The Freda Diesing School’s year-end exhibit has become a fixture on my calendar. Not only is it one of the largest annual shows of First Nations artists anywhere in the province, but I enjoy seeing how the students develop over the two years of the program. Over the last three years, it has also become a place for renewing old friendships and acquaintances, and making new ones.
Held April 16-17, the 2011 incarnation of the show was no exception. It was smaller than previous exhibits, but made up for its size by the general quality of the work.
The variety was also impressive, although, when I heard that the final project for the second year students was a moon mask, I half-expected otherwise. Perhaps a lack of time prevented uniformity; when I arrived during setup on the afternoon of April 15, many of the students were yawning and taking every chance to sit, having been up late finishing their pieces for the show.
The quality of the second year students’ work was especially high, much of it equaling or surpassing the pieces seen in Vancouver galleries. Chazz Mack, who has gained a reputation for the skill seen in his two-dimensional designs in his two years at the school was forced to miss the first day of the show because of an illness that the hospital diagnosed as dehydration, but contributed “Eagle Trance,” a mask in the distinctive Nuxalk style of high head dresses, large noses and strong primary colors:
Stephanie Anderson, a winner last year of a YVR award, staggered late into setup with a striking eagle frontlet that still reeked of fixative – and was possibly the strongest piece in the show:
Another second year student, Colin Morrison, whose first mask I bought eighteen months ago, demonstrated his growing skill with two masks, “Resurrection of the Ancestors” and “Black Wolf,” a mask meant for a flat surface or stand:
Even more development was shown in the work of Carol Young Bagshaw, the winner of last years’ Mature Student Award. While last year at this time, you could tell which teachers she was working with on each of her masks, this year, she displayed her own sense of style. Her masks are less stylized than traditional northern work, looking more like portraits, and taking full advantage of the beauty of the grain and the unpainted wood:
These graduates set a high standard, but at least some of the first year students seem likely to equal them. Nathan Wilson, who has already sold professionally, produced a solid piece entitled “Moon in Human Form,” that hinted at his skill, even though it was far from his best work:
Another emerging professional in first year, Kelly Robinson, easily rivaled the second years with “Visions Within,” even though he talked of adding some finishing touches to it:
Yet another talented first year students was Paula Wesley with the fine line and unique hair of her cannibal woman “Thu-Wixia,” which she danced at the end of the opening evening:
Accompanying Wesley in the dance was Evan Aster, who won one of this years’ Honorable Mentions for the Mature Student Award. Like Wesley, Aster promises to be a strong artist when his carving equals his painting:
The same could be said of Nigel Fox, a first year student who also paints in a style reminiscent of Canadian Impressionism. Fox’s “Surface Tension” was an interesting take on colors running together in the water:
Unfortunately, though, the painting overwhelmed the carving. Fox was on much more solid ground when he created an Escher-like design out of traditional butterflies in “Butterflies #3” (which is now in my possession):
Still other first years showed a mastery of the fundamentals of traditional design that should allow them to come into their own during their second years. They included Barry Sampare, this years’ winner of the Mature Student Award:
as well as Robert Moses White, who received an Honorable Mention for the Mature Student Award:
The pick of the show moves south on May 29 to Vancouver’s Spirit Wrestler Gallery, where I predict brisk first day sales. But although Spirit Wrestler is much closer than Terrace for me, I was glad to see the complete show, especially in Waap Galts’ap, the Northwest Community College longhouse, which is a comfortable blend of traditional design and carving and modern building and safety codes.
My thanks to everyone at the college and in the Terrace First Nations art community for making my visit such a pleasant one.