Posts Tagged “Dempsey Bob”

I was talking with a family member this morning about dreams and the thought came to me about surrealism. Surrealism was a movement in art where the artists placed contrasting subjects into a realistic setting. An example of this is Salvadore Dali’s famous work “The Persistence of Memory”, also known by many as “melting clocks” ( Surrealist painters often used inspiration from the subconscious, mainly dreams.

Anyways, I was surprised to find out that another family member had a dream with strikingly similar details later on in the week–before she even knew about the former’s dream. I had a similar dream where a friend had the exact same dream from a different point of view. I dreamed that I was trying to get my friend to press the escape key on a computer, but he couldn’t find it; my friend dreamed that he was in front of a computer and I was excitedly telling him to do something, but it was over his head. Neither of us collaborated on this dream; we were in separate cities, three hours apart; and we both had the dream over the same period of a week.

This anecdotal observation confirms my belief that there is much more to dreams than simply the subconscious blowing off steam and that there is perhaps something more tangible at play; at least something observable at some level.

So, back to the surrealists. I was down in Vancouver this summer on a business trip and I had the opportunity to take in a show at the Vancouver Art Gallery and I was sort of surprised to see a collection of west coast native art in the exhibit. Upon reading the subtitles to the pieces, I learned that the west coast art was taken from the collections of the surrealist artists. My native art teacher, master carver, Dempsey Bob said that many of the famous euro-american artists took their ideas from west coast art. Seeing this exhibit was evidence of this to me; though I get the feeling that the most wise first nations elders and people already know this.

Anyways, if I can make a conclusion, it would be that what is called art is much more than a pretty picture and that there is actually something more important at work, perhaps something that is as deep as the foundations of creation, or deeper. And that it is not even about the creation, but rather a reflection of who we are.

That’s my deep thought for the day. If you have the time, send me an email at, I’d like to hear similar stories or even if you had a significant dream or experience or anything that you want to comment about.

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Tom Daniels and Roy Henry Vickers

Tom Daniels and Roy Henry Vickers

Harold started the day off by concluding the presentation on NW coast artists.  Again, it was a good presentation, with a bit of a surrealistic quality due perhaps to the fact that one half of the presentation was on Dempsey Bob, who was sitting at the side, observing the whole presentation.

Harold started the day where he finished off yesterday, talking about the Gitksan artists, covering Ken Mowatt, Robert Jackson Jr, Glen Wood, Phil Janze and Earl Muldon–aka Earl Muldoe.  Ken Mowatt, born Sept 2, 1944, taught at the Kitanmaax (K’san) school in Hazelton during the 70’s.  Ken has been a carver for over 40 years and is known for many works around Hazelton, including many of the poles at K’san.  Robert Jackson Jr was born in 1948 in Port Edward, and grew up with Dempsey Bob.  Robert’s story was one of “greatness, loss and recovery.”

Harold highlighted Glen Wood, who worked with Dempsey on the eagle pole next to the courthouse in Rupert.

Eagle Pole. carvers: Dempsey Bob and Glen Wood

Eagle Pole. carvers: Dempsey Bob and Glen Wood

Harold went on to talk about Phil Janze.  Phil was a teacher at K’san and is a noted jeweler and carver.  Harold discussed Earl Muldon, aka Muldoe, who was one of the most notable pole carvers from K’san.  Earl has a long legacy of teaching and excellence.  Earl was named an officer of the Order of Canada on June 30, 2010.

The Tahltan Wolves: Dempsey Bob, Ken McNeil and Stan Bevan

This was a particularly special part of the presentation, considering that two of the above persons were at the presentation while Harold was talking about them.  Dempsey’s legacy was that of an innovator and a teacher.  Dempsey learned much of what he knew from Freda Diesing and passed along much of what he knows to Ken and Stan, his nephews.  Dempsey, Stan and Ken are all part of the wolf clan, and are all Tahltan.

On an interesting note, Roy Henry Vickers was there listening to much of the presentation.  Roy is most definitely a key part of NW coast art history.  Roy, a Tsimshian, Haida, Helstiuk, Scot by birth, went to K’san with Dempsey in the 70’s.  Although, anything that I may know about Roy is probably already on Wikipedia, I will say that he is well known for his silk screen prints, literature and great public speaking skills.  Roy will be coming to do a talk to the class early next month.  The preliminary dates are the 10th and 11th of March.

