Nuxalk carver Alvin Mack explains the 'Transformation of Smaoan' story depicted on a yellow cedar talking pole. Nanaimo visitors Tom Bates

Copper Sun Gallery Hosts “First-Ever” Nuxalk Artists Exhibition

Ten Nuxalk artists and crafters along with an appreciative crowd of locals and visitors came together August 19

Ten Nuxalk artists and crafters along with an appreciative crowd of locals and visitors came together August 19 on the lawn outside Copper Sun Gallery for a “first-ever” Nuxalk Artists’ Exhibition.

Copper Sun Journeys and Gallery opened in the former RCMP station in June as the first-ever gallery operated by the Nuxalk community under the auspices of the Nuxalk Development Corporation (NDC).

And according to carver and jewelry engraver Alvin Mack, the August 19 exhibition is the first time ever that a group of Nuxalk artists and crafters have brought their creations and creativity together in a public showing.

“This has never happened before,” he said, noting that “artists spend a lot of time alone.” The outdoor venue, on the lawn under tents was “great” he said.  “I’m out here meeting with other artists. If I wasn’t here, I’d be in my carving shed.”

Mack and nine others, carvers Lyle Mack, Reuben Mack, Sesyaz Saunders, and Clyde Young, along with painter Sheldon Tallio, silver engraver Troy Anderson, and cedar weavers Heather Elliott, Tabitha Schooner, and Bonnie Siwallace, sat at tables displaying their work, giving demonstrations, and telling stories.

Partway through the afternoon, the gathering was entertained by Nuxalk singers Lance and Chris Nelson, Sheldon Tallio, and Heather Elliott.

The afternoon was topped off by a salmon dinner available from the St’ala (Inner Bark) Food Truck, now in its second summer of operation by Nola Mack.

Chris Nelson, Nuxalk culturist and Special Projects Coordinator for NDC, was pleased with the event and would like to see more such events in the future – events involving more performing both by Nuxalk performers and by others in the Valley community.

Randy Hart, CEO of NDC, says he was “really thrilled” with the event and with the way the Copper Sun venture has materialized this summer.  Responses from the artists involved in the Exhibition were “very positive,” Hart says, and plans are under way for the future of Copper Sun.

He views the past season as a “training and learning year,” noting that Copper Sun and Bella Coola Valley Tourism (BCVT), whose Visitor Information Booth shared the former RCMP station with the Gallery, each employed a Nuxalk student, and Copper Sun Journeys trained a new guide, Clyde Young – all gaining valuable work experience while providing an opportunity for the management team to gain experience with a new venture.

“It was a wonderful afternoon,” said Gallery Supervisor Caitlin Thompson. “It’s really exciting to get Nuxalk artists together so that people have a chance to see how this art is created and hear the stories that accompany it.”

Now that the two summer students, Danika Nolie and Carrigan Tallio, have departed for their studies, hours at Copper Sun will be reduced to Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment.

Plans for Copper Sun now include developing a web-based marketing strategy for Nuxalk art.  Hart hopes Copper Sun will be able to retain the space after the current lease concludes Oct. 31 so that the Gallery can open by appointment throughout the winter. Eventually, he says, Copper Sun might be housed in a new venue being planned by the Nuxalk Nation.

He says Copper Sun’s 2015 season “exceeded expectations,” and he’s especially pleased with the collaboration between Copper Sun Journeys and the large Valley tourist accommodators who booked their Petroglyph Tours through Copper Sun.

Commenting on the summer collaboration between Copper Sun and Bella Coola Valley Tourism, BCVT President Doug Baker says the arrangement “certainly met our expectations.”  He hopes a similar arrangement will be possible in the 2016 tourist season.

The central location on the Townsite was a “good change” from the previous Hagensborg venue, and being able to share responsibilities with the Copper Sun staff enabled the Visitor Information Booth to be open 10 hours nearly every day this summer.