12/30/2015 12:12 EST | Updated 12/30/2015 12:59 EST

Allen Sapp, Honoured Saskatchewan Artist, Passes Away At Age 87

Fred Chartrand

NORTH BATTLEFORD, Canada — The much-honoured Saskatchewan artist Allen Sapp has died at the age of 87.

Premier Brad Wall paid tribute to Sapp on Twitter on Tuesday, calling him one of the province's greats.

Wall said Sapp's brush strokes "told the story of the Cree and of Saskatchewan.''

A descendant of Chief Poundmaker, Sapp was born on the Red Pheasant First Nation in north-central Saskatchewan but most recently lived in North Battleford, where there was an art gallery bearing his name.

Sapp was an officer of the Order of Canada, a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and a winner of the Governor General's Award for his illustrations in the children's book "The Song Within My Heart.''

Sapp's art depicted life on the reserve — women working in fields, men hauling logs with horses, boys playing hockey.

allan sapp

Then Governor General Adrienne Clarkson presents children's book illustrator, Cree visual artist, Allen Sapp with the Governor General's Literary Award at Rideau Hall in 2003. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/CP)

According to a biography on the Allen Sapp Gallery's website, he was sickly child born to a sickly mother who died of tuberculosis.

He was raised by his grandmother, who was prominently featured in his work.

Sapp started out peddling his paintings on the street, but in 1966 met a doctor at a medical clinic, Allan Gonor, who became his patron and introduced him to Wynona Mulcaster, an art professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

A showing of his work at Mulcaster's home in 1968 launched Sapp's career. Seven months later, more than 13,000 people attended an exhibit of his work at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon.

Sapp's work went on to be shown at galleries in London, England, New York and Los Angeles, with the Daily Telegraph of London lauding his style as creating "illusionism so arresting as to constitute a revelation.''

He was the subject of a book "Portrait of the Plains'' by Alberta's then-lieutenant-governor, Grant MacEwan, and his life became the subject of both CBC and National Film Board documentaries.

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