Anong Beam

“I had a lot of limitations, but I've never taken them seriously,” Anong Beam says. She’s the founder of Beam Paints and is from M'Chigeeng First Nation. Her company manufactures watercolour and other paints. Raised by artists, she was homeschooled and joined many of their journeys. Her dad was interested in traditional pigment gathering, something they did a lot together and she got to spend a lot of time outdoors with friends.

Eventually, she followed them into their art and after her father’s passing, she decided to reconnect with those pigment gathering processes of her youth. With the proliferation of the internet, she was finally in a place where she could put her arts school education to work while working from her home community. People on Instagram encouraged her to develop a business and to provide and share paints with people and she did.

Just like she was engaged in pigment gathering with her parents, Beam’s children are involved in different parts of the business. As they developed a new line, they were first to make it and bring it off the paint mill. They also made the paint for their own bedrooms. With a solid team, they’re able to keep up with the growing demand for their product. Her daughter-in-law holds events and workshops and the jobs in her business are flexible. That flexibility allows them to welcome employees from a lot of different backgrounds and levels of ability or disability.

Leading up to creating this business, Beam went to high school and art school, but what she learned at home resonated most deeply. “The knowledge that I gained in the traditional way ended up becoming the most important for my life path,” she reflects. Interacting with many people educated in chemistry or business, she meets them with her own traditional knowledge. As an inquisitive person, she wishes she could have pursued more science-based learning. She’s learned as she goes with how to investigate different properties, writing down recipes and understanding ratios.

Over the course of her life, Beam taught printing classes in China, travelled to Europe, worked in Iceland, and went to school in the states. She loved all the places she travelled but found home is where she could be strong, with her mother and family nearby to support her as a single mom starting a business. Those experiences inform her advice for youth, “When you go out and you develop and you learn new ways of approaching things, you bring that back. I think it's a good thing to enrich your community.”

Illustration by Shaikara David

Home is where the heart is, but that has never been more true for Beam. “I definitely appreciate it more now than when I was in high school. But I had to go back and see a lot of different things to understand that,” she reflects.

Beam’s product line is expanding, with a patent pending for interior house paint they’ve been working on, working with the toxicologists at Duke University for third party testing of all the rocks and all the pigments they find and source from other suppliers. Their paints go three times further than Health Canada's recommendations for paint safety.

While her family has been supportive, not everyone has. Some people didn’t understand what she wanted to do or thought what she wanted to do was silly. She let go of their criticisms and kept moving forward, creating her business without outside funding or assistance. This kept her decisions practical and modest. She had to work with what she had and nothing was wasted. Taking time to experiment, Beam is able to recalibrate her business if something isn’t working.

Inspired by other makers and by what other creative people are doing around the world and how they are approaching things, she’s learned just how creative being a business owner can be. She started doing things the way she thought they needed to be done, but she realized she could invent her own ways of doing things. “I'm dreaming this into being, and it's gonna take the shape that I want it to take,” she smiles. Along the way, Beam has made her share of mistakes and she’s learned not to take them too seriously, considering them to be pieces of information or a clue as to what might work, knowing what didn’t.

To maintain her mental wellness, Beam relies on her great team she trusts. When she isn’t working, she has a small farm with cows, chickens and ducks. She also likes to paint. Having her own business helps her with her hobby.

In closing, Beam has words of wisdom to share.  “I think you live in a really incredible time, where we’re connected to the whole world. Even if you are living in a fly-in community, or you're very far from an urban center, it doesn't mean that you can't be part of everything that's going on there. I am so connected with what people are doing in so many major cities. I spend more time talking to people in major cities than I do in my own town. I have to make time to go out and see real people close to hand. Definitely be aware of how connected we are now, and how that really means there's no limits for what you can do at home.”

She didn’t take her limitations seriously, but Anong Beam definitely takes her art and her business to heart. Guided by the example of her parents, she’s creating safer paints and a community around art. Continuing the tradition of paintmaking in her family, she’s making the world a better place for artists, one paint stone at a time.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
  • Date
    October 8, 2023
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  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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