Art Thompson was born in the village of Whyac, an isolated village on the western end of Nitinaht Lake on Vancouver Island. His ancestral roots are in both the Coast Salish (Cowichan) and Nuu-chah-nulth (Ditidaht) nations. His father and grandfather were both artists known for their ceremonial pieces such as masks and regalia, as well as totem poles and canoes. Art spent much of his childhood away from both his family and cultural traditions. At the age of two, he contracted tuberculosis and was hospitalized for the next three years. Shortly after he was able to return to his family he was sent away to residential school in Port Alberni. He ran away several times before finally securing employment in the logging industry at the age of thirteen.
Just before his twelve birthday he was initiated along with his brothers and sister into the Tlu-Kwalla (Wolf Society), an ancient custom which is still very active today. This event was an important connection between Art and his cultural heritage and influenced his later decision to become an artist.
In 1967, Art enrolled in the Commercial Art program at Camosun College in Victoria. He worked largely in two dimensional mediums such as paint and pastels. During this time he began to explore a narrative style with traditional Nuu-chah-nulth design. His advanced understanding of the traditional Nuu-chah-nulth design came at a time when this style had been virtually overlooked in the scholastic studies which were shaping the growing interest in Northwest Coast art. His personal contribution included using strong contemporary and traditional design shapes with a narrative approach to myth and legend. These early serigraph prints are now considered a turning point in establishing Art Thompson, Nuu-chah-nulth design, and the print medium as a whole, in the contemporary art market.
©2003 Spirit Wrestler Gallery
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