Collectors of Northwest Coast Art have varied and refined tastes, and these tastes are known to evolve and change as collectors fine-tune their personal acquisitions. Throughout the year, the gallery is approached by collectors seeking to make room for new pieces as their tastes change to focus on one particular region, artist, style or material. Some collectors, for example, will narrow their focus down to collecting wood, stone, fabric or jewellery while others might focus on collecting only historic works, or prints by a particular artist. As collecting needs change, we are approached with works that are new to the gallery, but that are often 30 to 100+ years old. This spring, we’re highlighting some special collections and unique historical pieces that have recently found new homes here at the gallery.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, print making was finding its niche in the Northwest Coast Art world. Initially, the Inuit print market saw the establishment of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-Operative in Cape Dorset in 1959, which raised the profile of Inuit print making by releasing annual prints by Inuit artists that were highly sought-after throughout the country.
This was followed in 1977 by the formation of the Northwest Coast Indian Artist Guild, a collective of eleven Aboriginal artists, including Robert Davidson and Roy Henry Vickers, working to establish the practice and sale of high-quality Northwest Coast print making. This was a very prolific production period, and these prints found their way into homes and collections around the world.
While these prints were distributed in large quantity, it is rare to find a collection from this period in perfect, original condition – the use of acid-laden matting materials that were commonly employed in framing techniques at the time often caused discoloration of the paper underneath the mat.
While acid burn is common on older prints, and doesn’t greatly impact the value, it’s rare to see prints of this age in excellent condition. This month, however, a number of prints, including some from the ‘Guild’ series, have come onto the market, and the gallery was approached by a collector selling a selection of these prints that had been kept in their original protective packaging since the time of purchase. Although these prints are around forty years old, it looks as though they could have been printed just yesterday – they are in pristine condition!
The gallery is often approached by collectors with pieces from historic collections – carved bowls, woven baskets, antique rattles, and more – which always proves an exciting time as the acquisition of these pieces regularly involves research and conversations with anthropologists, museums, artists and other field experts, to fill in details that might be missing from the record.
Feast dishes are used ceremonially on the Northwest Coast during potlatches, where the communal sharing of food plays an integral role in the celebration. Historically, smaller, hand-carved feast bowls gained popularity within the tourist market in the mid-to-late 1800’s, when artists would carve these dishes for sale to tourists travelling along the coast. The gallery recently added several such bowls to its collection, most notably a Sea Otter bowl, attributed to Tlingit artist Rudolph Walton, which is an excellent example of the craftsmanship of the region at the time. Walton was active in Alaska in the 1880’s and 1890’s, while he was a student at the Sheldon Jackson School (now the Sheldon Jackson Museum) in Sitka, Alaska, where he learned to carve and sold his pieces to visitors. He later moved to Seattle and began carving in exotic woods, most prominently mahogany, which often led to his work being mistaken for imported wears as he moved away from using traditional Northwest Coast materials. This Sea Otter bowl is considered to be one of his earlier pieces – carved in a local wood, possibly alder, and inlayed with beautiful white glass beads, bone, abalone and operculum.
There are numerous styles of spoon-like objects used ceremonially on the Northwest Coast, the most common being made of goat horn, which are either entirely black or made with a combination of black goat horn for the handle and a lighter sheep or cow horn for the spoon. Feast spoons and ladles are most commonly decorated with crest figures representing the hereditary rights of the host chief. The gallery recently acquired a collection of historical spoons, dating around the late 1800’s, whose uniqueness is found in the rare combination of several materials – light and dark horn, wood, and/or copper – fused together to create the traditional ladle shape.
Photo by Ulli Steltzer: Robert Davidson holds his brother’s speaker staff.
We probably see more of Bill Reid’s work than any other gallery, which could stem from the fact that Bill was Doug’s landlord many years ago. Doug has met many of Bill and Martine’s friends and family who, over the years, have asked him to help manage their collections. Recently, several of Reid’s jewellery pieces came onto the market, and have found their way into the gallery’s collection by way of these connections.
Bill Reid Collected: Book Launch
Coincidentally, the acquisition of these Reid pieces is very timely, as Martine Reid is about to launch her latest book. The Bill Reid Gallery (639 Hornby St.) will be celebrating the release of Bill Reid Collected on April 14th, at 5:30pm.
As some collections surface on the market place for purchase by private collectors, other collections find new homes in museums and public art galleries by way of donation. We often work with institutions, such as the UBC MOA, the VAG, and the AGO, facilitating appraisals for collectors wanting to donate their collections so the public may appreciate historic and contemporary pieces that make up the fabric of Canada’s art culture. Next month will be an exciting time for a prolific BC art collector, philanthropist and friend of the gallery, Michael Audain, as he celebrates the opening of his new museum, the Audain Art Museum, in Whistler, on March 12th. Audain’s personal collection features an extensive array of historical and contemporary Northwest Coast art, as well as a vast selection of works by Emily Carr, amongst other prominent Canadian and international artists, which will be part of the permanent collection at the new museum. This beautiful new facility presents a great opportunity for the visiting public to view these important pieces, and will also provide a space to feature rotating exhibits to support new and established artists, and to drive the creation of Canadian and international art and culture.