According to a Salish legend known as the Salmon People, it was customary in the early days for the Coast Salish people to bathe their babies in stone bowls. These bowls were believed to have special powers that helped the children grow strong and wise. A Coast Salish woman, having just given birth and being of good faith, asked her younger brother-in-law to search for a smooth, hollowed-out rock in which she could bathe her child. He looked, but he couldn’t find anything. Taking matters into her own hands, she decided to look for herself.
As the woman walked along the beach, she discovered the perfect hollow rock. But each time she tried to pick it up, the rock would roll away from her toward the water. When she followed the rock into the water, it transformed into a sockeye salmon and kidnapped her, taking her to the bottom of the sea. After one year, she was returned to her people. The woman told them of her disappearance, and how her captors, the Salmon People, lived in a village deep in the bottom of the ocean. She also told of their great numbers, which represented the abundance of sockeye salmon in the area. This story inspired Susan Point’s blanket, Salmon People, which is her interpretation of the traditional Pendleton blankets from Oregon that featured strong and powerful native-based designs. “I have always admired the Pendleton blanket,” Point admits, “especially some of the southern native styles. I was very excited to do a Salish-style Pendleton blanket, which is not so much a Salish blanket,” she continues, “but more of a Susan Point blanket. It is a version of my first design with borders complementing the textile art of my ancestors, inspired by classical Salish weavings.”
Susan Point uses her well-established spindle whorl motif as a foundation for this piece. The two sides feature a traditional, geometric-patterned border. Inside the centre whorl shape, Point illustrates the world of the salmon people—their swirling bodies merging salmon and human characteristics.
“The only problem I had,” Point recalls, “was deciding what to do because I had too many ideas in my head. Coming up with the colours for this blanket,” she adds, “was also a challenge because the process limited me to only two colours per woven line.” In Coast Salish tradition, blankets were a valued form of currency and a symbol of wealth. The unique style of Salish weaving produced blankets that were traded, given as gifts at potlatches and worn for ritual where elaborately carved pins or clasps held them together as they were worn. Creating this blanket has inspired Point to look more closely at pursuing other blankets as a further expansion of her range of artistic mediums. “I would definitely like to try to do others if I ever get the opportunity. Someday I would like to do both a very contemporary blanket and a very traditional one.”
—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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