Allen Sapp was born in the winter (January 2, 1928) on the Red Pheasant Reserve in North Central Saskatchewan. He was raised and cared for by his grandmother. He was often sick throughout his childhood. He used his art to express himself. Sapp has been recognized internationally for his paintings of life on the Northern Plains as well as his works depicting the culture of the Cree people.
In 1975, he was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He was named Officer of the Order of Canada in 1986, and was one of the first recipients of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 1985. Sapp was honoured by the Saskatchewan Arts Board with the Lifetime Award of Excellence in the Arts in 1996. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Regina in 1998 and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Aboriginal Awards in 1999.
Sapp 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, who recognized Sapp’s talent and encouraged him to paint what he knew—life on the reserve. Sapp began to paint his childhood memories, often staying up all night painting. Gonor helped him to sell several paintings to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. In 1969, 40 of his paintings were displayed in an exhibition at the Robertson Galleries. 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 spite of his artistic success, Sapp’s lack of education and disinterest in practical matters led to difficulties in managing his finances. He and his wife continued to live in a small home near North Battleford. He died in his sleep on December 29, 2015. His paintings illustrate the award-winning Nokum: is My Teacher by David Bouchard with music by the drum group Northern Cree.
The 2003 book by David Bouchard, ‘The Song within my Heart, Illustrated by Sapp, tells the story of Sapp’s childhood. In 2003, he received the Governor General’s Award for English language children’s illustration for the book, The Song Within My Heart