Ursula Johnson BFA 2006


Ursula Johnson recalls what she wrote in her essay when she applied to get into NSCAD: "I am not an aboriginal artist. I am an artist who happens to be aboriginal."

But by the time she graduated in 2006, her thinking had done an about face.

"I learned who I was," says Ursula, a Mi’kmaq artist originally from Eskasoni in Cape Breton. She weaves a long, ribbon-like strip of ash into a basket form as she talks, seated in Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery’s studio space where she’s doing a six weeks’ residency.

Arriving at NSCAD with the goal of being a photographer, Ursula thrived at NSCAD in interdisciplinary studies—taking classes in photography, textiles, drawing and printing. But even as she acquired new skills, she found herself looking over her shoulder at where she came from, at the Mi’kmaq’s own unique artistic traditions. She regarded these as if from a distance—making drawings and prints of the kind of intricate woven baskets her great grandmother Caroline Gould made. The late Caroline Gould was a revered Mi’kmaq artist whose baskets are highly prized by collectors. (She only recently passed away, but not before Ursula curated a 30-year retrospective of her work, Kloqowej ("Star"), at the Mary E. Black Gallery last January.)


"Just before I graduated, I wove a basket around myself. It was my first attempt in years," she explains, picking up the skill her great grandmother taught her when she was a little girl. "The basket was like a cocoon where I could understand myself and my culture. And so I emerged a different creature, a little wiser."

Since that moment, Ursula has reclaimed basket weaving for herself, using the same techniques her great grandmother used but employing them from a different perspective. She comes at basketry from two directions: she’d like to see baskets become functional again, but at the same time, she likes to play with the materials and let them do whatever they want to do, without being bound to construct a vessel.


Through recent history, she explains, basketry has gone from being functional, to decorative, to an art form that was collected and put behind glass. The next stages in this evolution would see baskets archived and then filed into memory; that is, if their original purposes aren’t resurrected.

"I would love to see people go to the market with an ash basket over their arm, or an ash backpack or a fishing creel," says Ursula who teaches basketry through NSCAD’s School of Extended Studies. "I don’t think you should have to be an art collector to bring a basket to the farmer’s market."



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“I cannot wait to be at school this fall and grow, not only as an artist, but as a person as well. Thank you for the gift of opportunity. I will use it to the best of my human ability. This scholarship means the world to me and I will make you proud.” - Graham Ross (BFA 2019)

Lindsay-Jacquard “This award makes a difference for me both financially and emotionally. To be recognized for my accomplishments is a boost to my confidence, as a student and an artist.” - Lindsay Jacquard (BFA 2016)

NSCAD-Scholarship-57“When someone makes the choice to be an artist, it’s not easy. For a lot of people, they incur debts as students and then they graduate and find a job. But as an artist, you still might have to go through a period where you are developing a style and getting a career rolling. We want to recognize that struggle and support artists.” - Doug Pope, president of the Robert Pope Foundation

Brian-Sloan-2“While a student I was asked if I could ‘explain what is going on here.’ I thought for a moment and had no words to explain the range of experience I was receiving through NSCAD. Now, some 20 years later I still have no answer to that question but I do know that NSCAD changed my life. I hope that my little gifts of gratitude help the students of today along their chosen path of studies.” - NSCAD alumnus Brian Sloan (BFA 1993)