AT a time when artists were outlaws, her grandparents were both.
Anastasia Hendry is currently exhibiting an eclectic collection of her artwork at the Silk Purse on Argyle Avenue in West Vancouver as part of Art of the Peoples of the Salish Sea. The show runs until Sept. 16.
While her work is shaped by her personality and experience, the artist and teacher carries the experiences of generations of her family each time she weaves, paints, or sews.
An addition to the Indian Act in the late 19th century prohibited the potlatch, an aboriginal feast and celebration. For Hendry's family, it was also a time of artistic endeavour. Compliance with the ban may have meant the loss of centuries of accumulated culture.
"Everybody has some kind of artistic form," Hendry says of her nine siblings. "The traditional aboriginal way is we all learn through our family members."
Hendry cannot discuss her own work without talking about her grandparents and the art forms they practiced throughout their lives.
"He kept a lot of the songs and dances alive when they were under potlatch ban," she says of her grandfather.
Despite the threat of prison, her grandmother continued to hone her craft as a weaver and button-blanket maker, selling her work to the Hudson's Bay Company throughout her life, and passing the skill to Hendry's mother.
"My mother was instrumental in teaching me some of the art forms especially the button blankets," she says.
The notion of passing culture along is an incidental theme in the Silk Purse exhibit, as the collection of artists span the gamut from established craftsmen to fresh faces.
"It's almost coincidental how everything turned out so colourful. With aboriginal art you usually get the red, the black and the white," says Hendry. "Everything is just blasted with colour."
The exhibit is infused with the work of young artists like Cody Lecoy, whose drawings and paintings are steeped in First Nations tradition while containing a dash of madness akin to the surrealist work of Salvador Dali.
"The Silk Purse allows me to gather in artists that I know or that I've just met and have them exhibit. A really special part of that is the Richmond youth that are exhibiting some of their pieces," Hendry says. "There's a really huge youth component with this."
The exhibit combines representatives from the Cree band, as well as artists from Musqueam, the Interior, and Haida Gwaii.
Hendry's work for the exhibit includes small pine-needle baskets, drums, and a painted apron. While she works on many different forms, her common motif is the whale, which is fitting, given that her Haida name translates as Killer Whale Woman.
"I love the water and I love how they swim and how smooth they flow through the waters; the elegant strength of the whale," she says discussing the name chosen for her by her elders. "For me, what they saw in me was an inner strength and that's
See Sharing page 18 why they gifted me that name."
While Hendry has relished the solitary work of the artist, she says the act of creating is often a familial event.
"I like to work alone and into the wee hours of the morning all by myself, but often I find I like to work with my kids around me. When we go back home to Haida Gwaii it just brings back memories of that because if we have a potlatch we all get together and some will be working on weavings and some will be making button blankets and some will be doing cooking and everybody's using their gift in different ways but you're still dialoguing back and forth and it puts you into a slightly different frame of mind," she says.
Hendry's drums will also be on display at the gallery.
"When I started out women really weren't making a lot of drums," she says, discussing her love for the practice. While much of her work is steeped in tradition, her approach to making drums was a solitary one.
"Pretty much self-taught on that one, and in the day they didn't have Google or YouTube to figure out how to make one," she says, laughing.
The method used to make a drum varies depending on the climate, according to Hendry.
"You have to consider temperature and heat and humidity when you're creating the instrument," she says.
Hendry has also produced an apron adorned with a whale motif for the show.
"I like to do things that are multi-purpose. You can either wear it, it's functional, or it can be hung on the wall and looks just as beautiful there," she says.
While she enjoys discussing her art form, Hendry is reluctant to disclose everything that goes into her work.
"In the last 50 years there's been so much appropriation of aboriginal artwork to no benefit of the First Nations people," she says.
It's a dilemma that often arises as she teaches both students and school teachers about aboriginal art.
"I can't give it all away but there are certain things that I can share with them that they can bring into the school and then teach, but teach with proper cultural context without feeling they're stepping on anybody's toes or appropriating things that don't belong to them."
For Hendry, many of the components of the artwork are possessions of her family. She says it's crucial to maintain links with the past.
"Just the knowledge itself is important for them even if they don't want to learn how to do it, it's important that they have that knowledge and can share it with others," she says. "It's nice when my kids, my daughter and my son, come over, and we'll create art together and it's part of leaving a bit of a legacy."