Dozens came together this month to celebrate the progress of first and second-year students from Coast Mountain College’s (CMTN) Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art at their annual exhibition in Terrace.
On Friday, Feb. 7, art students showcased their paintings and prints on opening night at the Terrace Art Gallery, which will be on display until the end of the month.
“I see that everybody here is an interesting individual and everybody has a unique way in how they learn and in the way they do art, it’s hard to explain without seeing it,” says Stephanie Anderson, instructor and former student of the program.
As a graduate from last year’s program, Anderson who is Wet’suwet’en of the Laksilyu clan, says the art school has really helped her form an identity as an artist in the industry. Recently, she was awarded the emerging artist award from the YVR Art Foundation scholarship for her yellow cedar panel and will have her work revealed at a ceremony at the Vancouver International Airport this spring which will then be on display for a full year.
Last June, Anderson also placed second in Historica Canada’s National Indigenous Arts and Stories Contest for her “Wolf and Moon” carving.
Now as a full-time instructor at the school, primarily teaching carving, she says it’s been a transforming experience to learn how to teach art and see her students grow.
“I am coming fresh from being a student so I’m really aware of the challenges and struggle. When I walk into a classroom, I give everybody the benefit of the doubt and the chance to impress me,” Anderson says. “It’s been a really interesting experience.”
One of the first-year students that had their work on display was Jessica McCallum-Miller, who is also the City of Terrace’s youngest city councillor. She says splitting her time between city hall and the classroom has been an exhausting journey but she believes that it will benefit the community by learning more about her Indigenous roots.
“It’s been difficult to balance having such an intense cultural experience but it’s also been extremely healing for me,” says McCallum-Miller, who is Gitxsan.
“I just hope to take a bit of this back to the community when I’m representing my culture, my people and all of the people of Terrace… and I want to help my community by beautifying this place with art.”
She adds there is a growing number of local artists in the area and wants to take part in everything the art scene here has to offer, like the Skeena Salmon Art Festival and the downtown murals. The Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art has also been a great hub to meet other Indigenous artists from across the province which has helped her gain perspective on how different places operate from a councillor’s approach.
“A lot of us weren’t born on reserves or sometimes we stray from our communities so we’re learning about each other’s cultures and about ourselves while delving into our history books and our own family lineage, including how far our art dates back,” McCallum-Miller says. “It’s been extremely eye-opening.”
Displayed at this year’s exhibit were two pieces selected for the Coast Mountain College President’s Art Award. First-place winner Dennis Nyce was awarded $2,500 for his three-panel piece that interprets his Nisga’a name, and is on display in the lower gallery. Second-place winner Miller McKay was awarded $1,000 for her killer whale ink painting.
Both art pieces will be put on permanent display at Coast Mountain College and prints produced will be used as gifts throughout the year.
The exhibition runs until Feb. 29.