Whistler will soon have a crown jewel to top off its public art offerings, courtesy of a well-known Coast Salish artist.
Susan Point is no stranger to large-scale public art installations: her work is featured prominently at the Vancouver International Airport, Vancouver Convention Centre and the Christ Church Cathedral, and she has exhibited at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, U.B.C. Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver Art Gallery and the Canadian Museum of Civilization, as well as throughout the United States, Europe and Japan.
"I'm always busy!" she laughed during an interview Monday.
Point's artistic career started in 1981, when she began making engraved jewelry.
"At that time, I was working for a tribal council, a Native organization, and so it basically started out as a hobby," she recalled. "At that point, nobody was doing Coast Salish art - I'm taking 30 years ago. And so when I started doing jewelry, I didn't even realize I had my own unique art form."
While many of Point's contemporaries were producing designs that represented northern First Nations groups, she chose to take a very different path, focusing her designs on her own people, the Coast Salish. Unlike Northern First Nations artwork, Coast Salish style is "very realistic" and often includes crescents, specific shapes and sizes, as well as many wedges and "v-cuts." But learning about the traditional style of her people wasn't an easy task.
"At first I went to the library and there was absolutely nothing - nothing - on Coast Salish art. They had the odd story on the legends and myths of Coast Salish, but when it came to art and design, there was nothing."
After consulting with her uncle, Professor Michael Kew, an anthropologist who specialized in Coast Salish art and culture at the University of British Columbia, Point began to further investigate traditional Coast Salish art forms. She was immediately intrigued by the spindle whorl, an elaborately carved wooden disk traditionally used in the spinning of wool. Then, using silkscreen prints, she began to dabble in traditional two-dimensional designs, producing her first print, "Salmon." This original design featured four salmon in a circular format, reminiscent of the spindle whorls she had been studying, effectively fusing traditional Coast Salish style with contemporary design. From Salmon, she continued to copy and interpret traditional designs from house-posts and the like, until she eventually ran out of things to imitate. So, she began to make her own unique designs, integrating her own colour palettes into the prints.
"Traditionally, the works of the Coast Salish people, they weren't painted," Point explained. "So it gave me the freedom to use whichever colour I wanted."