Richard Hunt is a prominent member of a family that has been an artistic dynasty for generations, and today is among the most celebrated of the contemporary Northwest Coast artists. His family roots and artistic style can be traced to the Kwakwaka’wakw village of Fort Rupert on the eastern shore of Vancouver Island. The eighth of fourteen children, he was born in the nearby island community of Alert Bay, although the family moved to Victoria the next year when his father agreed to assist his father-in-law, master-carver Mungo Martin, with the design and construction of the Thunderbird Park project.
Thunderbird Park was the first significant contemporary Northwest Coast commission. Initiated in 1952, the installation project was proposed for the grounds of the then Provincial Museum (now the Royal British Columbia Museum). Since then the Park has continued to evolve from the original premise for the re-creation of a traditional First Nations village site (with a longhouse, totem poles, masks, and ceremonial and utilitarian pieces), to a much broader role which includes a public education centre, as well as a training centre for new artist—and became the source for many major commissions internationally, including totem poles donated as gifts from British Columbia (and the Government of Canada) to other cities for important events and occasions.
The responsibility for the position of First Carver for the project was held by Richard’s grandfather, Mungo Martin, and was passed in due course to his father, Henry Hunt, and then to Richard in 1974. He was by then a seasoned carver, having started when he was thirteen, and held this position for twelve years before leaving to concentrate on his own career as an artist. Many of the children of Henry Hunt, like Richard, went on to pursue careers as artists, as have many of the nieces and nephews. The family became part of the very fabric of Victoria—through numerous public commissions, charitable work and community service—and certainly helped in the creation of a focus and destination for the emerging market in Northwest Coast art. The family continues to be strongly dedicated to culture and ceremony—and have emerged as ambassadors for Northwest Coast culture on the world stage.
Richard was one of the thirty-nine contemporary artists selected for the contemporary addition to the seminal 1970 exhibition, “The Legacy—Tradition and Innovation in Northwest Coast Art”, which was curated by the Provincial Museum in Victoria, and which included both historic and contemporary works and offered an overview of the significant modern artists. The exhibition toured into the 1980s, and was, at the time, seen as the flagship of the renaissance of Northwest Coast art.
He has received numerous commissions for totem poles, including public commissions for the cities of Liverpool; Middlesborough in England; Edinburgh, Scotland; Brisbane, Australia; Anaheim, California; and Portland, Oregon; as well as locally in Duncan, Vancouver, and Victoria, British Columbia.
Among other public works, Richard was selected for a major installation at the Vancouver International Airport; and was a part of a multi-artist commission to create the furnishings for the University of Victoria Ceremonial Convocations; he has also produced ceremonial pieces for the Museum Natural History in New York (the “Chiefly Feasts” collection and publication); and has major works with the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and the Science Museum of Minnesota.
Richard Hunt was the first Northwest Coast artist to be elected to the Order of British Columbia (in 1991). In 1994 he was elected to the Order of Canada, which is the most prestigious national honour for service to Canada. In 2004 he received Canada’s highest arts award when he was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts. He has also been honoured for his many contributions to the city of Victoria, including an Honorary Doctorate degree from the University of Victoria, the Honorary Citizen Award in 2001, and the Golden Jubilee Medal from H.R.H Queen Elizabeth for outstanding service to his country.
He has continued to contribute to numerous charities through the annual golf tournament in Victoria that bears his name (for the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organizations), the Victoria Marathon, the Canadian Diabetes Foundation, and the Lions Society of British Columbia, to name only a few.
Through his accomplishments in both the art world and the society in which he lives, Richard has come to embody his family name: Gwel-la-yo-gwe-la-gya-les: a man that travels around the world giving.
The Spirit Wrestler Gallery is very proud to present this outstanding exhibition from one of our living National Treasures.
—Gary Wyatt, curator