With routes traversing some of the most beautiful waters in North America, sailing with BC Ferries isn’t just about getting from here to there, it’s about experiencing breathtaking locales inhabited by people who have loved and cared for the coastal lands for centuries. BC Ferries is committed to celebrating the culture of the northwest coast, and part of that culture is the art created by the Indigenous people and communities along the ferry routes.
From the items available on board in Passages to the artwork that adorns the newest vessel to enter BC Ferries’ fleet — the Northern Sea Wolf — Indigenous art is a part of the experience. The following three BC-based artists help give ferry passengers a true taste of what the BC coast is all about.
When asked how he became interested in traditional carving, Kwakwaka’wakw artist Richard Hunt responds without hesitation. “It’s my culture,” he says.
Wood carving is not only part of Hunt’s cultural heritage, it’s his family’s profession. His father was famed artist Henry Hunt, best known for his work at Victoria’s Thunderbird Park and Royal BC Museum, alongside the great Kwakwaka’wakw carver Mungo Martin. Richard himself worked at the museum from 1972 to 1986 before leaving to pursue freelance work and has since become one of the West Coast’s most celebrated carvers, receiving the Order of British Columbia in 1991 and, in 1994, the Order of Canada.
Despite having already enjoyed a decades-long career that has kept his ancestors’ art form alive and helped to re-establish carving traditions with Indigenous youth, Hunt is always keen to push himself as an artist. So, when BC Ferries issued a call for artist submissions to adorn its newest vessel to enter the fleet, the Northern Sea Wolf, which begins travel between Port Hardy and Bella Coola this year, Hunt put his name in the hat.
Even though carving is his primary medium, Hunt put together some one-dimensional designs to submit to the competition. A panel made up of BC Ferries representatives and First Peoples Cultural Council members selected his design portraying Komokwa, the mythical Chief of the Sea, and his family of animals: Sea Eagle, Sea Bear, Sea Raven and Sea Wolf. The piece is now displayed on the interior of the vessel. In addition, the Sea Wolf figure from the piece adorns either side of the bow of the ship so that the animal appears to be running in the water as the waves crash along the bottom of the ferry.
“This is an honour for me,” says Hunt. “When else would I ever see a design of mine on a big boat?”
Hunt, who is very proud of his Komokwa design, continues to spend most of his time carving in the style he learned from his father. Unlike many carvers, whether Hunt is carving a small mask or a full totem pole, he uses traditional tools and does everything himself. As a result, each of his pieces can take a lot of time to complete, but buyers know they are getting legitimate Indigenous art created by someone with authentic roots in the culture. “I don’t have a stable of workers working for me and I’m not in a rush,” he says. “I guarantee to people who collect my work that if my name is on it, I did it.”
Danika Naccarella is a shining example of the younger generation of Indigenous artists that are emerging on the northwest coast. Born in 1997, Naccarella is just beginning her career, but as the second of two artists whose work was selected for display on BC Ferries’ Northern Sea Wolf, she is poised to become a major force on the BC arts scene.
Danika Naccarella in the art room at Bella Coola’s Acwsalcta school. Photo by Michael Wigle.
Born in Vancouver, Naccarella moved to Bella Coola, where her mother is originally from, when she was 12 years old. Surrounded by a community teeming with her family’s Nuxalk culture, Naccarella spent time exploring traditional art throughout her high school years. Upon graduation, she pursued a diploma in First Nations Fine Arts from the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art in Terrace, before returning to Bella Coola to become the arts teacher assistant at the local school.
While Naccarella works in a number of mediums, including jewellery and hand poke tattoos, painting classic Nuxalk motifs (which tend to feature animals and other figures created in a recognizable Pacific West Coast style) is her primary mode of expression. In addition to the connection it gives her to her ancestors, she finds the perfection and balance of traditional art fascinating from a technical point of view.
“The designs need to be a certain way so that the [shapes] complement each other and there’s a balance of positive and negative space,” she says. “These designs were here before any of us were born and they meant a lot more to our ancestors than just shapes and forms. They told stories and family history and so many other things.”
Naccarella was beyond thrilled that her work was chosen to be displayed inside the Northern Sea Wolf. Her painting depicts a pod of orcas — a nod to both the majesty of these creatures and the rich waters BC Ferries sails — and to her, it represents family and loyalty.
It’s this appreciation that also compels Naccarella to continue as a teaching assistant in Bella Coola, where she aims to support and inspire the next generation of cultural custodians.
“Right now I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be,” she says. “Helping the kids to see the culture is really important. One thing I have to remember is that I’m going to be an elder one day, so I have to learn everything I can.”
Not all art hangs on a wall or stands in a courtyard — Chloë Angus’s creations are displayed on the body. The woman behind the Vancouver-based Chloë Angus Designs works closely with First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists to bring traditional art to a new medium with the garments that make up her much celebrated Spirit Collection.
Chloë Angus, sporting a scarf from her Spirit Collection, in her Vancouver shop. Photo by Lindsay Elliot.
This collection, which Angus has been producing since her company launched in 2004, includes high-quality wraps, jackets, shirts and other clothing items printed with art created by Haida, Salish, Ojibwe, Tlingit and other Indigenous Canadian artists — all of whom work in direct collaboration with Angus.
body and how I could balance it in a wearable and modern way.”— Chloë Angus
Angus was raised in Egmont, a predominantly Indigenous community on the Sunshine Coast. The Spirit Collection is her way of paying respect to the artwork she grew up with.
“I had the honour of growing up in a beautiful place within the Indigenous community and I wanted to share my experience with people,” she says. “I wanted to explore how Indigenous art could come alive on a body and how I could balance it in a wearable and modern way.”
The centerpieces of the Spirit Collection are the spirit wraps, which are versatile pieces that can be worn in a number of different ways over basic wardrobe pieces. Angus is especially proud to offer clothing that is not only made from environmentally sustainable fabrics, but also fits and flatters a wide range of body types, even as an individual’s shape changes with age or ability. She knows first-hand how important it is to feel included and considered as needs change. In 2015, a benign spinal tumor left Angus with sudden paralysis. In the face of being told she’d never walk again, and learning to adjust to life in a wheelchair, her urge to confound expectations only intensified. So did her desire to celebrate diversity and build bridges between people from all backgrounds and abilities through fashion.
Angus’s spirit wraps and other items are available on board BC Ferries’ vessels in Passages, as well as various museum gift shops and boutiques across Canada and at chloeangus.com. She loves that the pieces give customers a chance to display traditional Indigenous motifs anywhere they go, spreading the spirit of the Pacific coast around the world.
“The Spirit Collection says something when you wear it,” Angus says. “I’m finding that people tend to choose to wear the spirit wraps when they want to be seen, when they want to be heard and when they want to be remembered.”