My friend, Betsy MacFarlane, in Ketchikan, Alaska first told me about the Maoris in the eighties while I was teaching there. She told me about their culture and how close it is to ours. Since then I have wanted to go to New Zealand and see the old art of the Maoris and to met the people and to see their beautiful land.
I did have the opportunity to meet Gary Nicholas of Toi Maori in Ottawa at a gathering of native artists, and then I met him again in the cafeteria at the “Return to the Swing” Conference of Pacific Rim Artists (exhibition now traveling as the Hiteemlkiliiksix — Within the Circle of the Rim — Nations Gathering on Common Ground) at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He asked, “weren’t you in Ottawa and weren’t you supposed to come to New Zealand?” That is how I got to go to New Zealand — to accept an invitation from Toi Maori to attend the Wellington Festival of the Arts in 2002. Given my experience there, I immediately planned a return visit in early 2003 to attend the Toi Maori Festival of the Arts in Christchurch.
The workshop at the Evergreen State College and in New Zealand was a unique and a great creative experience; there was great creative energy and sharing. This was one of the highlights of my life in art.
Seeing the Maori culture up close, and by being with them, made me see and respect my own culture more. It opened a door for me in my work that cannot be closed again. Our experience together as artists was magical and powerful. Great art comes from good and great people. One of the highlights of my trip was meeting Ben Mamaku and the Waka Federation (the canoe people!) at the village of Te Teko near Rotorua. It was a very powerful experience I will never forget. Maoris are great artists!
A celebrated artist and a dedicated teacher, Dempsey began carving in 1969 and was directed to the Gitanmaax School of Northwest Coast Indian Art in 1972 by Freda Diesing, who was his earliest mentor and teacher. His work is in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilization; the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology; the Columbia Museum of Ethnology; the Smithsonian Institution; National Museum of Ethnology in Japan; Canada House in London, England; Hamburgisches Museum fur Volkerskkunde in Hamburg, Germany; Centennial Museum in Ketchikan, Alaska, and the Royal British Columbia Museum. Corporate collections include the Vancouver International Airport, the Ridley Coal Terminal in Prince Rupert and the Saxman Tribal House in Saxman, Alaska.
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