For thousands of years the powerful Fraser River, where Susan Point’s two sons still fish, has been home to the Musqueam, used for travel, a source of food and a source of myth. Musqueam history is rich with legends of this river and its people. With Point’s dramatic 2-m (7-foot) spindle whorl, The River—Giver of Life, it also becomes a metaphor for the cycle of existence, not only for the salmon who depend on it for passage to spawning grounds, but for all life on the planet. It’s a reminder of the journey we each undertake, and the turbulence, perils and beauty that affect us all.
Specifically, this piece symbolizes the north arm of the Fraser, which is most closely linked with Musqueam life today as it passes along the south shores of the community’s border. With water flowing in the background, The River—Giver of Life depicts two salmon swimming in a circle. One swims inland to spawn and the other out to sea, completing their life cycle. Salmon are considered symbols of life, wealth and good luck to the First Nations people. In this instance, they are also a reminder that the Coast Salish people still fish along the river. Moving in opposite directions to the salmon are two magnificent thunderbirds. According to First Nations mythology, the thunderbird, living high in the mountains, is the most powerful of all spirits. “When the thunderbird flaps his wings,” Point explains, “thunder crashes and lightning flashes from his eyes.” In The River—Giver of Life, these thunderbirds, seen in the salmon tails, are transferring their power to the salmon, protecting them and overseeing their continuing cycle of renewal. In traditional First Nations style, the thunderbird closely resembles the eagle and can be distinguished by its circular ear high on its head. The contemporary style of this piece also reflects the spirit of the Pacific Northwest and the traditional style of Coast Salish art, using such design elements as crescents, U-forms and V-forms or wedges. The spindle of the whorl is leafed in copper and the eyes are copper domes, but structurally, Susan Point has chosen to create this piece entirely as a sand cast. This technique involves pouring a mixture of sand and a polymer resin into a mould. The use of sand further demonstrates the commanding presence every aspect of the Fraser River has in the lives of the Musqueam people. The sand moves through the twists and turns of the river as it flows out to sea, not unlike how members of the community must navigate their own journey through life. Sand is also a marker of time, which keeps moving regardless of how we attempt to control it.
—Susan Point as told to Vesta Giles
Coast Salish (Musqueam)
Susan began making limited edition prints on her kitchen table in 1981 while working as a legal secretary. She received several early commissions, which established her reputation for innovative proposals and for completing projects on time, on budget and at the highest level. She took courses in silver, casting and carving, all of which led to monumental sculptures in mixed media, and she was the first Northwest Coast artist to work in glass. She continues to release a number of print editions each year, but her focus has been on commissioned sculpture.
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