The artistic traditions of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples are as varied and diverse as the many different First Nations groups that thrive across the country.
Some are renowned for carving totems or ceremonial masks. Others are known for their weaving skills, or talents with precious metals or a paintbrush. If you travelled all over Canada, you’d discover a wide range of styles and subject-matter… different sacred animals depicted, and variations of ancient traditions and Aboriginal artistic expression.
That holds true in British Columbia, as well, where culture, art and style vary from people to people.
On Vancouver Island, ancestral home to a wide variety of First Nations, visitors can explore some of those artistic variations at the Ahtsik Native Art Gallery.
Located on the Pacific Rim highway heading out of Port Alberni towards Tofino, the gallery was the brainchild of Gordon Dick, a Northwest Coast artist. He is Nuu-chah-nulth from the Tseshaht First Nation, and he built the beautiful cedar art gallery to showcase talented Nuu-chah-nulth and other First Nations artists.
Gordon started his artistic career at the age of fifteen, incorporating the traditional teachings and values he learned from his grandparents into his works. Gordon has worked in a variety of mediums, including: painting, drawing, ceramics and woodcarving, which is his greatest passion. In fact, Gordon carved the Kingfisher design on the front entrance of the gallery, as well as the Eagle and Wolf posts that represent and honour his grandparents.
Along with his own works, the gallery also features a range of works from Canadian Aboriginal artists – carved jewelry in silver and gold, woven baskets, wood carvings, totems, masks, bentwood boxes, rattles, panels, photography and prints.
Gordon recently met with Northwest Coast Artist Andy Everson and gave him a tour of the gallery. Andy is Kwakwaka’wakw from the east coast of Vancouver Island and the grandson of the late Chief Andy Frank of the K’ómoks First Nation. Influenced heavily by his grandmother, Andy has always been driven to uphold the traditions of both the K’ómoks and Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw First Nations, immersing himself in their ancient traditions, and also completing a Master’s degree in anthropology.
Although he began drawing Northwest Coast art at an early age, Andy’s first serious attempt wasn’t until 1990 when he started designing and painting chilkat-style blankets for use in ceremonial potlatch dancing. But from these early self-taught lessons, he has followed in the footsteps of his Kwakiutl relatives in creating bold and unique representations that remain rooted in the timeless traditions of his ancestors.
Explore this diverse world of West Coast Aboriginal art in this first instalment of a multi-part video series, featuring Gordon and Andy at the Ahtsik Native Art Gallerydiscussing the differences between their Kwakwaka’wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth art styles.