“How does this compare to a show down south?” John Wilson asked me last week, shortly after I arrived at the Freda Diesing School Student Art Exhibition in Terrace. He seemed surprised when I told him that a 23 person show with some 75 pieces almost never happened, but it’s true. The annual show is one of the largest annual exhibits of modern Northwest Coast Art anywhere.
The show lasted only two days, with a private viewing for friends and family on Friday and a public viewing on Saturday. The location is the Freda Diesing Studio on the Terrace campus of Northwest Community College, a well-lit building with a large lower floor ordinarily occupied by work benches and a loft for a more conventional class room setting:
Just inside the door, above the table with the show catalog and price list were a few prints by Freda Diesing herself, including a self-portrait mask:
These works were not for sale, but stood as tutelary spirits of the show – or, more precisely, as the standards to which the students should aspire.
Several months ago, I reviewed the school’s mid-term show via a collection of pictures sent to me by John Wilson. That show was mostly painting and sketches, the first year class in particular having not begun its study of carving at the time. By contrast, the year-end show had a few two-dimensional pieces, but consisted largely of paddles, spoons, and masks.
Painted paddles are closer to two dimensional than three dimensional works, so I was not surprised when two of the best-designed paddles were from Shawn Aster and Latham Mack, two artists who were among the standouts at the earlier shows and scholarship winners at the graduation ceremonies that accompanied the private viewing:
However, making the transition from the two-dimensional craft of painting to the three-dimensional one of carving does not always comes easily, and many students are still making it. Latham Mack, for instance (who as a Nuxalk, is learning his second style of carving), is well on the way, using the same blue that I am starting to recognize as characteristic of his two-dimensional designs:
By contrast, a mask by Shawn Aster shows a sense of surfaces, but seems more tentative, with a shallowness in the carving and a thinness of line that makes you only appreciate the mask up close, as seen in this (unfortunately cropped) picture:
A similar lack of ease in three dimensions is true of Todd Stephens, another scholarship winner from whom I’ve bought several paintings:
Other students showed similar learning curves – and, as might be expected in a student show – a certain tendency to conformity – although Norman McLean, Sr., in a triumph of social sensibility over aesthetics did do a bright pink mask, as well as a spoon with a more discrete pink ribbon around the handle as fund-raisers for breast cancer. Still, there were some interesting pieces here and there.
Sophia Patricia Beaton, another scholarship winner, had only one piece in the show, but the wavy hair and the obviously feminine face and the labret were original enough to make me wonder what the rest of her work might be like:
I also noticed James Weget-McNeil’s frog mask, which, although in a very different style, reminded me of some of the faux-artifacts that Beau Dick has been carving recently:
However, much of the interesting carving came from mature students with more experience.
Charles Richard Wesley, whose work I noticed in the mid-term show, came up with two interestingly intricate masks:
I also appreciated John Wilson’s work, which he says represents an advance in finishing details over his earlier work – pointing, for example, an indentation of the eye sockets at the top of the nose:
These are just some of the pieces in the show, but, aside from the bowls (something needing to be left out), they give an idea of the variety to be seen at the show. I appreciate the chance to see students learning and mastering their craft, and while some flaws and weaknesses are apparent, there are just as many examples of solid and skilled works.
In fact, I could have come away from the show considerably poorer. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on my shifting perspective, most of the pieces I considered buying were marked NFS, many earmarked for a show at the Spirit Wrestler Gallery in Vancouver later this month.
But buying is only one reason to attend such a show. A far better reason is spend a few hours surrounded by efforts of art – and that, so far as I am concerned, is more than enough reason for me to want to attend next year’s show.
My thanks to Stan Bevan for seeing that I got an invitation. That small kindness gave me an enriching day.