Renowned Saskatchewan artist Allen Sapp died Tuesday morning in his sleep at the age of 87, according to family and staff of the Allen Sapp Gallery in North Battleford.
Faye Delorme, Sapp’s adopted daughter, said she was informed Tuesday that Sapp had died during a nap at his home in the River Heights Lodge in North Battleford.
“Allen was the kind of person who could never see a fault in anybody,” Delorme said, adding he was always there for her and had a “tremendous heart.”
“All he really knew was just to be nice to people,” she said, noting she was told by lodge staff that he went peacefully in his sleep.
Born on the Red Pheasant Reserve in north central Saskatchewan, Sapp’s artistic talent brought him fame at home and abroad. According to the Allen Sapp Gallery’s website, he didn’t learn to read or write as a child, but “found refuge and satisfaction in drawing pictures.”
Sapp was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1975, was among the first recipients of the Saskatchewan Award of Merit in 1985 and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1986.
The specific cause of his death has not been released, but Delorme said he was in hospital in both North Battleford and Saskatoon before Christmas.
The loss still came as a shock. Delorme said after doctors installed a pacemaker during emergency surgery at Royal University Hospital on Dec. 22, he was reported to be in good condition and health. People she spoke to said he was happy and laughing following the surgery, she said.
“I’m in shock. It happened so quick. I got the phone call and he’s gone.”
Leah Garven, curator of the Allen Sapp Gallery The Gonor Collection in North Battleford, said Sapp’s work and career have touched communities across the province and the country.
“First Nations artists across Canada, he inspired a lot of indigenous artists,” she said. “Many hold his path as breaking ground for them.”
Referred to as the “grandfather of Saskatchewan First Nation arts” by some artists, Sapp was able to capture life in Saskatchewan during “a very difficult time” for the province, Garven said.
“He documented that history for us through his visual art form,” she said.
“That’s been a tremendous legacy and it’s been a big appeal for many people around the world and throughout Canada who have roots in Saskatchewan — or have an interest in the indigenous story that played out here.”
A self-taught artist, Sapp accurately captured what life was like for those living on the plains throughout Saskatchewan’s history and his legacy and talents will live on, Garven said.
“He’ll be remembered for his diverse painting styles, and for capturing the life of his people, the life of the indigenous peoples, accurately, respectfully.”
“That is going to be the biggest legacy … is that he actually told their stories to the rest of the world, through his eyes and through the paintings.”
Sapp was born on Jan. 2, 1928. He would have turned 88 on Saturday.
Published in The Saskatoon StarPhoenix December 29, 2015