Corrinne Eira Evans’ research trip. Part 3
Jeweller Corrinne Eira Evans is just home from Canada researching First Nations artists – we’ re really looking forward to seeing their influences in Corrinne’s new jewellery collections, and an exhibition she will be curating in the near future (see below!). In this third and final part of her blog, she describes meeting First Nations Kwakwaka’wakw artist Francis Dick in Victoria, BC.
“After the time away at Alert Bay we had a few days rest in Victoria BC, gathering our thoughts and inspiration on the beautiful place.
Contact continued and a meeting with Francis Dick, a well known local First Nations Kwakwaka’wakw artist, was confirmed. We met in an amazing pub, ‘The Swans’ in Victoria: inside were large sections of carvings, paintings, a framed Chilkat blanket and a ‘copper’ (a large almost shield like piece of copper that has a T shape within it representing wealth within their culture).
Francis, a very lovely bubbly lady chatted about her varied work mediums, carving, engraving, paintings and prints all with the North West coast influence. She spoke about her culture and the political issues regarding the Canadian government and the First Nations peoples. In fact wherever I travelled and spoke to First Nations peoples the past inflictions and suppressions on their culture were strong and a part of the art they create today. As with all cultures, art is a way of expressing, communicating and dealing with current and past issues and all around the Island more understanding of what has gone on is being communicated from exhibitions, museums and First Nations artists themselves in the movement of reconciliation.
As we chatted regarding collaborative work things got exciting and she invited us to her apartment come art studio around the corner. On the walls were beautiful prints she had created and a desk set up with engraving tools. Francis showed us how she did her North West coast cultural engraving on a piece of copper and then invited me to have a play, such great fun, but my first attempt was pretty poor. A lot of practice and expertise has gone into all the art she creates.
Dick talked about their salmon preserving: salmon was the main source of protein for aboriginal peoples to eat. During the salmon season they would catch enough to store and eat over the winter months. Smoked in specialist smoke houses with Alder wood for a number of days they then store them: they still carry out this scared ritual as it’s a big part of their culture and depicted widely in their art. Francis was very kind and let us try some of this beautifully smoked salmon, it was delicious.
We arranged to meet later in the week to carry out some more art work before we left but unfortunately Francis became really busy and so we didn’t manage to get back together in time before our departure.
During our stay it was the anniversary of 150 years of Canada, so when going around galleries and exhibitions within Victoria we were very lucky in that they were showcasing a lot of local First Nations art work. The carvings are just so beautiful and the scale of some of the items takes your breath away and is extremely awe inspiring. All of the art works had meaning from cultural stories behind them. Different creatures and shapes depicting different emotions, characteristics, journeys, directions and stories of the Thunderbird (a supernatural creature coming to earth from the sun to start the first tribe) and the finding of the ‘whole person’.
This trip has been invaluable to the direction of my work, not just the meeting with the amazing Kwakwaka’wakw peoples but also in experiencing the wildlife and nature connected to their art and confirming an understanding of how everything is connected, you can’t separate the art from natural surroundings or from everyday life and objects. Art is used in passing down their history, ancestry and cultural understanding. Passing techniques on from generation to generation, techniques of creating for survival, blankets, boxes, baskets, techniques to share and create together as families and tribes using materials around them, given to them from the earth. Meeting and being there made me realise even more that art isn’t a separate entity, art is life itself for everybody to enjoy – a tool to express, a tool to invent, a tool to build, a tool to educate. I’m very much looking forward to getting back in the workshop and using all this inspiration and education and the continual connection and collaboration with these lovely people, working together to create.
I hope in my travels I have ignited your interest in this magical place and culture and very much look forward to showing you lots more in the exhibition I will be curating at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen at the Riverside Gallery in 2020.”
All photographs by Andrew Oliver.