Summer Newsletter

Collections and
the Secondary Market

Since the Gallery opened in 1995, we have specialized in contemporary Northwest Coast Indigenous Art. We are the only Northwest Coast gallery to not represent other Indigenous art forms, such as Inuit, Maori, and art from the Southwest. Doug’s passion was with Northwest Coast art and instead of expanding into another cultural group, a few years after the gallery opened, he started carrying historic Northwest Coast pieces in addition to contemporary artworks.

Collecting historic works mostly started with baskets but as we began showcasing basketry, clients came to offer us historic works in wood and argillite as there was no place in Vancouver focusing on historic pieces. At first, this was done to give context to the contemporary artwork as these were the pre-internet years and many tourists visiting Vancouver would walk into the gallery knowing nothing of the history of Northwest Coast art.The Gallery’s main focus has always been supporting artists living and working today. However, over the 30+ years that Doug has been working with Northwest Coast art, we evolved to periodically deal with collections from private collectors looking to sell certain pieces, perhaps to make room for new works or maybe downsizing has become a priority. Sometimes it’s because they are refocusing their collecting on other aspects of Northwest Coast art, or beyond! This is called the secondary market, and it’s how some older treasures find their way into the Gallery. Last month, we received two of the largest collections we have ever received at one time.

First, a prolific, American-based collector of Northwest Coast art contacted the Gallery earlier this year to inquire about selling his entire collection of works, both contemporary and historical, including works by Robert Davidson (Haida), Don Yeomans (Haida), Freda Diesing (Haida), Art Thompson (Nuu chah nulth), Reg Davidson (Haida), Charlie James (Kwakwaka’wakw), and many others. The second collection has come from a local estate and the works from this collection are predominantly jewelry pieces. Both of these collections arrived in the gallery in May and are the focus of our June 2021 Newsletter.


Historic Works

These recently acquired collections feature several notable historic works dating back to around the late-1800s. Bentwood boxes, for example, are quintessential to the Northwest Coast as the large cedar trees that dominated the landscape of the coast pre-contact provided wood planks long and wide enough to create these containers out of a single plank of wood. Bentwood boxes are unique in that three of their four corners are bent at a 90-degree angle, with the fourth corner being pegged, sewn or glued. In pre-contact times, when there were no metal tools or nails, this technique proved highly reliable for making strong, long-lasting and watertight containers. While the tradition of making and carving bentwood boxes continues today, receiving historic boxes in the gallery creates a great context for the long-standing tradition and highlights the continuation of this unique artform.

Bentwood Box, c. 1880

Artist Unknown (Northern Coastal)
Cedar, Paint, Operculum
26 1/2″ H x 19″ W x 17 1/2″ D

Another unique historic work we received from this collection is this totem-like sculptural work (below right), featuring human-like faces detailed in eighteen abalone shell inlays and two copper bands. While we have consulted with several Northwest Coast art historians about this rare work, the origins of this sculpture still remain a bit of a mystery.

Mountain Goat Horn Spoon, c.1890
Artist Unknown (Tlingit)
Goat Horn
6 1/2″ H x 2″ W x 3″ H

Tlingit Totem-Like Sculpture
Artist Unknown (Tlingit)
Wood, Copper, Abalone, Pigment
9 1/2″ H x 3 1/2″ W x 1 1/2″ D


One of the collections features numerous beautiful masks by contemporary artists from various communities up and down the coast, dating back as early as 1975, including this masterfully carved Transformation Mask by Art Thompson (Nuu-chah-nulth), which is one of the finest pieces we have seen by this artist. Thompson studied at the Vancouver School of Art and at Camosun College in Victoria and took part in Nuu-chah-nulth ceremonial life throughout his career. His works can be found in many public, private and corporate collections.

“Pook-Ubs Rescue” Transformation Mask, 1999
Art Thompson (Nuu-chah-nulth)
Red Cedar, Acrylic, Hair, Abalone, Operculum
39″ H x 46″ W x 18 1/2″ D

Called Pook-Ubs’ Rescue, this monumental work was made in 1999. When closed, the mask portrays Killer Whale. When open, the face of Pook-Ubs, the Keeper of the Drowned Souls, is revealed. This mask illustrates the noble tradition of Whaling amongst the Nuu-chah-nulth people who believe that if one possesses a great spirit and strength, they can also hold the ability to transfer from one realm to another in order to travel the surface of the earth and the depths of the ocean.

