Local Nuxalk artist Latham Mack’s latest work is now permanently on display as part of UBC’s Museum of Anthropology Nuxalk collection.
Mack was commissioned to create the piece by MOA’s curator and director, Dr. Jennifer Cramer, who has written extensively about Nuxalk art and culture.
“After I won the YVR Art Foundation scholarship two years in a row, Jennifer became really interested in purchasing a piece of mine for the Nuxalk collection at MOA,” said Mack. “For this project, I decided on an eagle design that told one of our Nuxalk creation stories.”
Mack’s Diving Eagle Cloak Mask, carved from alder and cedar bark, features an eagle diving down towards earth with a human face carved into its back, meant to symbolize the Nuxalk creation stories of their ancestors first descending from the sky in animal cloaks before taking on a human form.
The MOA collection features Nuxalk art both past and present. In addition to the newest piece from Mack, Nuxalk carvers Marvin Tallio and Glenn Tallio also have pieces on display. The work of Mack’s longtime mentor, Dempsy Bob, is also featured in the collection of his people, the Tahltan/Tlingit.
With encouragement from his earliest mentor, Chief Lawrence Mack, Latham was accepted into the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art, where he first began working with Dempsy Bob. After his graduation in 2010, he kept on working with him and has no plans to stop.
“I learn so much from him; everyday it’s something new,” said Mack. “He’s constantly pushing me to get better, it’s remarkable how much I am always learning from him. I plan to continue working with him as long as I can.”
Bob, who trained with legendary artist Freda Diesing, recently added two honourary doctorates to his significant list of accomplishments, one from Athabaska University and the other from Emily Carr University.
Mack says it is Bob’s insistence on following the process of carving that makes him such a great artist. “When I started this eagle mask it was my first major piece and Dempsy made me draw it over and over and over,” Mack explained. “He always says if you can’t draw it, then how can you carve it?”
Mack doesn’t keep track of all of the hours he spends on his carvings, but estimates the large eagle mask for the museum took the better part of a few months to complete. He’s been doing private commissions for clients, but is also keen to get some more pieces into the market.
“The art world is actually pretty small,” says Mack. “I am happy to do the commissions but it’s also good to keep your name circulating out there all the time.”
Mack’s next piece will be bringing him home to Bella Coola, hopefully in the spring. As the recipient of the First People’s Cultural Council Aboriginal Arts Development Award for Emerging Individual Artists, Mack is carving one of his largest pieces yet under his mentor – a Sun Mack with the four carpenters that will be publicly displayed at the Nuxalk Nation Administration office for about six months.
Mack is especially excited about the piece as his uncle Morris Battensby, in Bella Coola, donated the red cedar he’s using in the project. Friends and family play a big role in Mack’s life and work, something he consistently mentions. “I’d like to Jennifer Cramer for purchasing the piece for UBC,” said Mack. “And I’d also like to thank my mentors, teachers, and family and friends for their support.”