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Fine Arts Training

Langara College Fine Arts Program- 1992 to 1994

I spent two years at Langara College and was the only First Nations student registered in the program for that time. As I remember, the students were extremely competitive with one another and of course there were the cliques, but I can't really say they were the "popular" students. What they were for the most part were the loud students who seemed to want attention for all the wrong reasons. I found myself fitting in more with the Asian students because they were quiet and respectful as well as very pleasant to be sharing a table with during classes. A few of the white students found this to be a bit disconcerning and asked me why I was sitting there and why didn't I want to come and join their table? I responded by saying I was quite happy where I was and left it at that. It's not that I didn't have white friends in class, I just preferred a non-confrontational setting where I could do my work in peace and quiet without having to answer a ton of questions or have others tsking at things I was saying as if I was lying or something. I didn't feel the need to try to prove myself to anyone and if I did run into conflict with students, I would tell them straight to their face to keep their distance from me. I think a big part of all of these dynamics is that people are not used to being around someone First Nations and of course with me growing up in the skids and all, I probably didn't fit any of the images they were accustomed to with regards to who is an Indian.

I remember in second year, the 2D and 3D design course was probably the most stressful for everyone. It was on the extreme end of competition and some students actually dropped out because of that. I managed to stick with it and can even say I might have upped the competative level a few notches as well. Not on purpose, but mainly because I absolutely enjoyed the projects that we were given and the freedom to use different materials. Plus, the instructor Gerald Formosa was a pleasure to listen to because he spoke in a poetic and energetic tone.

In all, I can honestly say that I enjoyed my experience at Langara.

Really Bent Box - 1993

I created this ceramic slab work box while I was a student at Langara College. I had studied Northwest Coast carving with Opie Oppenheimer when I was 17 years old and decided to rely on my memory to create this work. I could have easily opened a book on traditional Northwest Coast design in order to perfect the ovoids and U shapes, but that wasn't the point of this work. As crazy as it was, I actually enjoyed carving the clay using shapes from my memories.

I began making large ceramic bowls at Langara. All were decorated with ancient Mimbres designs. I pushed my skills by attempting more complex designs each step of the way and ended up being offered a solo show in the glass cases of the college's entrance. I didn't make a big deal about it, but other students seemed upset when the instructor informed us that this would be the very first time that one student would exhibit work in the cases. That got me into a bit of trouble with the cliques, but heck, it was starting to become more of the norm than not. I never did understand what the competitiveness was all about because I alway viewed schooling as an individual effort based on one's own merits. I wasn't there to rein in my artistic skills just because others might be feeling a bit challenged by my work. It didn't make any sense then and it still doesn't make sense in looking back at the whole experience. All I was really doing was filling my data bank which was pretty bare to begin with. That is what being a student is about. You learn, you copy, you emulate and hopefully there comes a time when you start developing your own ideas to create original works.


That's where this bowl comes in. I was in my final semester at Langara and my cousin Fred Arrance started getting me involved with the Women's Memorial March that takes place in Vancouver's DTES on February 14th. At the time it was just starting out and I do remember going on the March and felt overwhelmed by emotions when we were all walking through an alley and someone called out my sister's name. Part of the ceremony was calling out the names of the women who died as a result of violence and or substance abuse. When I heard SADIE CHARTRAND being called out I almost broke out in tears. It had been so long since I had heard anyone outside of my family saying her name. It was a very emotional experience.  I started making a bowl and was going to write all of the names of my family members that had died in Vancouver's skidrow area and then I decided to contact my cousin Fred and asked him if he could get me a list of the names of the women who were memorialized in the March. I ended up creating a bowl with the names of all of the women, including two of my older sisters and four cousins. I used the Mimbres female figure with one hand up as if wanting to be counted or acknowledged. It was a pretty strong work that I ended up donating to the Carnegie Centre. I displayed it in public once and had a woman come up to look at it. As she read the names, she reacted when she saw her sister's name on the bowl and got quite emotional. She told me about her sister and I told her about my sisters and cousins and we ended up giving each other a long hug. I don't know if people understand this kind of loss. It kind of sticks with you forever. Anytime I am in the skidrow area, I feel such a huge loss. It's like walking in a ghost town. Memories drift through, some good, some not! It's quite difficult to talk about so I suppose I found a way to do that through my work.

I will be adding more school images once I scan and resize them.

Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design - 1994 to 1997.


Kisho ka peshin - You Are Strong (1994) 26" H x 23" W

Hand built using the "pinch" technique. I started working on this sculpture in my 3rd week as a 2nd year student in Ceramics at Emily Carr. I totally lucked out by having an opportunity to be taught by Steve Heinemann - award winning ceramic artist. He was a tough and demanding instructor and I so much appreciated being his student as I learned not only the basics from him, but also good work ethics. He is one of my heroes!

The project was to put an object and a life form together (if I remember correctly). I had a difficult time coming up with an idea for this project and was quite stressed out about it. Actually, I was more stressed out about the "pinch" technique because I had just learned it the week before and did quite terribly at it. Steve told me to build a maquette first and I left class early...went home...cried...and went to bed. When I woke up I got to the task of making a maquette and brought it in to class to show Steve. He gave me the ok to start building. The maquette was actually a pregnant female torso, but the neck was a sort of nest and the head was a separate egg shape. This of course changed as I started building. It took me about a week to finish and about another week to burnish with a stone. The idea for the resin insert came while I was heading home on the bus one night. It was dark and I saw my reflection in the window and I thought I should make the egg shape with a window to show a developing fetus...I even put a lighting system in the sculpture and was so glad it all worked out.

