A remarkable exhibit has opened at Gibsons Public Art Gallery (GPAG), featuring contemporary serigraph prints by Coast Salish artists. The quality and originality of these works will have you reaching for superlatives.
The 18 prints are part of Salish Weave, the private, multi-media collection of Christiane and George Smyth. The Victoria couple are discerning collectors of Indigenous art, but they’re also philanthropists who have amassed thousands of works, largely as a project of public education.
The Smyths have donated these prints to the Sunshine Coast’s School District No. 46 (SD46) to help raise public awareness of Indigenous culture. Ours is one of 27 B.C. school districts in traditional Coast Salish territories to which the Smyths have given artworks from their collection.
“They wanted young Indigenous people to be able to see themselves reflected in schools, that was their number-one thing,” Kerry Mahlman, SD46’s district principal of Indigenous Learning, told Coast Reporter. “They also want everybody else, other young people, to see the extraordinary talent, the beauty, the skills, and the deep cultural context of it all.
“Our main goal became making these available to students through Indigenous education and encouraging teachers to see these as things that they can use within their teaching,” Mahlman added. “We want kids to see them, we want [school] staff to see them, we want parents to see them, and we want the public to have a chance to see them.”
The prints, most under 30 inches square, have been framed behind low-reflective glass, and each is mounted beside a card of text helpfully explaining the context and significance of the imagery. Some prints clearly depict animals, like the frog and bear, in a bold, charming, and traditional style that all ages can appreciate.
Other works are also inspired by creatures often found in West Coast Indigenous art, like halibut and wolves, which have been beautifully transfigured into semi-abstraction. Prints like Memory, and Discovery, by Musqueam artists Susan Point and Kelly Cannell, are clearly the product of gifted imaginations, and like all the works here, have been realized with flawless technique and precision.
Salish Weave Collection is on at GPAG until Sunday, Aug. 8.