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
April 23 - May 14, 2016
The Spirit Wrestler team: Colin Choi, Derek Norton, Nigel Reading and Gary Wyatt, have been together now for over 30 years representing master-level Inuit, Northwest Coast, and Māori art - and for the last 20 years as the Spirit Wrestler Gallery. We are celebrating this amazing 20-year journey with a “birthday” exhibition, “Reflections 20Years”. The exhibition will feature many of the great artists from the three extraordinary cultures that we represent that have shared and supported us on this journey… and it is also a “thank you” for all of you who have made this journey so much fun! The Spirit Wrestler Gallery was founded in 1996 and quickly became one of the foremost galleries of first-nation art in North America. The name Spirit Wrestler originates from the title of the book by James Houston that tells the story of a young shaman learning his powers in the Canadian north. At the time, the gallery was looking for a name that allowed for the consideration of both traditional and shamanist-based arts here in Canada, as well as embracing the work by other artists from around the world. Early exhibitions included artists from Alaska, the Canadian Plains, and the Māori from New Zealand, being shown in the same room as Northwest Coast and Inuit art. The cross-cultural interactions have offered a unique fusion in the gallery and generated many group and solo exhibitions that we have hosted over the years. We were witnessing the trend of a growing interaction internationally between artists who were travelling far afield to research the art and modern cultural practices of other nations - and along the way, forging friendships that have endured across great distances. The last two decades have also been an exciting transition time for the arts being created by all three cultures. There was a pronounced movement towards the incorporation of new materials, such as glass, bronze, and polymers - which has opened new avenues for the art itself, both in terms of subject and scale. To be a part of seeing the artists exhibiting their work side-by-side has been very exciting and has made the Spirit Wrestler Gallery a unique and challenging experience for any visitor. We have had the privilege of representing many of the greatest Northwest Coast, Inuit, and Māori artists of our time - and have have had the privilege of showing a great number of the most important pieces produced over the last three decades. It has been an honour to share this long journey with so many great artists and clients. Thank you all so much for your belief and support.
Spirit Wrestler Gallery
47 Water Street
Canada V6B 1A1
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3 blocks from Waterfront Station
Between Abbott St. and Carrall St.
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