash donated a piece of his work and emphasized that it should be displayed "in a public library space where it can be viewed by the public for free." The painting is on display in the Toronto Reference Library on the second floor. Please visit our COVID-19 Impacts on Toronto Public Library webpage for up-to-date information about visiting the library. Due to Provincial restrictions, it is not possible to visit Toronto Reference Library at this time.

Besides the Toronto Public Library, Ash also has paintings at the Royal Ontario Museum, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Government of Ontario Art Collection, the Mackenzie Hall Cultural Centre, The Thunder Bay Art Gallery and The Canadian Museum of History in Canada. In the United States, his works hang in The Heritage Center at Red Cloud School and The Dennos Museum Center.

Sam Ash is buried at Mishkeegogamang Ojibway First Nation Reserve.

On June 8, The Globe and Mail published an article about Sam Ash’s life, “Samuel Ash’s paintings reflect the difficulties and the joys in his life”.

On behalf of the Toronto Public Library, we pass along our sincerest condolences to Sam Ash's loved ones, friends and community.


Update on April 21, 2021: picture has been updated.

Update on April 22, 2021: information about Sam's early life and identity have been updated through conversation with his friends and family.

Updated on June 10, 2021: added link to the Globe and Mail article, “Samuel Ash’s paintings reflect the difficulties and the joys in his life”. Published June 8, 2021.