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Exhibit asks ‘What would Bill Reid think of Northwest Coast art today?’

25 years after the death of the Haida master artist, a new show highlights what followed in his wake
White Rock resident Rebecca Baker-Grenier is one of the artists contributing the Bright Futures exhibit at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver. Contributed photo

By Crystal St.Pierre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, WINDSPEAKER.COM

Fourteen Northwest Coast contemporary and traditional artists will be showcased in the upcoming Bright Futures exhibit at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver.

The exhibit opens to the public on April 26 and runs until Jan. 14, 2024.

“It’s really focusing and inspired by the fact that it’s been 25 years after Bill Reid has passed away,” said co-curator Aliya Boubard. “We were really thinking about what he would think about art on the Northwest Coast now, especially contemporary art.”

Reid, born in 1920, passed away in 1998. He was a Haida master artist who began creating in his late twenties after connecting with his Indigenous roots.

His own style mixed traditional elements of Northwest Coast art with his own contemporary twist.

His work included paintings, sculptures and jewelry creation and more.

“He did so many things, so we really have to try and get a variety of artists and types of artwork in our gallery,” said Boubard. “He was really instrumental in the revival of art here on the Northwest Coast. Because of so much loss of Indigenous cultures, not only on the coast but all throughout North America, a lot of people weren’t necessarily practicing that art.”

Another characteristic that Reid is remembered for is how he mentored emerging artists who continue creating even today.

Rebecca Baker-Grenier. of Kwak’waka’wakw Nations and Squamish decent, is one of the contributors to the exhibit. She said master artists, such as Reid, are instrumental in paving the way for Indigenous artists today.

“I think he was somebody who was important for Northwest Coast art,” she said. “I come from a long line of master artists as well, and I think it’s important to hold people such as Bill Reid and the work he did, as well as other master artists, at a high regard because they dedicate their life towards their art. But, for me, more than just art, it’s about our culture because all of our culture is within the art, and you can’t separate the two.”

Baker-Grenier has contributed an article of clothing titled “Ancestral Strength” to the exhibit.

The garment is a cape featuring a mix of wool, cedar bark, ermine, jingles and Swarovski crystals.

“When I was creating the piece, I wanted to look at how I can use traditional materials and innovate them and use them in a new way,” explained Baker-Grenier. “It’s really to highlight the materials that we, and I say we as in the people today but also our ancestors, have always used these materials to create not only art, but it was very much about function.

“And I wanted to really highlight the cedar. From as far back as our origin stories, it has been a source of life for us, both in functionality in the way that we use it for our tools, to build canoes, to build our Big Houses, to carve our masks.”

She used the cedar bark to make a rope that was then placed on the garment in a floral pattern.

After playing in her mother’s sewing room and watching her sew throughout her childhood, Baker-Grenier’s own passion for sewing began when she was only 11 years old when her mom helped her sew her first traditional regalia.

“I developed a strong passion for sewing regalia. I continue to do it to this day,” she said.

“For me it is such an important thing, not only to create it for myself but to ensure that my family has regalia and in hopes that I can also pass on these techniques to my kids when they are older. It is kinda coming full circle because now my kids are playing in my sewing room.”

In 2021 she started incorporating all of her passion for traditional clothing into more contemporary fashion designs.

“Regalia is specific to the individual and the culture. I wanted to take those teachings and stories and create something that is more widely accessible, and I thought fashion was a really good starting point for that. I see fashion as an outward expression of our identity. I think through fashion we can express who we are. We can be proud of our art form.”

She received a scholarship from the Vancouver Airport, titled the YVR Emerging Artist.

The scholarship supported her finding mentor Pam Baker, who guided her through the creation of a piece titled “Wazulis” that was displayed at the airport and is now on display at the Museum of Vancouver.

“I think the mentorship is quite unique, as well, because it is how we would traditionally learn from our mothers or our aunties and that’s really how we pass on our culture,” she said.

As she continues to develop her fashion designs under the label Kanayu Kollection, Baker-Grenier says it is extremely important for her to continue to incorporate her Northwest Coast roots into her fashion pieces.

Along with Reid and Baker-Grenier, the exhibition features Tamara Bell (Haida), Sherri Dick (Haida), Shoshannah Greene (Haida), Maynard Johnny Jr. (Kwakwaka’wakw/Salish), Keith Kerrigan (Haida), Cody Lecoy (Sylix/Lekwungen), Latham Mack (Nuxalk), Calvin Morberg (Teslin Tlingit), Kelly Robinson (Nuxalk), Natasha Seymour (Tahltan/Tsimshian/Nisga’a), Yolanda Skelton (Gitxsan) and Krystle Silverfox (Selkirk & Northern Tutchone) and Dustin Sheldon (Teslin Tlingit).

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