Gagiit Mask, 1983
Reg Davidson (Haida)
Red Cedar, Horsehair, Acrylic
10″ H x 8 3/4″ x 5″ D

Raven and Salmon Portrait Mask, 2006
Eugene Alfred (Northern Tutchone)
Birch, Acrylic
14 1/4″ H x 9″ W x 4 1/2″ D

Kolus (Thunderbird) Headdress, 1981
John Livingston (Non-Indigenous)
Red Cedar, Acrylic
19″ L x 10 1/4″ W x 12″ H

Sun Mask, 1988
Vern Etzerza (Tahltan)
Red Cedar, Acrylic
17″ H x 20″ W x 8″ D

This Eagle Helmut with painted headdress is a rare find by Freda Diesing (Haida). Born in Prince Rupert, Diesing attended the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art and Design) and developed an interest in her Haida heritage through her studies. She learned traditional Northwest Coast carving techniques while studying at the Gitanmaax School in K’San.

Eagle Helmut and Headdress, 1980
Freda Diesing (Haida)
Alder, Acrylic, Leather
7″ H x 7 1/2″ W x 12 1/2″ L

Diesing was also a wonderful teacher. She taught many of today’s best known carvers some of the basic carving techniques. Over the years, many Haida people moved from Haida Gwaii to the mainland and settled in Prince Rupert. Diesing, being in the area, inspired Indigenous youth to carve and they took classes with her. Don Yeomans, Richard Adkins, Alvin Adkins, and Garner Moody were a few of the artists to whom she gave their early training. Diesing was one of the first female carvers in the Modern Northwest Coast art world and, in 2006, the art school at Northwest Coast Community College in Terrace, BC, was named in her honour.

Salmon Mask, 1975
Richard Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Acrylic
17 1/2″ H x 7″ W x 8″ D

Bella Coola Portrait Hawkman, 1989
Tony Hunt Jr. (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Acrylic, Cedar Bark
12 1/2″ H x 10″ W x 9 1/2″ D

Model Totem Poles

Model totem poles have captivated collectors since the late 1800s. As tourism became more prevalent along the Northwest Coast around the turn of the century, the tradition of carving these model poles to sell as curios to travelers evolved. While many artists of the earlier poles are generally unknown, one artist whose model poles became synonymous with the Northwest Coast tourism trade was Charlie James (Kwakwaka’wakw).

Eagle, Bear and Copper Model Pole
Charlie James (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Yellow Cedar, Paint
12 1/2″ H x 9 3/4″ W x 3″ D

Eagle, Human and Salmon Model Pole
Charlie James (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Yellow Cedar, Paint
13 1/4″ H x 9 1/4″ W x 3 3/4″ D

Charlie James holding a model pole, c. 1928

James was born in Port Townsend, Washington, around 1867 and died in Alert Bay in 1938. Stepfather to renowned carver Mungo Martin and grandfather to Ellen Neel, the first female totem pole carver known on the Northwest Coast, James’ work helped to establish the model totem pole as the sought-after tourist souvenir and his highly identifiable pieces can be found in museum collections around the world. James would carve the totems out of yellow cedar and use a traditional paint pigment made from ground charcoal added to fried salmon eggs to make a deep, permanent black colour. He would paint other details in European watercolours.

Eagle, Bear and Human Holding Copper
Charlie James (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Paint
14″ H x 8″ W x 4″ D

Eagle Model Pole
Charlie James (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Yellow Cedar, Paint
7 1/4″ H x 9″ W x 3″ D

Thunderbird, Killer Whale and Human Model Pole
Charlie James (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Yellow Cedar, Paint
25″ H x 10 1/2″ W x 4″ D

Henry Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw) was another prolific model totem pole carver whose works are featured in one of these collections. Born in 1923 in Fort Rupert, BC, he was a descendent of the renowned ethnologist George Hunt. In the 1950s, Hunt was hired by Mungo Martin to be his assistant carver at Thunderbird Park, at the Royal British Columbia Museum. He also worked with the museum to restore and document older Northwest Coast art pieces in their collection.
Thunderbird Model Pole, 1965
Henry Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Acrylic
15 1/2″ H x 19 1/2″ W x 11″ D
Raven and Killer Whale Totem
Henry Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar
42″ H x 10 1/2″ W x 27″ D