Homage to Maria and Julian Martinez (1994)

This again was created under Steven Heinemann's guidance. We were instructed to make a cup that paid homage to someone we looked up it an artist, politician, author, etc. He also told us that he didn't just want a had to be displayed on something, saucer, box, etc. I made my cup into the shape of a SW Pueblo-style Ola and decorated it with Julian Martinez's famous water serpent design. My "saucer" was in the shape of a Katchina, painted black to emmulate the black on black pottery made famous by Maria Martinez. I was very happy with the end results. I had learned how to coil pottery from a video about Maria Martinez way before I entered formal training, so my homage was really quite literal and came from the heart.

Mimbres Bat Pot, 2004 (Coiled low-fired ceramics with underglaze decoration)



European Containers - Assimilation (1994)

The project was to use a slab technique.The work is painted with acrylics and the only other embellishments are turquoise stones and abalone shells. The title "European Containers - Assimilation - stems from doing historical research and of course from my own life experiences where I came to the conclusion that the only way Indians could assimilate to the likings of the white man was through death...hence forth  the saying "The only good Indian is a dead Indian".


The 18th Hole, 1995 (30" H x 21" W) Handbuilt medium fired figure with wood pole and cloth flag

The 18th Hole is a mixed media work consisting of a handbuilt clay sculpture of a mummified Cree female body and a Canadian flag attached to a stand that signifies a golf course 18th hole. The idea stems from events that took place in Oka where developers wanted to build a golf course on a Native burial ground.


Getting Rid of the Sickness We've Been Carrying Inside Us for the Past 500 years, 1997 (16" H x 30" W)

Handbuilt & burnished Medium fire clay, mixed media imbedded into resin vomit. The idea of this work came to me at the very end of the semester and I did make a smaller prototype while I was on exchange at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When I returned to ECIAD for the 1997 Spring semester, I started building this right away.

Here is a view of it in progress. I needed to use quite a bit of clay as support and also built wall supports in the interior.

The idea for this work came about after spending one absolutely frustrating semester in Barbara Dermott's Native American Art History Class at ECIAD. It wasn't an art history class per say, but a class focusing on the imaginary Indian where the students were presented with a list of topics from which to choose one for an oral and visual presentation. I somehow ended up being the last presentor on the last day.

The class was basically (excuse my language) Bullshit!

For the first few days of class, she was either extremely late or didn't show up at all. Then she spent two days showing slide images, passed out the assignment and the rest was up to us. I remember one occasion in particular where she made fun of the Kwakiutl changing their name to Kwakwaka'wakw, repeating this a number of times and of course this garnered a lot of laughs by white ignorant students. To add a bit of validity to her teaching position, she also told the class that she had attended a potlatch in New York. I asked her about this and a few other things after class. It was done in private and what I wanted to know was if there were any Native Americans present at the potlatch she claims to have attended. Not surprisingly, her answer was NO! I responded by telling her that it wasn't a potlatch she attended, but a costume party. Then she tried to change the subject by saying something stupid about Natives practicing cannibalism. I was so pissed off, but I kept my composure and shrugged it off. What I really wanted to ask her was "So who are the cannibals now?" I would have brought up Geoffry Dalmer, Ed Gein, pretty much any and all serial killers who have engaged in cannibalism after killing their victims. I wonder how she would have reacted to that? I do realize her teaching style was all about sensationalism and that is what the problem is. No one actually gets to learn realities in order to break down stereotyping, whether it be negative or romantic. Whites just continue on making up their own version of what they believe is Indian and it gets passed on from one generation to the next, and so on and so forth.

I remember walking out of the class just before one idiot student was about to give his presentation. I spent that time trying to find a private place to release my overwhelmed emotions. I am actually glad I did leave because when I returned I found out that he had presented an audio tape that was supposed to be done by three native males. Turns out the tape was made by three white university students passing themselves off as Natives. Luckily someone in class had heard about this and discredited the presentation. On another occasion, a student gave a thoughtful presentation on racism in children's book and the main focus was a counting book called The Three Little Indians. One guy at the back of the class yelled out that he didn't see how that book was being viewed as racist and that he would gladly buy it to teach his children how to count. This of course caused a lot of rumbling and words being tossed back and forth. I finally yelled out, "What if it was called The Three Littles Pale Faces?. Would you still want to buy it to teach your children how to count? (smile) Someone else yelled out Right On! and that was the end of that discussion. The main thing is though, it is exactly the kind of shit I am talking about! I was so close to quiting school because of this stupid class. Luckily, my next semester was an exchange program at the Institute of American Indian Arts where I got to experience having Native American Instructors, Native American classmates and roommates, focusing on Native American art and life. I finally fit in!

So, the work was the result of Barbara Dermott's ignorant teaching style. I might as well be straight up and say it like it is! I was approached by the school newspaper to write about this work and I wrote about these experiences. In the end, Barbara was replaced by Mary Longman and I registered for that class and must say that I learned a lot and appreciated being taught by someone who understood the First Nations experience.

One last note, the experience made me realize the importance of having a First Nations Awareness Day event at the school. I initiated and coordinated the first two events that were extremely successful. They continue on today, but unfortunately have gone in a less informative and political direction. Funny thing is, I think James Luna did a piece on how a native american student looks entering art school - clean cut and very square looking, but upon graduation, the student has grown his hair long and has become militant (smile).