Artful Departures

A Q&A with Wolastoqiyik Artist Percy Sacobie about creating his large-scale mural ‘Glooscap and the Giant Beaver’

Q: What story does your mural depict?
PS: It’s the creation story of how the Wolastoq came to be. The coolest thing about this story is that it is over 300 generations old, and the things depicted in it actually happened here.

I did my master’s thesis on the relationship between scientific fact and story, and I showed a correlation between the two. So, 12,000 years ago, there were giant beavers here that were eight feet tall. And the Wolastoq Valley was flooded during the Ice Age. My people shared that experience through this story. This is my interpretation of it.

Q: Who are the characters? What is happening?
PS: We have two main characters, Glooscap and Giant Beaver.

The people living here were having problems with the Beaver. He’d built a giant dam that was flooding the valley. Glooscap discovered the giant beaver dam blocking the river and took it out.

Q: What other creatures did you depict?
PS: I tried to pick animals that are local to the area, so I have cardinals, blue herons, and some gray jays; we call them gorbeys. I incorporated them into the painting because when we were hunting, my father used to say that if there are gorbeys nearby, you know there’s game, too, because the jays want to feast on what you leave behind. So they tell you where the animal is.

I incorporated the bald eagle because, for Indigenous people, it’s a sacred bird, and we hold it in high esteem. I wanted that eagle to give guidance to Glooscap and his brother while they were taking on this giant beaver.

Q: What are some of the motifs?
PS: The floral designs are based on old pictures of Maliseet clothing. I incorporated those flowers in my painting in the background, and sometimes I also incorporated them into clothing. The double curve motif (in the sun) is a Wabanaki design. The motif is symmetrical, identical on both sides.

“I want people to understand that there are still Wolastoqiyik people here, and our biggest struggle right now is the loss of our language, which is on the verge of extinction.”

Along with traditional ones, I make up new motifs as I go along. In order for them to survive, you have to evolve them.

Percy Sacobie paints his mural.

Q: What do you hope people take away from your work?
PS: Before people leave here, I hope they have time to look at the painting. The great thing about art is that you can look at it and appreciate it; you don’t have to read something very long. They’ll know the creation story and how long it’s been passed on, which is phenomenal.

I want people to understand that there are still Wolastoqiyik people here, and our biggest struggle right now is the loss of our language, which is on the verge of extinction.

Q: Which character in the painting do you most relate to?
PS: The gorbey, because I like to share, too. I’m able to share these stories in my paintings.


‘Glooscap and the Giant Beaver’ was commissioned by the City of Fredericton with planning and installation support from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. The 8-by-24-foot mural is on permanent loan to the airport, where it is installed in the departures lounge.