Panels and Sculptural Works

The collection from America also comprises a wide range of sculptural works, from paper casts to small carved pieces to a large carved red cedar panel.
A fantastic piece from this collection is this door-sized Split Eagle panel by Art Thompson (Nuu-chah-nulth). He did a series of door-sized panels intended to be hung either horizontally or vertically. Thompson designed them with round areas where a doorknob could be placed, which you can see in the image below. Not only does this panel have versatility as a wall-mounted art piece, but it would also be a wonderful tabletop piece for a large table.
Eagles Panel
Art Thompson (Nuu-chah-nulth)
Red Cedar
78″ H x 39″ W x 3 3/4″ D
Don Yeomans (Haida) created this series of Moon Mask castings, below, in 1989. Paper castings gained popularity as a sculptural medium in the 1980s and 1990s, with several notable artists such as Bill Reid and Robert Davidson releasing limited series of cast works in paper. The process of casting paper is quite delicate, requiring a mould to be created from an original work, which is then filled with paper mulch that is blended with glue and water. This is followed by a lengthy drying time during which the paper could warp and become misshapen as it dries. Because of this sensitive process, we don’t see many contemporary artists working with this medium.
Moon Paper Cast, 1989
Don Yeomans (Haida)
Cast Paper, Ed. 5/9
Framed 26″ H x 25″ W x 5 3/4″ D
Unframed 20″ L x 18″ W x 3″ D
In our fall newsletter last year, we featured a beautiful Killer Whale panel by well-known artist and hereditary chief of the Gitxsan First Nation, Walter Harris. Chief Harris was born in Kispiox, British Columbia, and in 1957 became the hereditary Chief of the Fireweed Clan. He attended the Gitanmaax School of Northwest Coast Art in 1969, where he studied under Doug Cranmer and Duane Pasco, and eventually became a carving instructor himself. This second panel by Chief Harris is a truly special acquisition.
Bear Transformation Panel
Walter Harris (Gitxsan)
Red Cedar, Acrylic
66″ L x 22″ W
This collection also included a few small and beautifully carved works by non-Indigenous artist Glen Rabena, who was one of the very few non-Indigenous artists accepted into the Gitanmaax School where he studied from 1975-1976. As a skilled carver, he worked under Robert Davidson in the 1980s on some of Davidson’s large-scale commissions, and in 1986 Claude Davidson adopted Rabena as his son at a potlatch hosted in Haida Gwaii.
Feast Bowl, 1999
Glen Rabena
Maple, Abalone
15″ L x 12″ W x 8 1/4″ H
Hardwood Loon Bowl, 1989
Glen Rabena
11 1/2″ L x 7 3/4″ W x 6 1/2″ H


There are a number of treasures amongst the pieces of jewelry we received with these collections. This hand-carved and repoussé Bear and Salmon necklace by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston, for example, is truly exceptional. It features Bear with a Salmon in its mouth, with Chief on top, and includes a beautiful hand-made 28-inch Salmon chain. Even the clasp is innovative as it is representative of a Northwest Coast halibut hook. This unique design element showcases the artist’s intricate attention to detail.
Bear with Salmon and Cheif Necklace
Luke Marston (Salish)
22kt Gold, 28″ Chain
3″ H x 2 1/2″ W x 1″ D
Phil Janze (Gitksan) was a well-known carver and jeweler whose distinctive style is beautifully executed in this rich cast gold pendant with abalone surround and 20kt gold bracelet.
Hawk Pin/Pendant
Phil Janze (Gitxsan)
18kt Gold, Abalone, Ed. 4/10
1 1/4″ H x 1 3/8″ W
Raven Bracelet, 1985
Phil Janze (Gitxsan)
20kt Gold
6¼” L x 1¼” W
Finally, Don Yeomans (Haida) has made few large-scale jewelry pieces in his career, so it is always special to receive one of these exquisite works from the past.
Eagle Necklace, 1988
Don Yeomans (Haida)
18kt Cast and Carved Gold
4 1/2″ W x 2 1/2″ H x 1 1/2″ D


Last spring, we explored the proliferation of printmaking in the Northwest Coast art community. In the late-1960s, a young Robert Davidson (Haida), who had learned the basics of silkscreen printing during his high school years in Vancouver, began experimenting with the art form in Bill Reid’s studio on Pender Street, where they had turned an extra bedroom into a print studio. Throughout the 60s and 70s, Davidson created numerous print editions and works from this period have become quite the collectibles.
Raven Bringing the Light, 1987
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Ed. 38/50
26″ W x 20″ H
Spirit Helper’s Helper, 1996
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Ed. 22/99
30″ W x 15″ H
Eagle and Raven, 1969
Robert Davidson (Haida)
19″ H x 18½” W x 1½” D
Eagle, 1969
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, 20 Printed
19″ H x 18″ W x 1½” D
Dogfish, 1974
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Ed. 205/330
16″ H x 14½” W x 1¼” D
Transformation, 1976
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, 350 Printed
12½” H x 11″ W x 1½” D
Exhibition Invitation, 1971
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, 200 Printed
6¾” W x 5″ H
Northwest Coast Indigenous art is a continually growing and evolving space, as both established and up-and-coming artists create new works founded on strong ties to their cultural heritage. Sometimes these works push the boundaries of what is considered traditional, sometimes new pieces are heavily influenced by the designs of older works. Historic works that come through the gallery help to create context for the evolution of contemporary Northwest Coast works, accentuating the deeply rooted artistic traditions of the many diverse nations along the coast. It’s always exciting to see new works by artists today, and this collection serves as a great reminder of the origins of contemporary Northwest Coast art that has become the world-renowned artform that it is today.
Visit the website as we update regularly, and follow us on social media for updates and new works in the gallery.
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