This article has been modified since its first publication.
Born Ray Dean Thrasher, adopted at the age of six months by a German / French family, Eric Schweig has mentioned in some occasions what were his ties with his biological Inuit family. He mainly talked about his mother, Margaret Thrasher, and about his “Inuit, Portuguese and German” roots in an interview for Windspeaker in 2003. The “Portuguese” part of these statements has intrigued me, so, I did some research to clarify this point.
The archives of “Eric Schweig Rose and Joni’s Fan Site” mention that the Inuit painter Mona Thrasher is Schweig’s aunt. It is known that the paternal grandfather of painters Mona and Agnes Thrasher was indeed a Portuguese whaler. Margaret Thrasher and Eric Schweig could therefore have the same ancestor as Mona and Agnes Thrasher.
Also, an article in Inuvik Drum in 1993 mentions a meeting between Schweig and Agnes Thrasher: “Than one day in Vancouver, where he now lives, he met Willie Thrasher on the street. The two got talking and before long Schweig realized he must be related to Thrasher. He said Thrasher hooked him up with his Aunt Agnes in Williams Lake, B.C. in the hopes of finding his [biological] mother. But three days later, his birth mother died and he was too late“. It seems here that Agnes knew Margaret well enough to help Schweig find her: indeed they were sisters. Mona, Agnes and Margaret Thrasher all lived in Inuvik and Yellowknife. The filiation between Eric Schweig the artist, and Mona Thrasher the artist, is then perfectly true. So, here is a brief description of this famous member of Ray Dean Thrasher’s family.
Mona Thrasher is a Northern Canada Artist, well known throughout Canada’s Northwest Territories. She was born on February 24th, 1942, with a hearing disability, in a bush camp in the Mackenzie Delta between Aklavik and present day Inuvik. She was always a bright spirit and very smart.
Her father’s name was Billy Thrasher, and he worked a trapline. He was the son of a Portuguese whaler, who came to the Arctic during the last century. He used to sketch on a piece of paper, just drawing here and there. He drew with pencil and he used to keep pencils until they turned to nothing, right to the end. Her mother, Alice, was an Alaskan Inuit and Billy’s second wife.
At the age of 10, Mona Thrasher left her family’s log cabin to attend the Aklavik Roman Catholic Mission School, where she remained until the age of 17, returning home only during the months of July and August. Mona Thrasher began taking art classes in her early teens and was encouraged to pursue her artistic interests by Sister Leduc and by such instructors as Father Adam and Bishop Dennis Croteau. The same year her father died, when she was 18 in 1960, Father Adam invited her to paint the Stations of the Cross in the newly constructed Igloo Church in Inuvik. Since that time, she painted more than 800 oils and pastels.
Mona wrote “I enjoy painting different scenes of the Eskimo life of my forefathers. Igloos are a things of the past, dogteams are on the way out, seal hunting has almost become a sport with people, but the very fact that I paint those scenes reminds people that not so long ago, men lived that way and survived amidst hardship and found happiness in a climate whose harshness is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.
You will notice that my basic colors are whites and blue because that is the way my country appears to me. It is made of blue sky and blue water. Even the snow which covers the ground for 9 months out of 12 has a bluish tint on account of the semi darkness.” Mona Thrasher moved to Yellowknife in 1990 and stayed there for the rest of her life. She died April 1st, 2013.
Deaf Culture Centre, The Visual Arts, p. 338.
Joanne Carolyn McNeal, Western Arctic Women Artists’ Perspectives on Education and Art, University of British Columbia, June 1997, pp. 271-276