Fourteen Northwest Coast contemporary and traditional artists will be featured in an upcoming Bright Future exhibition at the Bill Reed Gallery at Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver.
The exhibit opens to the public on April 26 and runs until January 14, 2024.
“It’s been 25 years since Bill Reid passed away, and it’s really brought me into focus and inspiration,” said co-curator Aliya Boubard. “We’re really thinking about how he’s going to think about art on the North West Coast now, especially contemporary art.”
Reed, born in 1920, died in 1998. He is a Haida master artist who began painting in his twenties after being exposed to his Aboriginal roots.
His own style combines traditional elements of Northwest Coast art with his own contemporary twist.
His work includes paintings, sculptures and jewelry creations, among others.
“He’s done a lot of stuff, so we really have to try and get a variety of artists and artwork in our gallery,” Bumbard said. “He was instrumental in the renaissance of the arts on the Northwest Coast. Because of the massive loss of Indigenous culture, not just on the coast, but throughout North America, a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily be practicing that art.”
Another feature Reed is remembered for is how he mentored emerging artists who continue to create today.
Rebecca Baker-Grenier. Kwak’waka’wakw Nations and Squamish decent, are among the exhibit’s contributors. Master artists like Reid were instrumental in paving the way for Aboriginal artists today, she said.
“I think he’s an important figure in Northwest Coast art,” she said. “I’ve also come from a lot of master artists, and I think it’s important to have a lot of respect for someone like Bill Reed and the work that he did, as well as other master artists, because they dedicated their lives to them Art. But, to me, it’s not just art, it’s about our culture because all of our culture is in art and you can’t separate the two.”
Baker-Grenier contributed a clothing essay titled “Ancestral Strength” to the exhibition.
The dress is a cape that blends wool, cedar bark, mink, jingle and Swarovski crystals.
“When I created this piece, I wanted to see how I could take traditional materials and innovate on them and use them in new ways,” Baker-Grenier explained. “It was really about highlighting our materials, and I said We who are today, but also our ancestors, have been using these materials to create not only art, but also function to a large extent.
“I really wanted to highlight the cedar. From the beginning of our origin story, it has been the source of our life, both in function and in the way we use it as a tool, building canoes, building our big houses, carving our mask.”
She made a rope out of cedar bark and put it on the dress in a floral pattern.
After playing in her mother’s sewing room and watching her sew throughout her childhood, Baker-Grenier began her own interest in sewing when her mother helped her sew her first traditional dress when she was only 11 years old. A passion for sewing.
“I developed a strong passion for sewing clothes. I continue to do so to this day,” she says.
“It’s a very important thing for me to not only create it for myself, but also to make sure my family has the crown and hopefully I can also pass these techniques on to my kids when they grow up. It’s a bit of a detour because now my kids are playing in my sewing room.”
In 2021, she set out to incorporate all her passion for traditional clothing into more contemporary fashion designs.
“Regalia is specific to individuals and cultures. I want to take those teachings and stories and create something more accessible, and I think fashion is a good place to start. I think fashion is an outer expression of who we are. I think through fashion we Can express who we are. We can be proud of our art form.”
She received a scholarship from Vancouver Airport named YVR Emerging Artist.
The scholarship supported her search for a mentor, Pam Baker, who guided her in creating a piece called “Wazulis,” which was exhibited at the airport and is now on display at the Vancouver Museum.
“I think that kind of mentoring is also unique because that’s how we traditionally learn from our mothers or aunts and really how we pass on our culture,” she said.
As she continues to develop her fashion designs under the Kanayu Kollection label, Baker-Grenier says it’s extremely important to her to continue to incorporate her Northwest Coast roots into her fashion creations.
In addition to Reid and Baker-Grenier, the exhibition also 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) With Krystle Silverfox (Selkirk & Northern Tutchone) and Dustin Shelton (Teslin Tlingit).