The Sky Opened: Salish Origins
Coast Salish carver John Marston’s solo show The Sky Opened: Salish Origins at the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver is the most recent high point of his intensive research into Coast Salish mythology, in particular in their story of Creation.
In preparation for this show, the artist has researched and collected versions of the legend that tells of the beginning of time from elders in order to represent details as closely as possible to the Coast Salish oral traditions. The result is an astonishing collection of unique works that reference the opening of the sky and the advent of the first people on Salish territory. With each thoughtfully and exquisitely carved mask, rattle, paddle, bentwood box and feast dish, the artist brings details of the legend to life.
John Marston (Qap'u'luq) was born in 1978 into a family of artists in Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, BC. Today he is recognized as an important voice in the renaissance of Coast Salish art. While he is inspired by traditional Coast Salish culture and traditions, he utilizes traditional formline designs primarily as a starting point in his artwork. Reflecting ancient Coast Salish art, he has developed his own unique carving style that is distinguished by accentuated, deeply-carved lines that create three-dimensional shapes. All of the pieces in this collection are united by a subtle, delicate balance of forms and clean and intricate execution.
John is the recipient of the B.C. Creative Achievement Award for Aboriginal Art in 2009 and his artworks have been shown in museums across North America. His monumental free standing panel, 'ehhwe'p syuth (To Share History) has been placed at the entrance to the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver and he has artwork in the art collections of the Vancouver International Airport and the Vancouver Convention Centre just to name a few.
In many ways, The Sky Opened: Salish Origins exhibition can be seen as a continuation of the Honouring the Ancient Ones show with artworks by both John and his brother Luke Marston which the Inuit Gallery held in the summer of 2009. The artist’s ongoing engagement with traditional Coast Salish culture and his eagerness to continue to learn about mythology and legends is clearly evident in this collection. While the artworks are visual representations of the ancient Salish story of Creation they also beautifully and proudly show the strength of Coast Salish culture and art in the hands of an accomplished young artist like John Marston today. The Inuit gallery is very pleased to present this outstanding body of work.
The Sky Opened
By John Marston
Our ancient history began long ago when the sky opened and our first Ancient Ancestors began to appear in what are now our traditional villages. Each descended from the sky in the form of a bird. New to the land, as they stood and began to walk, the feathers and wings that adorned their bodies began to be shed. Their wings turned to arms, claws turned to feet until they had fully transformed into human form.
Our first ancestor, whose name was Syalusta, had inexplicable strength and abilities. He was able to heal and protect against mysterious creatures with his red walking staff. Syalusta brought with him the knowledge of spiritual strengths found within water and taught the ceremonies to be followed to achieve ones own power. As he taught our first ancestors about the rituals he had learned, the spiritual power gained was so great all followed in this belief.
Walk through these lands of forests and cleanse with every waterway you come to. Use the bows of trees to wash yourself in streams and lakes. Do not be scared if you see things you do not understand, never let fear enter your spirit. These and many other aspects of our culture he taught thousands of years ago have survived and are still practiced today.
The foundation of our culture revolves around the collection of salmon, directly related to our First ancestors who gave our people fishing technology in the form of fishing weirs.
Collection of Works
Over the past 13 years I have studied many pieces either in private collections or those housed in museums. Most of these “artifacts” have a known place of origin however the story to accompany them was lost to the thousands of years of history. Many of these pieces had been dated back 3500 years or more. We could only imagine the context of what they represented and the purpose in their being created. Among these objects are stone spindles with intricate design. Reflecting on the rare objects that we do have from those times, we can see the beginnings of the strong art-form that was to come.
Many of these carvings appear to possess a recurring theme of bird transformation, into human or spiral design. Over the course of years of research and recreating these works, many discussions with elder carvers, I began to produce a visual record of our Origin story, of how our ancestors came from the sky. I imagine our ancestors passed this story down with the use of these carvings, just as we do today.
Most of the works in this collection reflect the image of our ancestors in the midst of transformation from spiritual birds to human form.
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