A walk through the main room of the Gibsons Public Art Gallery (GPAG) this month is a trip back in time, thanks to a unique collection of archival photographs of members of Inuit, Métis and northern Canadian First Nations. The pictures’ telltale, 1950s’ filmstock colour tones, in combination with the soulful and straightforward facial expression of the subjects, speak of a different era, one in which Native populations were undoubtedly more oppressed, but still quietly free-spirited and determined.
The 21 unframed photos are among hundreds taken between 1955 and 1960 by British-born photo-journalist Rosemary (Gilliat) Eaton in her work for various Canadian magazines of the day. The photos were exhumed from the Library and Archives Canada by Saskatchewan-based writer Paul Seesequasis, a friend of former Sunshine Coast writer Kristjana Gunnars, who came up with the idea of a GPAG exhibit, similar to one Seesequasis had mounted in Nelson, B.C.
Gunnars left the Coast for the Lower Mainland late last year, and Gibsons artist Paula O’Brien gamely stepped in to bring the show to fruition. “[Seesequasis] saw his role in this work, this repatriation of these photographs to their communities, as bringing them out of the archives into social media and out into the world,” O’Brien said at the exhibit’s opening reception June 8.
The photographic show is running in tandem with a display in the adjunct Eve Smart Gallery of works by Sunshine Coast carver Artie George, who was born a decade after Eaton’s last photos were taken and grew up through a time of relative progress for First Nations.
George, a North Vancouver-raised member of both the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, is a self-taught carver whose work draws from a range of Native traditions.
“Because I haven’t apprenticed under somebody, I haven’t learned one specific style,” George – a great nephew of Chief Dan George – told Coast Reporter. “This is my interpretation of all the different styles, Coast Salish, Haida, Kwakiutl, Tlingit,” among others.
After George does his carving, creative partner Richard de la Mare applies whatever paint or other touches are needed to complete the piece. It’s part of a successful artistic and commercial relationship the pair have shared for more than 35 years.
“He’s allowed me to have the freedom of creating from his own pieces,” said de la Mare, who is part Iroquois. “We work together on every one of them in some way.”
The two also work together to run Coast Raven Design Studio, their workspace and retail outlet on the Sunshine Coast Highway in Davis Bay.
The combined shows will run at GPAG until July 7.