Seekers and Travellers
Contemporary Art of the Pacific Northwest Coast
(University of Washington Press)
Gary Wyatt is here working outside of the museum circuit. He has undertaken to find over thirty young artists of the First Nations in the Pacific Northwest --- mostly in the Vancouver area --- and publish some of their more impressive works, complete with photograph along with title, artist, locale and composition. The artists are invited to comment in a short essay on what they saw or what they sought to display when they created the helmet, headcarving, basket, cradleboard, bowl, or clan hat.
The figures are picture perfect and all of a piece. What I mean by that is that the photography is clean and precise, the color composition is excellent, and all the figures are taken with a uniform black background and similar size. The essays range from the cursory to the prolix. Glenn Tallio's Wolf Headdress of the Nuxalk from 2001 made of cedar, cedar bark, paint is accompanied by these thoughts:
Wolf is one of the first descendants of the Nuxalk people. He was sent, with a number of animals, to inhabit earth at the beginning of time by Atquentam, the chief deity residing in the land above.
Compare this to Jay Simeon's representation of the "Weeping Frog Mother" from the Haida/Cree with an extended exegesis on the Volcano Woman, who chastises the village chief because some of the tribe have killed a creature of the forest; because she is mocked and ignored, a volcano erupts and destroys the village.
The excellent reproductions that showcase the art here and the general grace of the book make it a fine candidate for my favorite way of honoring a beautiful art book: that is, rip it up. What I mean is you should attack it with a fine razor, cut out the most lovely of the reproductions, trim them exactly, frame them and hang them on the wall. They are too exquisite to lie hidden behind the covers of a book on your coffee table.
My special preferences are for the carvings of Tim Paul, the eerie but beautiful wolf headdress of Glenn Tallio [Fig 1 above], the exquisitely startling butterfly headdress of Robert Davidson, the wicked (and wickedly smiling) grizzly by Stan Bevan, the strangely unsettling frog mask of Dempsey Bob, and the Malachan Warrior's Mask by William Kuhnley, Jr. [Fig 2 below] --- but chacun à son gout.
--- MaryBeth Armstrong, MA