Bill Reid Gallery celebrates the life and legacy of George Clutesi with a comprehensive retrospective

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      Born in 1905 in Tseshaht village of maaktii (what we now call the west coast of Vancouver Island), George Clutesi dedicated his life to using art as a form of activism. A survivor of the Alberni Residential School, he went on to write for the Native Voice newspaper, broadcast Tseshaht stories on CBC, write a play about Indigenous pride and joy, paint a mural for Expo ‘67, and pen three books—the first of which, Son of Raven, Son of Deer (1967), made him one of the first Indigenous people to publish writing about Indigenous customs and legends. (Famed painter Emily Carr became so impressed by Clutesi’s work that she gifted her paint brushes, oils, and canvases to him in her will.)

      The legacy of this Nuu-chah-nulth artist is being celebrated with a retrospective at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art starting in January 2024. Featuring 45 works by Clutesi himself, along with photographs, audio recordings, a film, and archival material, GEORGE CLUTESI: ḥašaḥʔap / ʔaapḥii / ʕc̓ik  / ḥaaʔaksuqƛ / ʔiiḥmisʔap takes a deep, nuanced look at one of Turtle Island’s most important Indigenous creative minds.

      “Like Bill Reid, who also lived and worked in the mid 20th century, George Clutesi was a huge inspiration for the next generation of Nuu-chah-nulth artists and scholars,” says Bill Reid Gallery curator Aliya Boubard in a statement. “While they had very different life experiences and approaches to their art forms, these artists helped raise awareness both inside and outside of their communities. George has been instrumental in not only educating others about his community’s cultural traditions, but preserving the sacred stories, dances, and masks that are practiced and celebrated today.”

      George Clutesi, Mask of Plenty, 1944. Watercolour on card, 17.5 x 12 inches.
      Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum, BCA PDP01009.

      Also included in the exhibition is work from other Indigenous artists who have been inspired by themes of Clutesi’s life: Petrina Dezall (Mowachaht/Muchalaht), Hjalmer Wenstob (Tla-o-quiaht), and Timmy Masso (Tla-o-quiaht), as well as scholars Dr. Dawn Smith (Ehattesaht) and Dr. Tommy Happynook (Huu-ay-aht).

      “The name of the exhibition, written in the Tseshaht language, honours Clutesi’s many celebrated traits,” explains the gallery in a statement. “ḥašaḥʔap (keep, protective) / ʔaapḥii (generous) / ʕac̓ik (talented) / ḥaaʔaksuqƛ (strong willed) / ʔiiḥmisʔap (treasure).” 

      Clutesi died in 1988, but as the last word of the show’s title emphasizes, he remains an artistic treasure.

      GEORGE CLUTESI: ḥašaḥʔap / ʔaapḥii / ʕc̓ik  / ḥaaʔaksuqƛ / ʔiiḥmisʔap

      January 20, 2024 to January 19, 2025

      Where: Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art

      Admission: Gallery admission ranges from $6 for youth to $13 for adults; entrance for Indigenous people is free