British Columbia

Facebook group formed to find and expose fraudulent imitations of Indigenous artists

An artist who worked with the late Nisga'a carver Norman Tait is working to expose fraudulent versions of Indigenous North Coast art after discovering unsanctioned copies of Tait's work being passed off and sold as originals.

Organizer says about 20 North Coast B.C. artists are victims of fradulent copies

On the left, Medicine Beaver by Norman Tait. On the right, a different piece being sold for $160. The original is made of alder and is valued at $30,000. (Submitted by Lucinda Turner)

An artist who worked with the late Nisga'a carver Norman Tait is working to expose fraudulent versions of Indigenous North Coast art after discovering unsanctioned copies of Tait's work being passed off as originals.

"I was quite incensed," said Lucinda Turner, who started as Tait's apprentice and later became his carving partner, helping create multiple works that sell for thousands of dollars. 

Turner started researching the issue and soon discovered about 20 North Coast artists whose work she says is being copied and sold at lower prices.

In some cases she's found the work is being mass-produced overseas and sold by people posing as the original artists.

"They're really all over the place," Turner said, adding she worries the false pieces are lowering the value of work genuinely connected to North Coast cultures.

Black Swan, made by Norman Tait and Lucinda Turner. Turner says one way to test the authenticity of North Coast Indigenous art is to check what sort of wood is used. (Kai Svensson)

"It's making it really difficult for young artists to come out."

After connecting with other artists, Turner started a Facebook group where people are invited to post pictures of possibly fraudulent pieces alongside pictures of original works so she and others can reach out and investigate.

Aside from hurting artists' livelihoods, Turner said she's worried about the culture contained within North Coast art being lost.

"The culture and the stories behind it are not being transferred," she said.

"The art itself is going to be diminished."

Norman Tait and Lucinda Turner at the opening of their Wilt'sTsa'ak Gallery in 1995. (Vicki Jansen)

Turner has spoken to lawyers but has yet to take any legal action, and cautions members not to make public accusations until the possible fraud can be assessed.

She is also exploring the idea of creating an authentication system for North Coast artists, in conjunction with the Authentic Indigenous website.

In the meantime, she encourages people interested in purchasing North Coast art to do their homework to make sure it is authentic.

"Ask questions, look at biographies," she advised. 

"Become an educated consumer."

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