Allen Sapp, OC, SOM (January 2, 1928 – December 28, 2015) was a Canadian Cree painter, who resided in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. His art and his story have become well known throughout Canada and became an inspiration to many. His paintings tell a personal story, and many feature images of his grandmother, and reflect the love he had for her. His paintings seem to touch something in all people and his work and life story have been the subject of numerous books and television documentaries.
Sapp was born on the Red Pheasant Reserve, south of the city of North Battleford. His mother suffered from tuberculosis and eventually died during his adolescence.
Sapp was raised by his maternal grandmother and grandfather, Albert and Maggie Soonias. As a child he was often ill and spent long hours in bed. His grandmother nurtured him and encouraged his love of drawing, teaching him in the Cree ways.
He attended the Red Pheasant school, but was often mocked and teased by the other children and teachers because of his desire to draw. His grandfather removed him from the school because he needed him on the farm. Sapp remained at home and cared for his grandmother until she died in 1963. After her death, he then moved to North Battleford to try to make a living as an artist, selling paintings door to door. In 1966 he met Dr. Allan Gonor. Dr. Gonor recognized Sapp’s talent and encouraged him to paint what he knew — life on the reserve. As soon as Sapp began to paint his childhood memories, he was flooded with images, and would stay up all night painting. By the 1970s, his work was known across North America and as far away as London, England.
In 1986, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada “for his portrayals of Native peoples and of life on the reserve”. In 1985, he was awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. In 1975, he was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. In 2003, he received the Governor General’s Award for English language children’s illustration for the book, The Song Within My Heart. He died in his sleep on December 28, 2015.