(1948 - 2003)
Art Thompson was born in Whyac, an isolated village on the western end of the Nitinaht Lake reserve on Vancouver Island. His ancestral roots are in both the Coast Salish (Cowichan) and Nuu-chah-nulth (Ditidaht) nations. His father and grandfather were both artists known for their ceremonial pieces such as masks and regalia, as well as totem poles and canoes. Art spent much of his childhood away from his family and cultural traditions. At the age of two, he contracted tuberculosis and was hospitalized for the next three years. Shortly after he was able to return to his family, he was sent away to residential school in Port Alberni. School did not agree with Art, and after running away several times, he left for good when he was thirteen. His father then found him a job in the logging industry in the hopes that he would soon tire of it and return to school, but Art “loved working”. At first a member of a survey crew, then a tree planter, Art finally secured a position on a rigging crew where he worked for the next eight years.
Just before his twelfth birthday, Art was initiated into the Tlukwana or Wolf Society. This tribal initiation ceremony had persisted throughout the period of culture change and has continued to be the principal occasion for the display of hereditary privileges and the performance of masked dances. However, Art didn’t believe his initiation had any direct impact on his initial venture into Indian art.
In 1967, Art enrolled in the Commercial Art program at Camosun College in Victoria. He worked largely in two dimensional mediums such as paint and pastels. During this time he began to explore a narrative style with traditional Nuu-chah-nulth design. His advanced understanding of the traditional Nuu-chah-nulth design came at a time when this style had been virtually overlooked in the scholastic studies which were shaping the growing interest in Northwest Coast art. His personal contribution included using strong contemporary and traditional design shapes with a narrative approach to myth and legend. These early serigraph prints are now considered a turning point in establishing Art Thompson, Nuu-chah-nulth design, and the print medium as a whole in the contemporary art market.
Art Thompson had also been carving for as long as he had been doing two-dimensional design and his carving followed a similar course leading to the discovery of a distinctive West coast style. For about three years in the mid-1970’s, Art abandoned carving to focus on graphic design. By 1980 when he had resumed carving, he was, through his association with Duane Pasco, experimenting with a number of different tribal styles. By the mid-1980’s, Art was carving more and more in the West coast style which, by the end of the 20th Century, he could comfortably claim as his own.
On Sunday, March 30, 2003, Art Thompson passed away in his Victoria home after a four-month battle with cancer.
-Excerpt from Spirit Wrestler Gallery