Experience Vancouver Island’s Indigenous Art

Share  Facebook Twitter

There are many ways to immerse yourself in the living traditions of BC’s Aboriginal people. One I highly recommend is visiting the aboriginal art galleries on Vancouver Island. My exploration of five galleries revealed a huge diversity in aboriginal art – the most impressive of which are on display in galleries around the world, including the Smithsonian Institute in New York.. The galleries themselves are unique too, housed in a wide range of structures and locations.

Tofino

Eagle Aerie Gallery in Tofino, Vancouver Island

The Eagle Aerie Gallery in Tofino is built in the form of a traditional Northwest Coast longhouse

One of the most unique galleries is the Eagle Aerie Gallery in Tofino. Built in the form of a traditional First Nations Northwest Coast longhouse, the gallery/gift shop is owned and operated by one of Canada’s best-known aboriginal artists, Roy Henry Vickers. The gallery is open seven days a week and welcomes 500,000 visitors a year.

Vickers’ work spans a myriad of forms that include prints integrating traditional native symbols and colours. There are also works, both in original and limited editions, that belie the perception of many as to what native art can include. Much of Vickers’ work centres on coastal subjects, but there are also endeavours that include beautiful, colourful serigraphs of everything from cityscapes, to a Monarch butterfly, to Cariboo cowboys.

Other distinctive aspects of the gallery include a gift shop that offers clothing and art cards, and opportunities to participate in special occasions when Vickers gathers guests around the centre pit in the main hall of the longhouse for one of his storytelling sessions.

Ucluelet

Traditional aboriginal masks at Cedar House Gallery in Ucluelet on Vancouver Island

Masks and head dresses at Cedar House Gallery in Ucluelet

Situated just 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Tofino in the fishing village of Ucluelet is another unique – if somewhat smaller – gallery. The Cedar House Gallery is located on the ground floor of Whiskey Landing Lodge, on the waterfront in the heart of Ucluelet. The gallery specializes in cedar products ranging from traditional masks, to hand-woven baskets, to spectacular carved bowls, rattles, and jewellery. A wide range of indigenous artists are represented.

When you are headed to or from the west coast of the Island, there are a couple of other native galleries well worth visiting.

Port Alberni

Gordon Dick carves aboriginal art work at Ahtsik Native Art Gallery in Port Alberni

Gordon Dick at work on a massive piece at his Ahtsik Native Art Gallery

Right on the Pacific Rim Highway on the way out of Port Alberni heading for the west coast of the Island, you will find the Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, owned and operated by First Nations artist Gordon Dick. In addition to the vast array of aboriginal art work, silver jewellery and cedar bark weaving, there is an added bonus to the Ahtsik gallery – visitors get to watch Gordon at work, either indoors during the winter or outdoors during the fine weather months.  The fragrance of cedar shavings permeates everything – an additional windfall when visiting.

Coombs

An aboriginal turning at Coastal Carvings near Coombs, Vancouver Island

A turning at Coastal Carvings in Coombs, designed by Jeremy Humpherville and executed by Douglas Fisher

In the tiny community of Coombs, just a few kilometres west of Parksville – and also on the route to or from the west coast, if you plan it right – is a native gallery located in a century-old house. Coastal Carvings is operated by Jeremy and Darlene Humpherville. Born in Haida Gwaii, Jeremy works with his brother Jerett and in concert with 28 other indigenous artists to create a varied and interesting gallery that features everything from exquisite furniture pieces to original oil paintings, carvings, head dresses and jewellery.

Campbell River

Campbell River also serves as home to a native art gallery, owned and operated by the Wei Wai Kum First Nation. The House of Treasures gallery encompasses 139 square metres (1,500 square feet) designed to channel a traditional big house, and features works from a number of the band’s talented artists. Masks, jewellery, clothing, dolls and souvenirs are available at the gallery, so it’s a great spot to seek out that special piece if you are heading north on the Island.

Did I miss one of your favourite Aboriginal art galleries on Vancouver Island? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.