ENRICH your MIND through our selection of best reads on Indigenous art and culture.
In 1985, photographer and writer Vickie Jensen spent three months with Nisga’a artist Norman Tait and his crew of young carvers as they transformed a raw cedar log into a forty-two-foot totem pole for the BC Native Education Centre. Having spent years recovering the traditional knowledge that informed his carving, Tait taught his crew to make their own tools, carve, and design regalia, and together they practiced traditional stories and songs for the pole-raising ceremony.
Totem Pole Carving shares two equally rich stories: the step-by-step work of carving and the triumph of Tait teaching his crew the skills and traditions necessary to create a massive cultural artifact. Jensen captures the atmosphere of the carving shed — the conversations and problem-solving, the smell of fresh cedar chips, the adzes and chainsaws, the blistered hands, the tension-relieving humor, the ever-present awareness of tradition, and the joy of creation. Generously illustrated with more than 130 striking photographs, and originally published as Where the People Gather, this second edition features a new preface from Jensen and an updated, lifetime-spanning survey of Tait’s major works.
Published in 2020
In the Spirit of the Ancestors celebrates the vitality of contemporary Pacific Northwest Coast art by showcasing a selection of objects from the Burke Museum’s collection of more than 2,400 late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century Native American works.
Essays focus on contemporary art while exploring the important historical precedents on which so many artists rely for training and inspiration. Margaret Blackman reflects on building one of the largest collections of Northwest Coast serigraphs, and Joe David reminisces about his artistic journey through mask-making. Shaun Peterson, Lisa Telford, and Evelyn Vanderhoop discuss the historical precedents for working in styles that were kept alive only by a few critical artists and are now making a comeback. Robin K. Wright explores the history of box drums and their revival. Emily Moore discusses the repatriation of two stolen house posts and proposes a new concept of “propatriation” to describe the resulting commissioning of contemporary posts to take their place. Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse explores the power of adornment and how clothing, jewelry, and personal adornments like tattooing express tribal and personal identity in ways both connected to the past and grounded in the present.
The diversity of approaches presented by these contributors speaks to artists, collectors, academics, tribal communities, and all those interested in Pacific Northwest Coast art. Splendid color photographs of works never before published will delight everyone.
In a prequel to the award-winning Red: A Haida Manga, acclaimed artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas blends Asian manhwa/manga with the Haida artistic and oral tradition in another stunning hand-painted volume.
In a small near-future community perched between the ocean and the northern temperate rainforest, a series of disasters is taking a heavy toll. It is early fall and a fuel spill has contaminated the marine foods the village was preparing to harvest. As food supplies dwindle, a small group decides to make a late season expedition to search for sealions. Surprised by a ferocious storm, they abandon one man, Carpe, on an isolated rock at sea. After ten days they are finally bale to return, but he has vanished. The story follows Carpe’s encounters with the Lord of the Rock, who demands retribution for Carpe’s role in the hunt, and Carpe’s fate in the half-life between human and animal, life and death.
David Neel was an infant when his father, a traditional Kwakiutl artist, returned to the ancestors, triggering a series of events that would separate David from his homeland and its rich cultural traditions for twenty-five years. When he saw a potlatch mask carved by his great-great-grandfather in a museum in Fort Worth, Texas, the encounter inspired the young photographer to rekindle a childhood dream to follow in the footsteps of his father.
Drawing on memories, legends, and his own art and portrait photography, David Neel recounts his struggle to reconnect with his culture after decades of separation and a childhood marred by trauma and abuse. He returned to the Pacific Coast in 1987, where he apprenticed with master carvers from his father's village. The art of his ancestors and the teaching of the people he met helped to make up for the last years and fuelled his creativity. His career as a multi-media artist also gave him the opportunity to meet and photograph leading artists, knowledgeable elders, and prominent people from around the world. In time he was a recognized artists, with his artwork presented in more than forty solo and sixty group exhibitions.
The Way Home is an uplifting tale that affirms the healing power of returning home. It is also a testament to the strength of the human spirit to overcome great obstacles, and to the power and endurance of Indigenous culture and art.
