You get a couple of unexpected bonuses when you walk through the doors of Port Alberni’s Ahtsik Native Art Gallery – the beautiful aroma of cedar permeates every nook and cranny. And, in addition to enjoying the striking work created by a variety of indigenous artists, visitors also have the opportunity to see some of the beauties actually in the process of creation.
Native artist Gordon Dick was working on a massive commissioned piece in the middle of the gallery when we visited recently. With a diameter of about six feet and weighing in around 250 pounds, the work was in its early stages. When it is completed it will be shipped to a new owner in Rye, New York. This drives home the fact that our First Nations artists are widely recognized for their talent and creativity – it’s no longer a matter of finding native artwork only in mass-marketed chain stores but, rather, in smaller more intimate spaces operated by the artists themselves.
Gordon built the Ahtsik Native Art Gallery with lumber from trees felled on the road-side property where the gallery now sits. The building itself is a work of art, with a beautifully-carved entrance way and unique security doors designed by Gordon in a First Nations theme. The gallery opened for business in December 2008, and since then there has been no looking back.
Although the gallery is not large – about 1,000 square feet – it houses a treasure trove of artistic works from a dozen First Nations artisans. Content varies of course, depending on what sells, but we were pleased to see a nice cross-section of superb work that included everything from reasonably-priced jewellery to wall hangings, masks, cedar bark baskets, original paintings – and a small canoe.
Gordon has worked in several mediums during the past 20 years and has created paintings, drawings, ceramics and jewellery. His talent as a wood carver has been widely recognized and he has been commissioned to design and help create unique doors for several public spaces in the Alberni Valley, including the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Centre, the new high school and the Tseshaht administration building, perched on the edge of the Somass River. Gordon was also the head carver on a 23-foot, 6,200 pound totem pole that was recently raised at the site of the old Alberni Residential School. Each piece tells a story, created after what has obviously been many hours of consideration.
The Ahtsik Native Art Gallery is special for many reasons, our favourite among them being the opportunity to see Gordon at work and to come to understand what goes in to producing some of the pieces in the gallery. The relaxed ambiance (along with the laid-back owner) makes for a great opportunity to linger, enjoy and admire. That all-embracing aroma of cedar, so evocative of the west coast, doesn’t hurt either.
Further information on the Ahtsik Native Art Gallery can be found at the website:
Ahtsik Native Art Gallery is located at 7133A Pacific Rim Highway, Port Alberni.
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 49.274182 Long. -124.876517
N 49 16.451 W 124 52.591