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"Susan Point"Susan Point.
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"The Legacy Print"Susan Point, "The Legacy Print," serigraph, edition of 75, 26" x 26". Photo courtesy Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery.
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"Ravens and Moon Spindle Whorl"Susan Point, "Ravens and Moon Spindle Whorl," whorl 25" diameter, spindle 30" in length, base 27.75" diameter, height: 20" (including base). Photo courtesy Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery.
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"Yellow and Red Cedar Weave"Susan Point, "Yellow and Red Cedar Weave." Private collection, Victoria, B.C. Photo courtesy Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery
SUSAN POINT: Preserving Tradition
Aboriginal Achievement Award in Arts and Culture
By Rod Chapman
Susan Point adapts traditional Coast Salish art forms to modern design and materials, evoking the past and at the same time anticipating the future. Underpinning all her work is a concern for lost culture, expressed in this favourite phrase: “The task of my generation is to remember all that was taught, and to pass that knowledge and wisdom along to our children.”
Point’s work is instantly recognizable. She is among a handful of contemporary artists working to revive the ancient traditions of Coast Salish design – an art form nearly lost after European contact.
“All that I am, as an artist, arose from my ancestors,” she says. “The great Salish artisans of many generations ago were my teachers. As I studied their works in museums and collections around the world I learned, and am still learning, the deepest nature of Salish art and what it means to be Salish.”
She is known for her freshness of vision, for her inventive use of a variety of media, and for working on a large scale. In her 20-year career Point has participated in over 60 group exhibitions and she has had a dozen solo shows. She has received more than 35 commissions for public art pieces. Her wood and glass carvings, etchings and serigraphs have become part of art collections in public buildings and private homes across Canada and in more than 20 other countries.
In April 2004 Point was recognized with a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in Arts and Culture, the Aboriginal community’s highest honour, adding even more lustre to a curriculum vitae that includes an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from the University of Victoria and a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award.
“I am very proud to receive this award. It is a powerful recognition of the Salish art form as a whole,” she says. “Salish art is unique and distinct, and I am grateful that it has been recognized for that.”
Another honour arrived in late March with notification that she has been elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, entitling her to add the coveted RCA designation after her name. The official ceremony takes place May 29 in Vancouver.
Susan Point: Coast Salish Artist, a 144-page, soft-cover book edited by curator Gary Wyatt with photography by Kenji Nagai, was published in 2000. With 62 full-colour and 21 black-and-white reproductions, the book celebrates her emergence as a major artist on the Northwest Coast.
“Coast Salish art is relatively unknown to most people today,” she says in the introduction. “I am trying to revive traditional Coast Salish art – and also attempting to educate the public to the fact that there was, and still is, another style of art indigenous to the Northwest Coast.”
Born in 1952 at Alert Bay, B.C., Point has lived all her life on the Musqueam First Nation Reserve in Vancouver near the mouth of the Fraser River, where she has developed her unique style using precious metals, serigraphs, wood block prints and acrylic paintings.
A self-taught artist, Point began her art career in 1981 with engravings on bracelets, rings, pendants and earrings. Her uncle, an anthropologist at UBC, encouraged her to investigate traditional Coast Salish art forms. Over the next decade she began blending colours and exploring other techniques such as foil embossing, paper casting, linocut printing and lithography, pushing the boundaries of precision and colour while keeping within the traditional parameters of Coast Salish art.
In the 1990s Point began creating large-scale three-dimensional art in materials such as glass, bronze, wood, concrete, polymer, stainless steel and cast iron. Her large-scale public works led to collaborations with developers, architects and theatrical productions – her work greets visitors to Vancouver International Airport and her sculptures, paintings and banners grace hospitals, corporate offices, colleges and universities.
With her art now encompassing a diverse range of materials and styles, Susan Point is successfully reviving the past for future generations. Her work can be found in numerous galleries including Coastal Peoples Fine Arts, Spirit Wrestler, Eagle Spirit, The Inuit and Douglas Reynolds galleries in Vancouver, and Canada House Gallery in Banff.
Rod Chapman is a contributing editor to Galleries West.