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Harold Demetzer

Harold Demetzer

I managed to get Harold’s permission to post his photo onto my blog, today.  Originally, Harold didn’t want “anything done” with the photos we took of him, I managed to convince him to let me show this as he pulled out the camera to take photos of us this afternoon, though.  He tells me that this will be one of two photos of him on the internet.

Harold spoke of west coast artists today and the connections between the artists.  Harold went highlighted a list of seventeen artists from the Haida, Nisga’a and Gitksan nations today.  Although it was clear that more artists were on the list that we didn’t manage to cover today, what we did cover was quite informative and even a bit inspirational.  Starting with a tree graph of the connections between the various artists, Harold highlighted who taught whom.  For example, Bill Reid taught Robert Davidson, Don Yeomans and Jim Hart; Robert Davidson taught Reg Davidson, Freda Diesing and Chuck Heit; Freda Diesing taught Dempsey Bob and Glen Wood; Dempsey Bob taught Stan Bevan and Ken McNeil.  Harold pointed out that all great north west coast artists taught.

Harold then went through a list of these artists one by one, starting with Bill Reid.  Bill was an artist who stood out, as Harold described it, because of marketing and talent.  Bill’s career as an artist spanned many decades and in the later years, he had many artists working under him.  One of Bill’s most famous works is on the Canadian $20 bill, “Black Canoe”.  When the 3 meter high bronze sculpture was made and installed, Bill specifically stated “Do not prevent people from touching it.”  The patina has since naturally worn off in spots on the bronze sculpture located at YVR.  Bill died in 1998 of parkinson’s disease.

Next Harold went on to speak of Haida artist Don Yeomans.  One of the most interesting thing about Don was his tendency to mix art and subject matter not typically north west coast with the north west coast style.  Ken McNeil reminisced that the first time that he met Don, Don was wearing a elephant frontlet headpiece.  A frontlet is part of the head dress of a simoyget, or chief, and typically has a motif of either a human or figure from nature found in the west coast.  Elephants are not found on the west coast.

Harold went on to tell us about Haida artist Robert Davidson.  Harold said that the first time that he and Robert met was very similar to the last time that they met.  In between these times, Robert was an amazing example of a northwest coast artist.  Robert started his career raising a pole that was the first pole in 90 years in all of Canada, since the potlatch law of 1884.  Incidentally, before the pole was made, Robert was talking with his grandma, Florence Davidson, daughter of Charles Edenshaw, about the need for a pole and how he said that he should raise one; Florence quite seriously agreed that he should.  And so in 1969, the pole was raised.  Robert went on to be an instructor at Ksan, and even taught Freda Diesing, herself.

Harold went on to describe artists of Nisga’a lineage.  Including the Tait brothers: Norman, Alver and Josiah.  I know that Josiah worked on a few major installations in Prince Rupert, with Freda Diesing.

Students from Freda Diesing School stand in front of a large plaque at the Prince Rupert Hospital. The plaque was designed by Freda Diesing and carved by Josiah Tait.

Students from Freda Diesing School stand in front of a large plaque at the Prince Rupert Hospital. The plaque was designed by Freda Diesing and carved by Josiah Tait.

Harold then went on to describe some Gitksan artists, such as K’san co-founder Walter Harris and controversial artist Ya’Ya (Chuck Heit).

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Gary Wyatt, a director from Spirit Wrestler Gallery in Vancouver, is scheduled to come up next week. In keeping with Bill McLennan’s presentation, yet to my knowledge not collaborated, Gary will be talking about traditional and contemporary artwork. In addition to this, Gary will be speaking about where he sees the market going: traditional or contemporary. Perhaps these presentations are not as unconnected as I think, because they are part of the art history lesson for this year.

Spirit Wrestler is one of the biggest first nations art galleries in Vancouver, displaying works from artists such as Dempsey Bob, Robert Davidson, Stan Bevan and Ken McNeil. In addition to aboriginal artists on this continent, Spirit Wrestler also exhibits works from Maori artists.

