In early 1973, a young immigrant to Canada, captivated by his new country’s natural beauty, started up an art gallery in Jasper. It was a love affair that would be passed from father to son.
When Galal Helmy created EA Studios (Jasper) Ltd., the goal was to showcase Canadian artists to the Canadian market. But it was a chance encounter in the late 1970s that set EA Studios off on a decades-long journey.
Today, EA Studios, recently rebranded to Calgary, is home to one of the world’s largest collections of Norval Morrisseau, known as one of the founders of contemporary Indigenous art in Canada and once referred to as the “Picasso of the North.”
This love affair between the Helmys and Morrisseau was ignited in that Winnipeg gallery. But it was not until the early 1980s that the two men would finally meet.
Joseph Helmy, the son of Galal and the current director of EA Studios, says the recession that hit Canada during that time made the meeting of his father and Morrisseau necessary, but it also led to a lifelong friendship.
“Morrisseau was looking for sponsorship,” Joseph says. “He had reached out to this gallery in Winnipeg that had hosted some of his art and inquired if there was anyone they knew of that would be potentially interested for sponsorship. My father’s name came up and Norval Morrisseau reached out to my father. And he said, ‘Galal…I had a dream that I was painting for you in the Canadian Rockies.’ And my dad was just smitten by him right off the bat.”
Galal bought Morrisseau a ticket to Edmonton, picked him up at the airport and drove him out to Jasper. The artist ended up staying with the Helmy family for almost a decade.
Since then, EA Studios has amassed close to 200 Morrisseau canvases purchased directly from Morrisseau himself. Much of their collection has not been seen for 30 years, but under the rebranding completed in March 2022 by Joseph, that has changed.
And as part of that move to Calgary, Joseph says EA Studios has reached out to several Indigenous communities in order to find ways to give back.
“When we opened up, we wanted to support the Indigenous community in groups with sales of our canvases, our Norval Morrisseau paintings. So, we donate a portion of our proceeds for every original sold to the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation.”
The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation caught their eye because of their dedication to preserving their heritage and culture.
“We want to be as open as we can,” Joseph says. “We want to inspire and like I said, build an awareness. We want people to come together and embrace and enjoy each other’s cultures and heritage and background. We’re a multicultural nation, and we need to act like it. And I’m hoping we can utilize our platform, our business, to help inspire people to treat each other a little bit better, respect and gain a little bit more understanding and knowledge of another’s culture and heritage.”
Art collectors and enthusiasts can view EA Studios’s collection at https://www.eastudioscalgary.com/.
EA Studios will also be exhibiting at Art Vancouver 2023. Morrisseau’s work will be on display as well as jade pieces by David Wong and pieces from their Starlight original collection.
By: Nathan Durec