Vancouver Island Salish artist’s work to adorn BC ferry

Stz'uminus artist John Marston unveils design to adorn the new ship Salish Eagle on the Tsawwassen-Southern Gulf Islands

Coast Salish artist John Marston and his mother

When Stz’uminus artist John Marston was selected to do the artistic design for a BC Ferry, his thoughts turned to what his people from centuries past would think of his vision.

“Would they recognize this spiritual design,” Marston  wondered aloud before a large crowd during an unveiling ceremony of his work at the Ladysmith Maritime Society and Marina on Wednesday.

Marston was one of three artists selected to create the artistic design for three new Salish Class vessels for BC Ferries.

Marston, who lives in Chemainus and has a studio in Ladysmith, said the eagle is highly respected within the Stz’uminus culture.

“It has long been connected to us and carries our prayers to the Creator,” he said. “Over the years as an artist I have learned from our ancestors’ old artworks. It is important to me that this design was strongly influenced by these old masterpieces.”

Marston, who has been carving and doing art as long as he can remember, credits his parents, David and Jane, and Simon Charlie, the late elder and master carver from the Cowichan Valley, for much of his inspiration.

Chief John Elliot welcomed everyone, saying he was proud to be part of an event acknowledging Marston’s work on traditional Stz’uminus land. He thanked BC Ferries for the opportunity to showcase his people’s art.

“It’s really important to share our culture and rebuild relationships,” he said.

The First Peoples Cultural Council of B.C. issued a call for Coast Salish artists and others to submit their work in August 2015 for consideration for the new ferries. A jury of artist peers and representatives from BC Ferries determined a short list of nine artists from 37 submissions, before narrowing that list down to the three selected.

Tracey Herbert, CEO of the First Peoples’ Cultural Council of B.C., said it has been an honour to work with the artists and BC Ferries on this project. She underlined the importance of entering into partnerships with non-indigenous agencies to preserve First Nations’ arts and culture.

“We leapt at the chance to enter into this with BC Ferries”, she said.”The Marston family are known around the world for their art. This initiative will enable First Nations arts and culture to flourish.”

BC Ferries president and CEO said he was “very pleased” to be on hand for the unveiling of Marston’s design. “The Coast Salish were the first mariners of the Salish Sea and we are pleased to have Coast Salish artists like John Marston to adorn the vessels with their exceptional design.”

Marston, 38, said it was truly exciting to be able to display a traditional Coast Salish design that would be seen by people around the world.

“I can’t wait to see 400 feet of that eagle sail into the harbour,” he added.

Darlene Gait from Esquimalt Nation was selected to design the art for the Salish Orca, which was revealed in March. The design for the Salish Raven by Thomas Cannell from the Musqueum First Nation will be revealed in the coming months.

All three vessels will be in service by the summer of 2017.

The Salish Eagle will replace the Queen of Nanaimo on the Tsawwassen-Southern Gulf Islands route, with the Salish Raven also providing service to that route.

The Salish Orca will replace the Queen of Burnaby on the Comox-Powell River route.

Marston has been involved in a number of projects, ranging from an international cultural exchange with the carvers of Papua New Guinea to working with students in local schools.

— Rick Steibel Ladysmith Chronicle


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