January 11, 2015

Phil Gray Bear Mother Pole

Lattimer Gallery has always prided itself on great customer service. So, when American clients of ours purchased Tsimshian/Cree artist Phil Gray's seven-foot Bear Mother totem pole in early January - and requested that we help deliver it and install it - we were happy to oblige.

The first step involved lowering the pole and preparing it for shipping here in the gallery. We wrapped it with moving blankets and got our dolly ready. The second step was loading the pole and driving across the border. The final step was unloading the pole, carefully carrying it into the client's home, and then installing it. This beautiful pole looked perfect in the space provided, just like it was meant to be there! 

This sculptural pole depicts the Bear Mother legend from Northwest Coast Native mythology. There are various versions of this story, but a common telling can be found here:

There are many variations of the Bear Mother story. One such story tells of a young woman who is berry picking in the forest with friends, when she accidentally steps into a pile of bear dung. Reacting in disgust, she makes a rude comment about bears. The bears overhear and resent this insulting remark. The woman keeps stopping to repair the broken strap of her berry-picking basket and is separated from her friends. Two young men, actually a bear prince and his companion, offer to escort the woman out of the forest. Instead, they take her to their family's home where she is made welcome. In time, she marries the bear prince and gives birth to two cubs. Her human family, however, have never stopped searching for her. Each of her four brothers tries in turn to save her. The youngest brother finally succeeds in killing her husband. The woman and her two sons, now transformed into their human form, return to the village. Many First Nations people from the West Coast who hold Bear as their crest symbol connect their lineage to this myth, which warns against impetuousness.

Bear Mother Pole at Gallery

Phil Gray began carving in 1999 with Salish artist, Gerry Sheena. He also had the opportunity to study Advanced Design under acclaimed Haida artist, Robert Davidson. Phil works primarily in cedar, alder and boxwood. He creates masks, panels, poles, sculptures and drums. Phil belongs to the Killerwhale Clan and the majority of his works are created in his traditional Tsimshian style. In September of 2003, Phil had three of his pieces donated to the Burke Museum in Seattle. In 2005, Phil was featured in the 'Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 2' exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design in New York. In the winter of 2007, Phil completed a large commission of sculptural works for Sonora Resort on Sonora Island, BC. Also in 2007, Phil completed the Northwest Coast Jewellery Arts Program at the Native Education College in Vancouver, under Kwakwaka’wakw/ Haida artist, Dan Wallace. Phil was included in two major exhibitions in 2009. The first was the 'Challenging Traditions' exhibition at Ontario's McMichael Gallery, a show that was dedicated to exploring innovative and experimental works from the Northwest Coast. The second was 'Continuum: Vision and Creativity on the Northwest Coast' at Vancouver's Bill Reid Gallery, which highlighted 23 established Aboriginal artists from BC, Washington State and Alaska. In September of 2009, Phil completed a pair of large red cedar doors here in Lattimer Gallery, which depicted a 'Grandmother Moon' design. In February of 2010, Phil designed the helmet of gold medal-winning Skeleton racer, Jon Montgomery. Montgomery held Phil's helmet throughout the Olympic awards ceremony. In 2014, Phil was awarded a BC Creative Achievement Award in Aboriginal Art from the Government of British Columbia.

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