The Next Chapter

Robert D. Watt documents Susan Point's public revival of Coast Salish art

Point and Watt talk to Shelagh Rogers about the book People Among the People and Point's publicly commissioned artworks from coast to coast.
Robert D. Watt (right) is the author of People Among the People, a book about the public art of Susan Point. (Kenji Nagai/Archives of Coast Salish Arts, Figure 1 Publishing, Alison Watt)

Susan Point's unique artworks have been credited with reintroducing the traditional Coast Salish art style to a new generation. The Musqueam Coast Salish artist's public art works can be found across Vancouver and feature a blend of the traditional art styles of the First Nations people living around the Salish Sea. 

The book People Among the People by former museum curator and author Robert D. Watt highlights the public art of Point and identifies her as one of Canada's most prolific artists. 

Point and Watt spoke with Shelagh Rogers about People Among the People.

An artful understanding

Susan: "I first started my artistic practice in 1980. I was on maternity leave with my son Tom. I took a jewelry course during that time and that's how I originally started jewelry. A couple of months later, I got into doing printmaking. I didn't have any equipment or space to do all of my work. When I started my own screen prints, it was on my kitchen table.

I started trying to understand my art form and incorporating that onto jewelry.- Susan Point

"When I first started jewelry making, I didn't know at that time that we had our own Coast Salish art style. I was basically mimicking the northern style, which I was very familiar with — but then my husband reminded me that I have my own style. 

"I was trying to understand my art form and incorporated that into jewelry. I did limited edition prints and tried to incorporate Salish elements. Because of European contact, a lot of our historical pieces were either burned when the missionaries came in or they were put into museums. There was very little for me to work from at that time."

Coast Salish artist Susan Point's piece Full Circle. (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)

Robert: "I met Susan early in her career as a print maker. I needed to find someone who could help me with spindle whorl design that I needed for the coat of arms that was being created for the city of North Vancouver.

"I was asked to bring an image of a spindle whorl that reflected the natural heritage and world of the Salish people. It was her first public commission. Susan did a marvellous Salish design called Grizzly Bears with Sockeye."

The public art of Susan Point. (Submitted by Susan Point)

Art in the public eye

Robert: "When I think of Susan's public art, I think of her work at Vancouver International Airport, which features the world's biggest spindle whorl. I think of the acrylic sweep of the Thunderbird over the wheel wells of our local police cars. I also think of the manhole design and the umbrella installation in Surrey's East Clayton Park. They are amazing pieces."

A lot of the work is very contemporary and it's done in my own personal art style. But protocol is very important as well.- Susan Point

Susan: "In terms of my public art commissions, I always research the location first. For example, my public art in Vancouver's Stanley Park includes imagery from the Indigenous nations from the area. I'm using the elements that are found within Salish art — but a lot of the work I do is very contemporary.

"A lot of the work is very contemporary and it's done in my own personal art style. But protocol is very important as well. This includes checking in with our elders."

People Among the People: Celebrating the art of Susan Point

Our Vancouver

2 years ago
8:10
Historian Robert Watt and Coast Salish Artist Susan Point collaborated on a beautiful book 8:10

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