Excerpt: “People Among the People”
The following abridged excerpt is taken from the forthcoming title, People Among the People: The Public Art of Susan Point. Here Susan Point explains the importance of re-establishing the Salish footprint that is both accessible and people-friendly.
Susan A. Point, O.C.
Since I was a young child I have always been interested in art, especially drawing to my heart’s content, and this passion will stay with me forever. But when I began making art very few people were aware of the history of Coast Salish art and its connection to the community. Northern art was the predominant style, probably because northern communities were less impacted by early contact, and few people would even acknowledge that different styles existed. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties, when I took a jewelry course at Vancouver Community College in January of 1981, that I discovered that we, as Coast Salish people, have our own unique art style. This discovery marked the beginning of my career, and for the past thirty-seven years I have truly dedicated myself to reviving Coast Salish art.
I feel that it is important to re-establish our Salish footprint upon our lands, to create a visual expression of the link between the past and present that is both accessible and people-friendly. Whether it’s public sculptures or prints on paper, I create unique, “original” artwork that honours both my people and the diverse group of peoples from around the world who have come to live upon our lands on the Northwest Coast. My hope is that my art leaves a lasting impression on visitors, locals, and the surrounding communities.
When I began, very little information or documentation could be found on the art style of the Coast Salish people, due to early and extensive European contact in our territory. Many of our traditional artifacts, such as houseposts and other utilitarian pieces created by my ancestors, were collected by Eastern Canadian and European museums, or destroyed because of their ceremonial significance in an attempt to assimilate our First Nations peoples. It was almost a lost art form.
Through extensive research I tried to educate not only myself but also the public about Coast Salish art. There was none of today’s modern technology available to assist me, so this entailed endless leg work, going to various libraries and museums to gather up as much information as I could. I was determined to learn everything I could about the art of my people.
In hindsight, one of the most important things I learned is that although our ancestors shared a common visual language they each had their own unique art style. This is what separated Coast Salish art from all other art forms in the Northwest Coast. I have worked strictly in our Coast Salish art style, incorporating the main distinctive elements (crescents, wedges, V-cuts) found in our traditional pieces that are housed in various museums around the world.
People Among the People will be available in bookstores May 2019.