Susan Point’s unique artworks have been credited with almost single-handedly reviving the traditional Coast Salish art style. Once nearly lost to the effect of colonization, the crescents, wedges, and human and animal forms characteristic of traditional Coast Salish art can now been seen around the world – reinvigorated with modern materials and techniques – in her serigraphs and public art installations, as well as the works of a new generation of artists that she’s inspired.
While the images and symbolism of Point’s work are often informed by surviving traditional Salish works and the Traditional Knowledge of her Musqueam family and Elders, she has developed a unique and contemporary style that continues to evolve.
People Among People beautifully displays the breadth and depth of her public art, from cast bronze faces in Whistler to massive carved cedar portals in Stanley Park to moulded polymer murals in Seattle.
Through interviews and archival access, Robert D. Watt gathers the story of each piece, often in Point’s own words, to illustrate the vital role she has played in revealing the re-establishing the “Salish footprint” in the Pacific Northwest. An artist’s statement by Point and an essay by Dr. Michael Kew complete this portrait of a profoundly moving collection of artworks.
As beautiful as it is useful, Understanding Northwest Coast Indigenous Jewelry is an invaluable tool for anyone interested in learning about or deepening their understanding of a fascinating craft.
Indigenous hand-engraved jewelry from the Pacific Northwest Coast is among the most distinctive, innovative, and highly sought-after art being produced in North America today. But these artworks are more than just stunning—every bracelet, ring, and pendant is also the product of a fascinating backstory, a specialized set of techniques, and a talented artist.
With a clearly written text, a foreword by award-winning First Nations artist Corrine Hunt, and more than one hundred striking color photographs and sidebars, Understanding Northwest Coast Indigenous Jewelry offers an illuminating look at an exquisite craft and the context in which it is practiced.
Providing a step-by-step overview of various techniques, the book also introduces the specifics of formline design, highlights the traits of the most common animal symbols used, offers tips for identification, and features biographies and works from over fifty of the Coast’s best-known jewelers. Finally, it delves into the history of the art form, from the earliest horn and copper cuff bracelets to cutting-edge contemporary works and everything in between.
An indispensable guide for identifying totem poles along British Columbia’s inside passage from Vancouver to Alaska.
Whether rising from a forest mist or soaring overhead in parks and museums, magnificent cedar totem poles have captivated the attention and imagination of visitors to Washington State, British Columbia, and Alaska.
Discovering Totem Poles is the first guidebook to focus on the complex and fascinating histories of the specific poles visitors encounter in Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver, Alert Bay, Prince Rupert, Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), Ketchikan, Sitka, and Juneau. It debunks common misconceptions about totem poles and explores the stories behind the making and displaying of 90 different poles.
Travelers with this guide in their pocket will return home with a deeper knowledge about these monumental carvings, their place in history and the people who made them.
Published in 2012
An innovative graphic novel, Red is the epic tale of a Haida hero, his rage and his quest for retribution.
Referencing a classic Haida oral narrative, this stunning full-colour graphic novel documents the powerful story of Red, a leader so blinded by revenge that he leads his community to the brink of war and destruction.
Set in the islands off the northwest coast of B.C., it tells the tale of orphan Red and his sister, Jaada. When raiders attack their village, Red, still a boy, escapes dramatically. But Jaada is whisked away. The loss of Jaada breeds a seething anger, and Red sets out to find his sister and exact revenge on her captors.
Red blends traditional Haida imagery into a Japanese manga-styled story. Tragic and timeless, it is reminiscent of such classic stories as Oedipus Rex, Macbeth and King Lear.
This innovation in contemporary storytelling consists of 108 pages of hand-painted illustrations. When arranged in a specific order, the panels of the narrative create a Haida formline image four metres long. The sequence for this complex design is displayed on the inside jacket.
Published in 2009
Northwest Coast Kwakwaka’wakw art is renowned for its flamboyant, energetic, and colorful carving and painting. Among the best-known practitioners was Doug Cranmer, whose style was understated, elegant, fresh, and unique and whose work quickly found an international following in the 1960s. Named K’esu’, or Wealth Being Carved, as a child, he was an early player in the global, commercial art market and one of the first Native artists in British Columbia to own his own gallery. A long-time teacher, he inspired generations of young Native artists in Alert Bay and beyond.
