As the new student residence building rises into existence at Coast Mountain College, its creative elements are the talk of the town.
From themed floors to countless art pieces to be hung onto its walls, a top highlight is in the Elder Suite: a room designed to accommodate specials guests and knowledge keepers at the Terrace campus. Inside that suite, you will soon find a large yellow cedar carving by Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art’s recent graduate and current instructor Stephanie Anderson.
“This is a major art piece of mine, and my goal was to keep it up here in the Northwest, I wasn’t keen on it going anywhere else. I’m so proud of it and even happier to have it on display in my home region,” Anderson says.
“So when the opportunity came up to have it at the College, it just felt right — especially as this is the place where I learned so much as an artist and continue to keep growing my craft at.”
Her striking carving, “Relations”, depicts characters from our natural world engaging with humans on a circular panel. Contrasting between bold and soft carved lines, it stands 36 inches in diameter and almost two inches in depth with natural wooden hues, highlighted with pastel shades of green and red.
Anderson says she started this piece in 2019 after she won the YVR Emerging Artist Award and began a mentorship with artist Ken McNeil. She knew she wanted to create a three-foot piece but struggled to pinpoint a design to inhabit that cedar panel.
“It was an incredibly challenging project for me at first... but then late one night, I just started drawing these long swirling lines and that's when the figures started coming out,” she explains.
“I literally stayed up all night creating this family and the way they were interacting with the animals on the riverbank. When those faces came up, I immediately fell back into my childhood memories working with my own family processing fish from the rivers.”
Inspired by the cultural roots of her past, she says the story inscribed onto the panel features the people giving back pieces of uneaten salmon to the animals of that land, including an eagle, wolf and bear.
“The depiction of the piece is that the entire family is working under the wisdom of their elders by sharing the fish to be in balance with the land and the animals,” Anderson says.
“It took me a lot longer than I expected. I kept having to change and refine the piece to get to a point where I finally felt satisfied... when it really came into being, I knew it was worth all the extra effort.”
Investing well over 100 hours into the piece, Anderson says she felt a strong connection to her ancestors as she would carve through the entire night. She thought about her great-grandmother often and felt a pull to the matriarch in her art piece.
“I spent so many hours just getting her features right to express her age, her wisdom and her femininity as a matriarch. It was really important to me to channel her character as an elder and the grandmother essence of who she is.”
When she presented the final piece to her family, she says everyone was emotional and recognized her late great-grandmother’s spirit in it.
“I really honour everything she gave me, and I really wanted to create something everybody can appreciate and feel,” she says.
Alongside her work, Anderson says she is proud of the artistic direction the College has taken with this building. Her name will join a lengthy list of alumni who will have their artwork displayed in the new residence.
“A lot of projects tend to overlook artwork and the energy that it creates in a space but by us being encouraged to draw on our Indigenous roots to represent this land, that brings a real sense of belonging and place,” she says.
She adds the Elder Suite is the ideal home for her art piece as it shares the same intention as she set out to create: the passing of knowledge.
“This is going to be an incredible space filled with strong values and intention, and this room will house elders that are coming from all over to give their wisdom to our students,” she says.
“A lot of emotions come up for me every time I have to say goodbye to an art piece of mine, so it makes me so happy to know it will be enjoyed by many people in a place that is so close to my heart.”