Gastown is among the world’s most unromantic names for a neighborhood. But this oldest quarter of Vancouver is among the city’s most charming, with pretty brick warehouses now occupied by shops and restaurants. The neighborhood, at least for now, has a concentration of upscale galleries focusing on top-quality First Nations art. But more than one gallery owner complained to me of skyrocketing rents, and some of them plan to relocate in the near future.
Striking masks, stone carvings, bentwood boxes and wall hangings crowd this gallery on the west end of Gastown; I can see why the owners plan on moving to a larger space in spring. Look also for intricate (and expensive) basketry and Bill Reid-inspired jewelry. The surreal and rather terrifying “Shaman Transforming” mask by Ron Telek, which combined multiple human and animal forms, was unforgettable.
312 Water Street. Tel. (604) 684-9222
If I could only choose one First Nations-focused art gallery to visit in Vancouver, it would be this one. Its owner clearly has an eye for quality, choosing only the most exquisite sculptures and masks to display. The employee who led us through the space, Lynn, seemed to know each piece intimately. “One thing we do at this gallery,” she explained, “is spend a lot of time talking to people about the history and cultural significance of the art.” She made our visit absolutely fascinating.
Inuit Gallery of Vancouver
206 Cambie Street. Tel. (604) 688-7323
This gallery is the most touristy of the four, and it’s an ideal place to pick up small gifts such as wooden ornaments, as well as moderately priced argillite pendants and wool clothing. I especially liked Jacob Lewis’ colorful sculptures inlaid with abalone, and we also enjoyed chatting with Salish carver Gerry Sheena as he shaped a totem pole titled “Pursuit of Salmon,” composed of an eagle atop an orca. Hill’s also displays completed totem poles.
Hill’s Native Art
165 Water Street. Tel. (604) 685-4249
We visited this gallery in Gastown before it moved to its new Third Avenue location just east of Granville Island. Spirit Wrestler displayed some of the expected stone carvings and wooden masks, but I was particularly taken by the glass sculptures by Preston Singletary and Joe David, which used traditional iconography and forms in a surprising medium. I also loved the magnificent Haida form-line prints by Robert Davidson. These three artists alone make a trip to the gallery worthwhile.
Spirit Wrestler Gallery
101-1669 West 3rd Avenue. Tel. (604) 669-8813