Biblitz delivers advise

ASK Biblitz about Aboriginal Art Favorites.

'Her temperament required resistance - even if heightened by her own invention - in order to thrive and to surmount the west coast cultural vacuity.'

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What can you tell me about the aboriginal art on sale during that five-ring circus, Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010 - especially the stuff we saw at various galleries throughout the city?

See also Aboriginals.

Update May 18/10:

Astute marketers among B.C. First Nations have proposed a wonderful way to capitalize on their excellent exposure during Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010: "The Stanley Park Miniature Train and surrounding property could be transformed this summer to recreate a Klahowya First Nations summer village. Klahowya is the Chinook word for welcome. The park board is considering (unanimously approved!) a proposal to allow the Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C. to create the cultural showcase, which could become an annual event. Highlights of the summer village will include a healing stone pathway, an authentic teepee with interpretive features, a traditional canoe carving area and indigenous food." (From Central Park: Teepees, etc., by Sandara Thomas, Vancouver Courier May 14/10) With full interactive public access and FREE!

Biblitz replies:
Most of us were introduced to this magnificent work via the great sweeping canvasses of B.C. legend Emily Carr, who like so many talented, deserving locals did not enjoy the favor or even the respect of her peers until rather later in her career than she would have wished. Consider:


Emily Carr

By Doris Shadbolt

... even after she had acquired a national critical reputation and had been accepted into the larger Canadian community of recognized artists, she clung to her concept of herself as "the little old lady on the edge of nowhere." We conclude that she found reassurance and a necessary strength in her sense of her difference from others. Her temperament required resistance - even if heightened by her own invention - in order to thrive and to surmount the west coast cultural vacuity.

Her felt isolation had also a bearing upon the two great themes of her mature work: the Indian forms and the vast British Columbia rain forests. She was probably attracted to the Indians because they too in their way lived outside the society whose demands for conventional decorum she detested. She found she could communicate with them directly, in the one way she could communicate with people - emotionally, intuitively.

... Her first Indian drawings are of the people themselves ... Soon she came to appreciate the artistry of the great indian carvings and understand their deep expressive power. ...

Perhaps the finest painting of her early maturity is found in a second group of works of this same time (1928-1930), in which she combines strong exotic and formal appeal of the Indian carvings with a powerful statement of the rank, fearsome nature of the coastal forests.

... The totem poles literally come out of the giant trees. But as brooding silent watching presences they involve a more profound generic relation to the hostile world of the rain forest. (-- pgs. 6-8, 33)

Ah, the paddlesteamer:


Some years ago, two of the last great paddlewheelers burnt to the ground as a result of inceniarism. These old-time vessels had made Yukon history, and to see them die in such a manner brought tears to the eyes of many. Grizzled old trappers and ex-rivermen wept unashamedly as the smoke from the funeral pyres rose over the city in a large sad cloud. ...

Tucked away in the Yukon's wilderness are the rotting remains of cabins, the fragile skeletons of ghost towns and the once impervious forms of paddlewheelers. To be sure, some are being replaced or repaired. A lick of paint here and there tarts up an aging facade. Like ancient duchesses of a long defunct royalty, they put on their last regal airs before the final Gotterdammerung. Their very presence reminds us of those foolhardy stalwarts whose grit and determination squeezed out a living in a land whose very nature challenged all who dared to face it. (From The Last Horizon, Paintings and Stories of An Artist's Life in the North, pgs. 100-101)

Message from a shy suitor:

steamShipPCF steamshipPCB

Makah mask discovered near Neah Bay, Washington with the ghost-like visage of one of the less attractive Biblitz forebears, alas, another victim of the Gold Rush. Ancestral history reveals that great Uncle Leopold (the Biblitz namesake) was captured by natives and sacrificed guts-out at the conclusion of a potlatch when none of the visiting tribesmen would have him as a slave. Apparently, the old boy had taken flight to avoid public hanging following an opprobrious remark to a certain lady named Lou intended, no doubt, to distract gamblers from a regrettable bet made at the evening poker game. He died never having done an honest day's work, bless him!