This beautifully illustrated book is a record of the art, life, and influence of a man who called himself a “whittler” or “doodler” but who embodied “indigenous modern” well before the term had been coined. He pioneered abstract and non-figurative paintings using Northwest Coast ovoids and U-shapes; embraced the practice of silk-screening on wood, paper, and burlap; and adapted power tools to new applications in art. Skillfully weaving recollections from his friends and family, facts about his life and examples of his stunning artwork, K’esu’ is a wide-ranging celebration of Doug Cranmer and his profound influence on Kwakwaka’wakw art.
Published in 2012
First Peoples of Canada offers readers a rare opportunity to experience a celebrated exhibition that has toured the world, yet has never been shown in Canada. This beautifully designed, full-colour book presents a collection of 150 archaeological and ethnographic objects produced by Canada’s First Peoples – including some that are roughly 12,000 years old – that represent spectacular expressions of creativity and ingenuity.
Curators Jean-Luc Pilon and Nicholette Prince sought out pieces held by the Canadian Museum of Civilization that could be considered “masterworks” based on their aesthetic qualities, symbolic value, or the skills and raw materials used in manufacturing them. These unique and priceless artifacts embody the rich diversity of skills and materials used by Canadian Inuit, First Nations, and Métis in both ancient and modern times.
First Peoples of Canada is full of insights not only on the pieces themselves but also on the cultures that produced them and the geography of this vast land. Readers will come away from this book with a renewed appreciation of the lifestyles and achievements of Canada’s original inhabitants.
This collection focuses on items made by people in four regions across Canada: the farmers of the Great Lakes, the hunters, and warriors of the Great Plains, the wealthy Salmon People of coastal British Columbia, and the people of Canada’s harshest environments, the Arctic and Boreal Forest.
Published in 2013
with Candice Hopkins, Marianne Nicholson, Richard Van Camp, and Ellyn Walker
A stunning retrospective highlighting the playfulness, power, and subversive spirit of Northwest Coast Indigenous artist Sonny Assu.
Through large-scale installation, sculpture, photography, printmaking, and painting, Sonny Assu merges the aesthetics of Indigenous iconography with a pop-art sensibility. This stunning retrospective spans over a decade of Assu’s career, highlighting more than 120 full-colour works, including several never-before-exhibited pieces.
Through analytical essays and personal narratives, Richard Van Camp, Marianne Nicolson, Candice Hopkins, and Ellyn Walker provide brilliant commentary on Assu’s practice, its meaning in the context of contemporary art, and its wider significance in the struggle for Indigenous cultural and political autonomy. Exploring themes of Indigenous rights, consumerism, branding, humour, and the ways in which history informs contemporary ideas and identities, Sonny Assu: A Selective History is the first major full-scale book to pay tribute to this important, prolific, and vibrant figure in the Canadian contemporary art world.
Over his lifetime, Bill Reid (1920 – 1998) created many historic sculptures, paintings jewellery pieces and serigraphs inspired by his Haida heritage. The large bronze sculpture The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, nicknamed The Jade Canoe and displayed at the Vancouver International Airport, and The Raven and the First Men, a yellow cedar carving, have both been featured on the Canadian $20 bill. In addition to the immense praise he received for his artwork, Reid was also the recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1994. This volume showcases more than 150 of Reid’s most significant works in beautiful photographs.
This catalogue was published by Nisga’a Museum in conjunction with the exhibition Finding A Voice: The Art of Norman Tait held at Nisga’a Museum from May 30 to August 29, 2015 and at the West Vancouver Museum from October 14 to December 5, 2015.
Norman Tait (b. 1941) has been devoted to art since childhood. Imbued with a deep connection to his Nisga’a heritage and family, Tait has utilized his artistic gifts and transcended the quotidian to create the extraordinary. Self-taught, this self-critical and highly engaged artist has, over the past five decades, researched and explored his Nation’s rich cultural heritage and forged a voice for himself that speaks through his myriad of sculptural and two dimensional works. This voice is driven by a passion to reinvent traditional narratives within a contemporary context and provide ways in which to connect his ancestral heritage to today’s fast paced and changing world.
