WORDS: Taylor Basso
IMAGES: Andy Everson ART
Sometimes, learning about a new culture is simply a matter of taking the opportunity when it emerges.
For Walter Stolting, it took a trip around Vancouver Island on a motorcycle to fall in love with the culture of the Northwest Coast First Nations. “The art and ceremonies represent a deep connection to the land,” says Walter. “Not just using land and resources, but managing those resources in a respectful way.” When it came time years later to start a business, launching an art gallery to celebrate West Coast Native artists and master carvers was a no-brainer.
Today, the Spirits of the West Coast Gallery lives nestled in the scenic Comox Valley, looking toward the border where the ancestral Coast Salish and Kwakwaka'wakw territories meet. Here, the gallery has erected a new building that draws upon the traditions of the local Indigenous people, from its post-and-beam form meant to mimic the structure of a bighouse (a traditional dwelling that serves both as a home as well as a site for ceremonies and informal gatherings), to its use of cedar, an important material in the culture of the local First Nations. What better way to open its doors than with a Blessing Ceremony – and you’re invited.
The Ceremony will be conducted by K’ómoks artist Andy Everson, whom Walter describes as “a shining light in the Comox Valley.” Andy’s art bridges contemporary and traditional images and techniques – imagine an inkjet image of a Lego figure in a ya̱xwiwe’ (headpiece) and tunic. Andy’s work reflects not only the traditional legends, he explains, but the modern legends he heard growing up in the theatre and on television: “I’m able to take those childhood touchstones for stories and interpret them the way our ancestors would have done, and apply our Indigenous lenses.”
For Andy, acting as a representative for his culture to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike comes naturally. In addition to being a visual artist, Andy is a dancer, a singer, an educator and an anthropologist. On a provincial level, Andy says he’s dedicated to “promoting Indigenous rights, responsibilities, stories and legends – bridging the cultural divide between us.” It builds upon the work of his grandfather, the late K’ómoks Chief Andy Frank, who acted as a community leader in the 1950s and ‘60s.
It also means that Andy occasionally steps into roles like conducting the Ceremony which will take place September 30 at Spirits of the West Coast. “A Blessing Ceremony is a way to cleanse the space both physically and spiritually to prepare it for its coming life,” he explains. “Traditionally, when we open new bighouses or when we start a canoe or a totem pole, we have a Blessing Ceremony. They take different forms, and often involve chanting and brushing down of the space with branches.”
For those who haven’t experienced a Blessing Ceremony, or who want to know more about the art of the Northwest Coastal First Peoples, Walter and Andy encourage you to join them on Culture Days weekend. “We want to inspire people to learn – to connect with the art and enjoy the culture,” says Walter. “Opening our minds and our ability to learn from different cultures will result in a more positive, vibrant, united community.”
“Plus,” Andy promises, “you’ll get to see lots of cool artwork.”
The Blessing Ceremony by Andy Everson takes place at Spirits of the West Coast Native Art Gallery in Courtenay, BC on September 30. Andy will explain the tradition as well as the process and songs involved. Participants are welcome to ask questions about the Blessing Ceremony as well as about any of Andy Everson's featured artwork. Everyone is welcome; free refreshments.
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