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For the past 14 years, I have been living in Bella Bella, a reserve in the Heiltsuk Territory. Before that, I lived in Tsi Del-Del, in the T'silcot'in Territory, and before that, Tuktoyaktuk, in the Inuvialuit Land Claims region. Make no mistake about it, I do not identify as indigenous. I came to these places for work, but I stayed because I love the place, and I love the people. The kindness and generosity of spirit I have found in these places, particularly Bella Bella is humbling. When I say, particularly Bella Bella, I am not diminshing the other places, but I have stayed here long enough to put down some pretty deep roots.

 

A couple of years ago, the Heiltsuk opened new Big House. This stunning building is the cultural heart of the community. Before it opened, ceremonies were generally held in the hall, which is really just a gymnasium. It was bright, lit with halogen bulbs, and had an echoey quality that made drumming and singing difficult to listen to. The new big house has a sand floor, and cedar walls, with a fire pit in the middle, and softer light. The roof is supported by four carved house posts by Ian Reid, and the entire front is decorated with a painted image that was designed by Larry Campbell, and painted by Max Johnson, and crew. I was privelaged to have been invited to by Ian to participate in helping (in a very small way) with carving and decorating the house posts, and by Max in painting the front. In each case, there was a crew of about a dozen people, so my contribution was small.

 

A few months after the opening, I was approached by one of my former students, who graduated about 10-11 years prior, to make an oil painting commemorating the opening of the big house. He was very specific about what he wanted--the big house, sunset, surrounded by trees (the actual building has a few trees, but also other buildings around. I have to admit, I thought about it a while before I accepted the commission. My concern was that I might be appropriating the image from the Heiltsuk people. I agreed to do the painting, on the basis that it was a commission requested by a member of the Heiltsuk Nation, and not something I made from the standpoint of a cultural tourist. The person I made the painting for is a single parent of two children, and so I gave him a very reasonable rate.

 

The painting was successful, so I decided to make a set of 50 giclee prints. My plan was to gift the prints to anyone involved directly in the opening of the big house, and sell the rest at a reasonable price, in order to cover the cost of printing. I set aside some of the prints as gifts, and advertised the rest on my website. Between gifts and sales, the edition was gone in a few days.

 

I tell this long story, because two years after the fact, I have been questioned about my possible role in appropriating a Heiltsuk image as my own. At the risk of sounding defensive, I have a few specific thoughts about this. First, I have never, and would never, present another person's art as my own, under any circmstances. However, I walk past that big house every single day. I have seen it under every kind of light. It is part of my surroundings. It is a beautiful building. I can't help being affected by it. Second, I did not paint it on spec, with the intention of selling it later to the highest bidder. I made the image to the specifications of a Heiltsuk person. Third, while, in my studies, I have gained a strong understanding of the forms of coastal art, I have never created a Heiltsuk-style image, claiming it as my own. I have used formline art in pieces that I was making for the school, or in working with students, but I am always careful not to take work from Heiltsuk artists. In the case of this painting, I was not attempting to make a piece of Heiltsuk art. I was making painting that included an image of a local landmark. I see this as a piece of landscape art. I understand that some people might consider this as splitting hairs, but in my mind, my intention was clear: to honour artists and builders who created this amazing building by commemorating a historic event.

 

Notably, when I gave the prints to the local artists, and cultural leaders, including Ian, Larry and Max, they seemed genuinely touched by the gesture. I certainly did not hear any objection to my making the image. Likewise, almost all sales went to local people. 

 

I understand that cultural approriation is a huge and important issue. I also understand that, as a non-indigenous person, I may lack some key understanding of indigenous art, and its place in the culture. However, I have done my best to be respectful, curious, and uplifting of Heiltsuk peope and culture.



https://indiginews.com/vancouver-island/kunsoot-progress-continues-despite-covid-19

 

Follow this link to see an article that discusses all the great stuff going on at Kunsoot, including a great image of the mural I did over there this summer. 





This was a fun project. I worked with a group of about six youth to create eight banners, which were placed at the Government Wharf. Thanks for this project go to Desiree Lawson and Cindy Neilson. The banners were made using spray paint and stencils. I sketched out and cut out a large number of cardboard stencils, using traditional design elements (ovoid, U-form, and S-form). The students then brainstormed words that reflect the values behind their Gwilas (traditional laws). The colours were chosen by the students to evoke these values, as well as to be festive and joyous.