Below is one of my newest works. It is an alder spoon that I am finishing right now before I paint it. I like alder because it is such a beautiful material, it is easy to work with and it doesn’t give off overbearing odors or unbearable dust.

Alder spoon

My Alder Spoon

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Bill McLennan

Bill McLennan, curator and project manager for the UBC Museum of Anthropology, made another presentation today before going back to Vancouver. Bill touched on a number of different topics, including what characterizes west coast style first nations art?

Bill pointed to the flowing curves and stark angles that balance each other in typical west coast style artwork, all brought together with a sense of tension.  In fact, Bill’s description of NW coast art reminded me of Bill Reid’s description of the art form in The Transforming Image, where he describes the expanding and contracting tension of  NW coast style art.  It should be noted that Bill McLennan and Bill Reid were friends up until Reid’s death in 1998.

So, what makes art, west coast art?  And a question related to this: what makes a piece traditional?

Though this was not quite an easy question to answer, Bill, in true scholarly fashion, gave us some material to work with in order to make our own conclusions. Bill went through a number of photos of bowls that were made over one hundred years ago, and he gave us examples of contemporary work done by Doug Cramner.

Doug Cranmer's "Killerwhales"

Doug Cranmer's "Killerwhales"

Old Grease Bowl

Old Grease Bowl

With the examples of “traditional” work that were given, Bill showed us what I thought was a stark example of how tradition isn’t always what it seems. He showed us examples of Nuxalk carvings that looked more similar to northern styles than to the Nuxalk style that is generally accepted as traditional.

Dempsey Bob always tells us that “innovation must come from tradition”, but he also reminds us that tradition had to start somewhere. So, where does tradition start? I think that this question is as easy as answering where the wind comes from, because what is considered to be traditional changes as social norms change. And social norms can change with technology, geography…any number of items.

Anyways, I have finally completed my most extensive painting yet.  Is it traditional?  All I can say is that many people have already commented about it.  Come to the Terrace Art Gallery on Friday, between 7pm to 9pm, to see it.


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Geo McKay

Geo McKay is an aboriginal artist from the Nisga’a nation, who resides in Terrace. Geo has been at this game for a whole lot longer than I–40 years in fact–and has a lot to offer the native art market and the local community of artists.

I invited Geo McKay out for a coffee tonight with the intentions of gleaning some of his wisdom and maybe a good story or two. Geo, not wanting to miss a beat went into telling stories right away. Geo told me about his childhood and difficulties with school and how he dropped out to help out his family at home. Geo later came back to school and graduated within a short period of time. In drafting and architecture classes, Geo excelled with an A+ average.

Geo was mentored for a time by Freda Diesing, a Haida artist whom Dempsey Bob described as “the only teacher [of traditional northwest coast art] around at the time.” Also, one thing that Geo noticed about Terrace when he started carving, was that there was no native representation in the tourist markets around Terrace. Geo was determined to change this and worked hard over many years to develop his skills.

Over the years, Geo would come to sell to the museum in Prince Rupert–where a friend told him that people were buying. Geo lived for 15 years in Prince Rupert. Geo also sold to certain galleries in Vancouver, developing relations with the Spirit Wrestler Gallery and the Royal BC Museum.

Geo related to me a story about how he had three masks that he had carved that he was hoping to sell to the Royal BC Museum. He said that one of the masks he was selling for $800, another for $1200 and another for $1500. When asked why the difference in price, Geo referred to the fact that the first mask had one face, the second two and the third three faces. So, the buyer purchased the first two masks, but told Geo that she couldn’t afford the third mask. Not wanting to let Geo get away with the mask, she made a counter offer; she would take the mask on a 40% commission. Geo got a fraction of what he was hoping for, but he was still happy because it was more than what he would have had otherwise.  I think that the moral of the story was that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Geo also went on to say that when an artist sells to galleries in Vancouver “it doesn’t matter how many emails or photos that an artist sends to the galleries down there, the artist has to actually meet with the gallery owners that he wants to do business with, because the artist is selling himself.”

Geo went on to share his knowledge on pricing, mentoring, artist representation, target markets, relevant market factors, sponsorship, business partnership, and why some art businesses fail.

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