Bukwila by Art Thompson, set at the steps of Lansdowne campus’ Wilna Thomas Cultural Centre, has been welcoming students to campus since 1997. (Photo courtesy of Camosun College)

Bukwila by Art Thompson, set at the steps of Lansdowne campus’ Wilna Thomas Cultural Centre, has been welcoming students to campus since 1997. (Photo courtesy of Camosun College)

World-renowned artist’s legacy lives on at Camosun College

Art Thompson made untold contributions toward Indigenous education, art and advocacy

His name might not be instantly recognizable but Art Thompson’s work is familiar to many who have visited Camosun College’s Lansdowne campus.

Bukwila is a 15-foot-tall carved welcoming figure in front of Lansdowne’s Wilna Thomas cultural centre dedicated to the Dididaht whaling chief of the same name. Created by late master carver Art Thompson, also known as Tsa Qwa Supp, it is one of his many legacies to Camosun, both seen and unseen, that makes the college what it is today.

Born in 1948, Thompson suffered from tuberculous in childhood. After a long spell in hospital, he was removed from his community and placed in a Nanaimo residential school, where he experienced nine years of abuse. A member of the Ditidaht First Nation of the Nuu Chah Nulth people, he grew up learning the history, art, and culture of his people from his grandfather, and was determined from a young age to carry those legacies forward, despite efforts from others to suppress them.

ALSO READ: Aboriginal gathering space promotes unity at Camosun

In the early 1970s, Thompson studied fine arts at the newly formed Camosun College, in what was then called the West Coast Native Indian Art program. Subsequently, he enrolled at the Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver. As a carver, silversmith, printmaker and painter, he grew into an artist of world renown.

“He always had this strong sense of connection with Camosun – it was the first place that awakened his love of learning and helped him recognize how very smart he was,” said his good friend Janice Simcoe, director of Camosun’s Centre for Indigenous Education and Community Connections.

Many years after surviving his own abuse, he was one of the first witnesses to testify in court against the injustices of the residential school system. “He spoke with that brave, courageous and unbelievably strong voice,” said Simcoe. “He was one of the first ones to open the door to make the whole reconciliation process possible.”

ALSO READ: Camosun student receives prestigious honour for his work in making the school more accessible for all

At Camosun, he was a driving force behind the creation of the Wilna Thomas cultural centre, donating many of his own artworks and leading fundraising efforts that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars for the project. Later, he helped create the college’s $1,500 annual bursary for Nuu Chah Nulth students, by donating his prints for that purpose.

“Art has had a tremendous impact on Camosun,” said Simcoe. “He taught courage and creativity and generosity, and he taught it all by living those values.”

Today, Thompson’s work is displayed at the Canadian Museum of History, the Royal British Columbia Museum, the Canadian High Commission in Singapore and Stanford University in California, and in private collections around the world.

Thompson died in 2003 at the age of 56. More than 2,500 mourners attended his funeral to pay their respects.

“Camosun carries forward a whole bunch of Art Thompson with us, from the cultural centre to his art pieces displayed all around campus,” said Simcoe. “Probably most important of all, we have his stories of truth that are enabling forms of reconciliation across this country and at the college. I know that’s how I carry Art with me – and I carry him in my work and in my heart.”


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Just Posted

A new report pegs the annual cost of hiring a third party to monitor use of pickleball courts in North Saanich at $12,000. (Black Press Media file photo).
North Saanich could end up hiring third party to monitor pickleball courts

Other options up for consideration include use of cameras and timed locks

The barred owl is the most likely to be spotted in the south Island. (Ann Nightingale photo)
Barred owls dominate Greater Victoria owl-scape

Western screech owl population decimated, partly due to barred owls

Between June 1 and 7, 168 net unconditional sales were made for properties in the VREB region. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria home sales slightly behind last June’s pace

Benchmark value of single-family home in Greater Victoria tops $1 million

Police monitor protesters at a blockade in the Fairy Creek area of southwestern Vancouver Island on Wednesday, June 9. (Facebook photo)
8 old-growth logging protesters arrested in Fairy Creek watershed Friday

A total of 214 people have been arrested as of June 11

VicPd are asking for the public’s help in finding Camper, a lost pit bull who ran away after their owner’s van was reportedly attacked by a man with a hammer on June 12. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Edmonton man reportedly smashes van’s windows with hammer while woman and her dog inside

VicPD are asking for help to find Camper, the woman’s dog who ran away during the Friday incident

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

Most Read