 

 


Oil Paintings

Price list

 

Oil Painting Price List

 

Dimensions

Price 

8"x10"

$200

9"x12"

$250

11"x14"

$300

12"x16"

$325

14"x18"

$350

16"x20"

$400

18"x24"

$500

20"x24"

$550

22"x28"

$625

24"x30"

$750

24"x36"

$800

36"x48"

$1000

12"x24"

$425




This 14'x9' mural was completed recently. It was commissioned by the Kusoot Wellness Society. It is an imagined historical view of a summer salmon harvest at the mouth of the Kunsoot River, near Bella Bella (Waglisla). At the time I am writing this, the Kunsoot Wellness centre is nearing the end of its construction. There are several beautifully made buildings, including dormatory cabins, and a lodge/cookhouse, where this mural now resides. 

 

The image is of the existing location, with some minor liberties taken to perspective, in order to fit everything in. One hundred years ago, as the Heiltsuk people were in their initial resistance to colonial assimilation, it is attested that there were around thirty smokehouses along the beaches, as well as some stone salmon weirs. The main, and most successful weir is shown on the right, and is easily viewed today at low tide. The row of rocks near the middle of the painting was a smaller, and, evidently less successful weir--a situation that drew sidelong smiles from some of the people who harvested salmon in the area.

 


This is a picture of the Kunsoot river now, taken from the beach at extremely low tide. It is possible to see part of the fish weir on the far right, with the under-construction wellness centre on the right. The river is tidal, far into an upstream estuary, so it looks very different from the painting. Also, due to low cloud cover, the distant mountains are hidden. The painting was partially composite, but I tried to remain as faithful as possible to the spirit and appearance of the location. This photo does not do justice to the beauty and serenity of the actual place.

 


Geese dabbling in the river.

 

As I was working on the painting, Larry would drop by every now and then, and we would discuss the direction of the painting, in respect to life in Kusoot at the time, describing items like clothing, and activities, and so on. He would often ask me to throw in a little detail here or there. We had a discussion about the fact that, as well as a salmon weir, it was a popular location for goose hunting, so could I put some goose in? I said, yes, but goose season is fall, and the people here are harvesting salmon, which is a summer activity. We agreed that I would put in a pair of geese with goslings, which you can see dabbling just behind the point. We talked about the shape and construction smoke houses, and that there would be wood piles, and straight sticks that were used for hanging the fish.


This detail shows someone carrying salmon into the smokehouse. The houses were traditionally made from split cedar planks, but, by the time of this depiction, milled wood was becoming available.

 



Everyone participated in the harvest event. This detail shows a pair of people squatting to put fish in a basket, and another couple walking with baskets of fish. According to my close friend, Ayla, prior to contact, gender roles were less rigidly defined than they are now, so the couple on the left of this detail was deliberately left ambiguous, in that regard. In the back, a child helps an adult cut fish. Notice the double-blade axe in the top left, which signifies the colonial presence in terrritory.

 



Detail of the smoke rising throught the trees, and a hidden presence on the left.

 


Ravens playing tag in the mist and smoke.

 





I have just added the gallery, Inktober 2016. These are a selection of Inktober pictures from last year. If you don't know, Inktober is an event in which artists upload one image per  day, and post it online #inktober, #inktober2016. Every image uses ink, and, other than that, anything goes. It's fun, and builds skills, but it's not easy to come up with one new image every day.

 

 


Qatuwas Acrylic Mural--18'x10'

This is a mural I made with a Student, Sharon Wilson. It commemorates the Qatuwas Canoe Journey of 2014. This painting shows the four Heiltsuk crests, Raven, Eagle, Wolf, and Killer Whale paddling the canoe. The figure in the stern is the human, who, as steward of the land and sea, is in the steering positon. The background shows Denny Island and other land features of the territory in front of a sunrise, stars twinkling out, symbolizing the rising strength of the Heiltsuk people, as they pull (literally)together. 

The figures in the canoe might be humans wearing masks, or they might be transforming into ancestral counterparts--again meant as a strengthening process, or a part of the decolonization process.

The title "Qatuwas" (Canoe Journey) refers to an annual gathering of canoes from nations stretching from northern BC to Oregon. While it is often held in Washington state, the first gathering was held in Bella Bella in 1993, and then again in 2014.







I am happy to share these pictures of some recent paintings I currently have on display at the West Coast Community Craft Shop in Port Hardy. Next time you are in Port Hardy, please drop by Cafe Guido for an espresso and check out some of my work. Thanks to Davida for supplying these photos.