Legacy of the Queneesh opens

Kwagiulth artist Tom Hunt Jr. will one of the featured artists in the Comox Valley Art Gallery’s The Legend of Queneesh exhibit. - Photo submitted
Kwagiulth artist Tom Hunt Jr. will one of the featured artists in the Comox Valley Art Gallery’s The Legend of Queneesh exhibit.
— image credit: Photo submitted

Comox Valley Art Gallery announces a new exhibit titled Legacy of the Queneesh, guest curated by Dallas Stevenson, which opens on Saturday August 4 and runs until September 22, 2012.

An opening ceremony is scheduled at 1 p.m. on Aug. 4 at the Big House on K’ómoks First Nation Grounds 3320 Comox Rd, Courtenay.  This will be followed by an Opening Reception at the Comox Valley Art Gallery at 3-5 p.m.  Everyone is invited to participate in both events to welcome and meet the artists.

Comox Valley-based guest curator Dallas Stevenson (BFA Emily Carr University), working with Michael Frank of the K’ómoks First Nation presents an exhibition of West Coast First Nations artists. The artists in this exhibition are Geary Cranmer, Kwakiutl (Comox), Sean Frank, K’ómoks, (Comox), George Hunt Jr., Kwagiulth, (Campbell River), Stephen Hunt, Kwagiulth, (Fort Rupert), Tom Hunt Jr., Kwagiulth, (Campbell River), Charlie Johnson, Kwagiulth, (Comox), Troy Roberts, Weiwakum, (Campbell River ), and guest artists.

This exhibit investigates issues surrounding cultural appropriation and cultural ownership, drawing attention to the importance of context and relationship in presentation, and to the concept of hereditary rights. Here, issues surrounding cultural ‘trespassing’ will be explored.

Stevenson states: “Although these works are often shown in museum or commercial gallery contexts, the pieces have merit as contemporary art.  They are created with great skill from years of training through an apprenticeship and many years of dedication are required to learn the art. The artist must also follow protocol in that they are to use images that they have been given the right to use either through their inherent family rights or through ceremony where one is given the right...

“The ongoing discourse around ownership of imagery is important to all of us as artists and viewers but also in the preservation of cultural knowledge. The works in this exhibit include contemporary work created from the stories to which these artists have hereditary right to use.

“We chose to honour the magnitude of this significant event for our community by including traditional celebrations with dancing and song at the K’omoks Big House.  Each work is impressive on its own but experiencing how these works are used in presentation and ceremony changes the relationship that the viewer has with each piece and its maker.”

Geary Cranmer was born in and currently lives in Comox.  Geary paints in acrylics on canvas and carves in cedar, alder and limestone. He began carving 30 years ago working with Calvin Hunt at the Copper Maker in Fort Rupert BC.  Locally, he has worked with Calvin Hunt and Mervyn Child on the Comox I-Hos canoe and the gift shop house front.

Sean Frank was born in Comox BC.  “I am the eldest grandson of hereditary Comox Chief Norman Frank. I started carving in 1990 with my cousin Charlie Johnson and over the years have worked on several projects ranging from potlatch regalia, totem poles, large scale canoes with many artists Stan Hunt the third, Beau Dick, Tom Hunt, Pat Hunt, Calvin Hunt, Mervyn Child, Wayne Alfred and inspired greatly by my grandfather Doug Cranmer.”

George Hunt Jr. learned how to carve from his father; George Hunt Sr. George Jr. is an accomplished artist and is also a known and respected traditional dancer amongst the Tlingit, Kwakwaka’wakw and Mawachaht Nations. He was initiated into the exclusive Hamat’sa dance society at the age of sixteen by his paternal grandfather, Chief Thomas Hunt. George Jr. apprenticed with Tony Hunt, John Livingston, Calvin Hunt and Sam Henderson and has been carving since 1972. In addition, his step Great Grandfather was the famous Kwakwaka’wakw carver, Mungo Martin.

Stephen Hunt was born in 1962 in Victoria, to parents, Hereditary Chief George D. Hunt, Na̱mugwis and Mary Hunt, Muk̕uxwilakw dlu Uma. Stephen’s Hunt family legacy is the hosting of Kwagiulth feasts and potlatches in Tsakis (Fort Rupert) to keep the traditions and culture alive over these past decades.  He learned how to carve from his father and brothers, George Jr. and Tom.  Stephen carves in yellow and red cedar wood.  He makes paddles of all sizes, miniature canoes, plaques and from time to time he paints totem poles.

Tom Hunt Jr. is the son of Hereditary Chief George Hunt and May Hunt.  He is a member of the Kwagiulth, or Kwakwaka’wakw Nation and was born in Victoria in 1964. Tom began apprenticing in Kwagiulth art with his father at the age of twelve and later worked with his brother, George Hunt Jr.  While versatile in other media, Tom Hunt prefers woodcarving. In keeping with the family tradition, Tom’s talent is given particularly full expression in the carving of totem poles.

Charlie Johnson was born in 1964 and is from Kingcome Inlet. He began carving in 1980 at the age of 15, inspired by his father and his own desire to explore the culture and the art form.  He has carved with Simon and Beau Dick as well as Joe Peters. Charlie works only in wood and specializes in masks, rattles, and bowls. His work has been purchased by museums and collectors around the world.  Recently his Bear Mask was included in a National Geographic article.

Troy Roberts is descended from chiefs of the Weiwakum First Nation.  He has been immersed in his native cultural heritage since he was a small boy, learning the dances and myths of his people under the disciplined guidance of the late Elizabeth Kwaksistala. Troy now carries on this tradition with his sons, Tyrone and Nathan.  He was inspired by the most stylistically inventive artist of his time, the late Willie Seaweed.

Legacy of the Queneesh is on exhibit at the Comox Valley Art Gallery until Sept. 22. Gallery hours are Tuesday–Saturday from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. The Gallery is located at 580 Duncan Ave in downtown Courtenay.

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