Karen Duffek is the Curator of Contemporary Visual Arts & Pacific Northwest at the UBC Museum of Anthropology (MOA). Her research focus lies both in the history of Northwest Coast Aboriginal collectionsâ€•including connecting and documenting historical objects, particularly those made and used during the period of potlatch prohibition, with descendants and originating community membersâ€•and in the relationship of contemporary art to cultural practice. Among her many exhibitions are Projections: The Painted Art of Henry Speck, Udzi’stalis (co-curated with Marcia Crosby, 2012) and a collaboration with artist Peter Morin in Peter Morin’s Museum (2011), both at MOA’s Satellite Gallery; Border Zones: New Art across Cultures (MOA, 2010); Robert Davidson: The Abstract Edge (MOA, with tour to the National Gallery of Canada, 2044-2007); and with Tom Hill, the now historical Beyond History (Vancouver Art Gallery, 1989). Her publications include the webzine borderzones.ca (2010) and the books Bill Reid and Beyond: Expanding on Modern Native Art (co-edited with Charlotte Townsent-Gault, 2004), Robert Davidson: The Abstract Edge (2004), and the Transforming Image: Painted Arts of Northwest Coast First Nations (co-authored with Bill McLennan, 2000).
Vickie Jensen is a Vancouver-based photographer and author who began photographing Norman Tait’s work in the mid 1980s. She wrote her first book, Where the People Gather: Bringing a Log to Life, (reprinted in paperback as Totem Pole Carving), based on three months of intense collaboration as Tait and his crew carved a 42-foot doorway pole. “We talked, discussed the photos I was taking, shared the meals I cookedâ€•it was a transforming experience in my life. And getting to know Norman’s family was an unexpected bonus. “ Jensen also wrote about this pole in the children’s book Carving a Totem Pole and has featured Tait’s work in a third book, The Totem Poles of Stanley Park, expanded and re-titled in 2015 as Totem Poles and the Lure of Stanley Park. As of 2005 her extensive text and photo documentation of Norman Tait’s career is part of the Jensen-Powell Fonds housed in the Museum of Anthropology Archives.
Darrin Martens is currently the Chief Curator of the Audain Art Museum. Prior to this position he served as the Director of the Nisga’a Museum and Director/curator of Burnaby Art Gallery. Martens has a Master’s degree in Art History from the University of British Columbia with a focus on Critical Curatorial Studies. He is also a fellow of Claremont Graduate University’s J. Paul Getty Foundation’s Museum Leadership Institute. Prior to his studies at UBC he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Regina. Marten’s passion lies in exploring Canadian art history and in particular artists of First Nations heritage. He has curated over 50 exhibitions and contributed to over 30 publications.
Shirley Morven, whose Nisga’a name is Angaye’e, was born in Gitlaxt’aamiks, British Columbia. She is one of the members of the Gitwilnnaak’il’ Wolf clans from that ancient community. She is currently the Chairperson for Nisga’a Lisims Government’s Council of Elders and where she is one of the four national officers. She is also charged with the oversight of Collections and Exhibitions on the Nisga’a Museum Advisory Committee. She has served in several other capacities over her lifetime, always with a focus on formal and traditional Nisga’a practices. She has functioned as District Principal for Nisga’a Language and Culture for School District # 92. In addition she was chairperson for the Nisga’a Valley Health Board for 1 ½ terms just at the turn of the century, and on the New Aiyansh Band Council for two terms prior to the Nisga’a attaining their autonomy.
Published in 2015
“This book tells my story behind the [2010 Olympic] medals – the peace symbol, the soul replaced by the hand, ayasu, “stop hey what’s that sign,” my childhood hippyness all groovy with happiness, a journey to far out places doing things I have never done before like co-designing an Olympic Medal.
The story is about community, the random nature of connections, the chance meetings, and the simple idea that we need each other to thrive, much like my community which continually supports me in my random acts of madness, kindness or both.” – Corrine Hunt
Published in 2012