Visions of the North

Native Art of the Northwest Coast

By Don and Debra McQuiston
Text by Lynne Bush
Photography by Tom Till

Most Northwest Coast art is representational; that is, it is a picture of something, most often an animal. Use of certain creatures is traditionally restricted to those who hold rights to them through clan or family ties. For instance, Raven clan members could display the Raven crest, but through marriage or a spirit encounter, individuals might also own Frog or Dragonfly or a unique version of Raven.

The art is generally symmetrical around a vertical axis. Three colors are used repeatedly, with some slight variation: black, the primary color is used for the formline: red is used for details and for secondary formlines; and blue or blue-green is used for less important elements. ...

The highly structured Northwest Coast societies were based on a wealth ... measured not only in material rights, such as the right to certain fishing streams or berry patches, but also in the right to use and display clan crests, to claim hereditary titles, and to participate in certain ceremonies and performances. Noble families held the most rights, but even commoners held some rights. Slaves, captured or purchased from other tribes, were considered part of their owner's property. They were buried under the massive corner posts of a long house as it was built or, often, sacrificed as a demonstration of their owner's weath (like old Uncle Leo).

Individual rights were and still are validated through the complicated practice of potlatching, carried out in one form or another by almost all of the tribes of the Northwest Coast. A potlatch, a several-day series of events, was thrown for one or more of several purposes: to mark an important life event, such as the building of a long house; to enhance personal prestige and display wealth; to save face after an embarrassment; or sometimes to shame or best a rival, in a mutual destruction of goods. ...

In the early 20th c., potlatching was outlawed by both Canada and the United States ... The last 30 years, however, have been a time of renewal, as young native artists seek the roots of their art in the old ways. ... Raven brings light to the Northwest again. (--pgs. 23-25)


Here's Uncle Leopold, the old sinner, in a piece very much like Flight by Coast Salish artist Susan Point. Wealthy tourists can enjoy the original at the rather stunning International Terminal Building at Vancouver International Airport. More about the work and the artist in Great Work! An Overview of Contemporary British Columbia Artists compiled by Melanie Gold, Part I of a Series. Below is a piece easily confused with Bill Reid's The Raven and the First Men currently at UBC's otherwise deadly dull Museum of Anthropology - ugh! Reid, though a talented artist, was an irascible, thoroughly unpleasant fellow at the Vancouver radio station where he toiled unhappily though briefly with still another Biblitz forebear.


... Raven is part of the very important story of the origin of First People and is interwoven with their identity. Children's versions of Raven stories are edited for content. "Raven was going along" are the translated native words commencing all Raven trickster stories. ...

Raven was going along, a difficult child, always attracting disasters. A tree fell on him; a canoe snapped shut on him; he fell into a firepit; he was boiled in a kettle. Using his supernatural powers, he survived all of these incidents. ...

... Finally, human beings caught onto his deceptive ways, and Raven himself was captured, tortured, cut up, and murdered. In each of these adventures, he reconstituted himself. And that is how Raven was going along and how he always is. (From Totem Poles, An Altitude SuperGuide by Pat Kramer, pgs. 84-85)


Celebrating Inuit Art

Edited by Maria von Finchenstein

Joe Talirunili, as a child, experienced a traumatic journey in an umiak - a woman's boat - during which 40 people drowned. This event has been a recurring theme in his drawings, prints, and sculptures. Shortly before his death, he made another large series of "migration" pieces. The fact that this scene is one of 24 different versions does not diminish its power and expressive quality. (-- p. 91) Here again is the spectre of old Poker Face Uncle Leo no doubt trying to induce oarsmen to pass the time with one of the traditional aboriginal gambling games with which he would have been, alas, all too familiar.