Bella Coola artist Jade Hanuse, 20, has created a carved panel honouring salmon and bears that is featured in a new exhibit titled Indigeneity Rising now on at the Museum of Vancouver.
An artist of Nuxalk, Kwakwaka’wakw and Wuikinux descent, Hanuse worked with renowned master carver Dempsey Bob to create the piece thanks to a scholarship from the YVR Art Foundation.
“I wanted to speak about the salmon in a different way,” Hanuse told Black Press Media. “I thought the salmon deserved a little spotlight on their own and Dempsey wanted to do something about the bears as well. Dempsey was a big part of the project.”
Carved out of yellow cedar, the three-foot round panel depicts a momma bear holding a salmon with her cub nearby while below two salmon are swimming in green water. Behind the bears are mountains and blue sky.
The carved panel is the first one she has done.
“It is so different than carving a mask,” she explained. “You have to use your whole body and do a whole lot of carving. We were working 60 hours in a week. It was so fun.”
She has added some acrylic paint but not too much so the wood can speak for itself.
An artist statement that accompanies the piece in the exhibit reads:
“During salmon season the Nuxalk feasted, the bears fished, the eagles had their share, the river supplies our main source of diet. Back then the salmon swam to us in thousands. The ancestral laws on how to take care of our rivers and lands were handed down to us from generations of teachings. Every family had a river guardian that upheld their duties in maintaining their section of the river. River guardians upheld the laws and monitored activities on the river. This is a practice we must return to for the survival of the salmon and ourselves. My hope is to bring continued awareness to how vital our salmon are, not only to the Nuxalk but the animals we share the lands with. This discussion is ongoing and essential to Indigenous ways of being.”
In 2020 she received a YVR Art Foundation scholarship to be mentored by Bob who is a founding member of the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art in Terrace which opened 15 years ago.
He continues to do some lectures at the school, but no longer teaches full time.
“I’m the senior advisor for the school,” he said. “We try to teach them in their own style as much as we can. But we know how to bring the sculptures out but they have to know their style or study their style.”
Students are encouraged to look at older pieces and study them.
Hanuse first attended Fred Diesing as a student at the age of 17 after she graduated from high school in Bella Coola.
When COVID-19 hit B.C., Hanuse left the school to return home and then waited for over a year to carve the piece.
“I couldn’t head back up to Terrace to carve with him for over a year or so and a month or two before it was due we started and finished it in a month,” she said, noting she had the sketch all ready before she was approved for the scholarship.
Bob did not hesitate to describe Hanuse’s talents.
“I think she is a really good drawer and a really good painter too. She has a lot of potential. We found in our school that the drawers are the best painters and the best carvers too,” he said.
Drawing trains people to see and that is very important, he added.
“In art you see what you really know and if you don’t know it, you don’t see it. Most people in this whole world are blind. They look, but they don’t see.”
His role in the project was to help her develop her idea, show her how to bring it out in a three-dimensional sculpture and what tools to use to achieve it.
“She did a lot of painted design and carvings, but never did a panel like that. She really wanted to learn.”
Sharon Fortney is the curator of the exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver and said the museum has had a partnership with the YVR Art Foundation for two years.
“They give out 10 scholarships each year to Indigenous artists in B.C. and the Yukon.”
Fortney said normally the airport would host an event where the all the artists who received scholarships would come and talk about the piece they’d created, but with COVID-19 precautions the event has been cancelled.
In 2020, the museum hosted an exhibition of the 2019 scholarship recipients’ works and is doing the same thing this year with the 2020 recipients.
“It’s a celebration of these young people’s works,” she said.
The theme of the exhibit, she said, is about people expressing Indigenous identity through artwork and building on the idea of people carrying traditions forward and also of innovation.
“A lot of people like to consider that Indigenous artistic expression should be fixed. I always say to people when you look at the archaeological record there are different phases for a reason. People were always changing and adding to their knowledge. Any society was like that.”
The exhibition will remain at the museum until November 15 and then move to the Vancouver airport where it will be exhibited for about a year.
To date the YVR Art Foundation has awarded more than $600,000 and over 160 scholarships, grants and awards.
Bob has mentored other students through the scholarship program in the past.
He is presently preparing for an exhibit featuring a retrospective of his works through the McMichael Canadian Art Gallery in Toronto, Ontario.
“It will open in Whistler on March 26, 2022 and will have about 100 pieces of my work in there. We are working on a book too. It will then go to the Beaux-Arts Museum in Montreal and then end up in a museum in Kelowna.”
Hanuse said she first became interested in art when she was about 12 while taking a Nuxalk art class in Bella Coola.
“Alvin Mack and Chazz Mack were the teachers and Chazz used to take these characters – even Winnie the Pooh – and put designs inside and we would get to colour them. I thought it was so cool and after that just always had an interest.”
Next she will be carving some totem poles with Kelly Robinson, another Nuxalk artist, for a new Big House that is in the works. It will be a winter project.
“There are no living Nuxalk that ever experienced having a Big House,” she said.
Hanuse lives at 4 Mile and said she draws inspiration from her ancestors in creating her art but also developing her own style.
“It has to grow – it cannot stay still, which is what I learned from Dempsey and have really put into my art practice now.”
Her surroundings on the central coast inspire her as well.
“The mountains, the trees, the water – it is beautiful down here.”
As she marks the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada on Sept. 30, 2021, she will be thinking specifically about her great grandmother Anuximana who is 92.
She is a residential school survivor and the oldest Nuxalk speaking elder alive in her community.
“Growing up, the trauma of what she went through was visibly affecting my family as it is every other family around us,” Hanuse said. “It is good that the survivors are getting recognition and the children that weren’t able to come home will always be remembered. They deserve all the love that the government stole from them and I will continue to acknowledge their resilience.”