Not too many years ago, you only had to walk down Government Street in Victoria to find more shops selling Northwest Coast art than you could properly absorb in a day. Looking back, I’m not sure of the quality of some of the shops, but they were there. But times are harder, with many store fronts along Government empty, and now you have to search for galleries.
Descending on Victoria yesterday, these are the galleries we managed to find:
- Art of Man: Located in the mall in the basis of the Empress Hotel, the Art of Man specializes in Inuit and First Nations masks and sculpture. The pieces for sale included four or five from Ron Telek, including a meter high blue shaman (this from an artist who rarely uses color), and a shaman marionette fending off a spirit attacking his foot with other spirits resting in his hand. Daryl Baker, the nephew of the LaFortune brothers Doug, Perry, and Aubrey, is also represented by highly-detailed designs that border on the surreal, and that are all marked by a close attention to finishing details. The Art of Man also seems to get first pick of Tim Paul’s work – so much so that I realize that only his lesser pieces reach Vancouver. Other artists whose work is available at this gallery are John and Luke Marston, whose work shows an awareness of history that I had never realized before that it possessed. In general, the quality of the work at the Art of Man is extremely high, making it by far the premier gallery of Northwest Coast art in downtown Victoria.
- Hill’s Native Art: Like the Vancouver store, the Victoria Hills is mainly a tourist shop. However, the Victoria store seems to have a slightly better ratio of art to high-end tourist pieces, as though it gets first choice of all the locations. But perhaps this impression is due partly to the fact that it is less crowded and better lit.
- Alcheringa Gallery: From the web site, I had the impression that this gallery was huge. The reality, though, is that this is a gallery with only a few of its pieces on display – and about half of those are given to works from Papua New Guinea, which is worth seeing, but doesn’t engage my interest the way that the Northwest Coast tradition does. Still, you can see some works by Tim Paul and John Marston there. I was also interested in seeing two works I had seen on the Internet, one by Ron Telek and another by Dean Heron.
- Pacific Editions: Unfortunately, this story is closed on Mondays, which meant that we walked six blocks out of our way for nothing. But what we could see through the window confirmed the impression I had from the web site: Pacific Prints has a huge collection of limited editions prints. I look forward to spending a happy few hours there the next time I’m in Victoria.
- Eagle Feather Gallery: A mixture of art and tourist pieces, this gallery is only a block from the Empress Hotel – but on a side street that you may have trouble finding. It specializes in the work of Doug, Perry, and Aubrey LaFortune, especially Doug (in fact, he was due to drop by the day that we visited, although we missed him). Daryl Baker and Pat Amos also have a couple of pieces, while Francis Dick has at least a dozen 2-D works from throughout his career at the gallery. Whether the gallery is worth a visit probably depends on your opinions of these artists, although its stock gives you a good opportunity of evaluating Doug LaFortune thoroughly.
- Out of the Mist Gallery: This gallery specializes in antiques. Its modern selection is devoted largely to the Hunt family, and includes a few curios like a mask carved by Richard Hunt when he was a teenager, a formal, somewhat stiff print from the start of Beau Dick’s career, and a two meter-long eagle by Roy Henry Vickers. The quality of the antiques is completely indiscriminate, and includes some pieces from across North America. If your taste runs to antiques in Northwest Coast art, you could probably find something to your taste, but the somewhat dim lightning and the bored staff makes the effort hardly seem worthwhile.
As with previous lists I’ve made of galleries, this one makes no effort to be comprehensive. We did not, for instance, have to visit the Provincial Museum’s gift shop, which I seem to remember as having a few art pieces. So if you know of any other galleries in the Victoria area that might be worth a visit, please add a comment and let me know.