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Totems: Silent Messengers of the West Coast

Coastal Peoples’ Gallery
Vancouver, BC mid-Sept – Oct 30

Christian White – Raven's Chief
Christian White (Haida), Raven's Chief (2004), [Coastal Peoples Gallery, Vancouver BC, mid Sept through Oct]

Totem poles, the silent messengers of ancient cultures, mark the North West coastline of British Columbia. Historically, totems were commissioned by village chiefs to celebrate important events and to record family history and stories. Their production was limited to a small number of tribes in southern British Columbia north to Alaska, with pole carving flourishing in the 19th Century.

The Coastal People's Gallery has been instrumental in the preservation of their heritage. Currently, they are featuring a significant collection of contemporary totems carved by Tim Paul, Christian White, Francis Horne Sr., Garner Moody, Henry Green, Stephen Bruce, Lyle Wilson, Chuck P. Heit, Ron Russ, Philip Janze, Jay Simeon and Clarence Mills. During the year of preparation for this exhibit, a series of carvings have been held at the gallery and many totems were specifically commissioned for this exhibition.

Totems are carved with highly stylized figures representing mythical animals, birds and fish from First Nations legends. Totems in this exhibition, curated by the gallery owners Svetlana Fouks and Raymond Kazemzadeh, represent work by Haida, Kwakwakawakw, Nuu chah nulth and Tsimshian artists, among others. They are carved from traditional red or yellow cedar wood, with the exception of a unique contemporary glass totem by Clarence Mills. Depicting intertwined figures and meant to be read from the top down, the totems tell legendary stories of such spirits as the Eagle, Raven, Thunderbird, Bear, Killer Whale, Blackfish and Sea Serpent.

Mia Johnson

 Mon, Sep 13, 2004