Monday, December 6, 2010

The Hidden Gitxsan Masterpiece

The main branch of a major bank is likely one of the last places you would expect to house a First Nations masterwork. However, if you enter the Royal Bank main branch at 1025 Georgia Street (at Burrard) and head up the escalators, you will encounter a hidden gem in the form of nine fully carved and painted  red cedar panels. Forming a frieze above the mezzanine offices, these murals span 35 meters and depict various stories involving Weget (the Gitxsan name for Raven, the central trickster/creator figure in many Northwest Coast legends).

Completed over a three-month period in 1972, the frieze was designed and executed by founders of and instructors from the recently defunct Kitanmaax ('Between the Banks') School of Northwest Coast Indian Art in Hazelton. Also known as Ksan, this art school was one of the first dedicated to Northwest Coast Native design and technique. While it was located on Gitxsan land and was known for producing masters of Gitxsan formline design, it quickly began attracting First Nations artists from across the province due to its high standards and renowned instructors. This mural was created by Vernon Stephens, Earl Muldon, Art Sterritt, Walter Harris, Ken Mowatt, and Alfred Joseph. Several of these artists were instructors at Ksan, and all of them are now recognised as masters of Gitxsan art. Earl Muldon, for example, recently became one of the only Northwest Coast artists to ever receive the Order of Canada. I just saw Art Sterritt on TV tonight as a First Nations representative in the opposition of the Northern Gateway Pipeline!

So next time you are depositing money or buying travellers cheques at the Georgia Street Royal Bank, take a look on the second floor.

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