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NWCC Instructor brings Northwest Coast First Nations Art to International Stage

Northwest Community College faculty member, and art historian, Rocque Berthiaume has helped bring international attention and acknowledgment to the art of Northwest Coast First Nation peoples. For the past year and a half Berthiaume has been working with the Canadian High Commission in Australia as curator for the Commission's People of the Cedar exhibition which opened this month at Australia's National Museum. It was Berthiaume's extensive knowledge of Northwest art that sparked the idea of creating the exhibition. "It all started back in 2004 when I was asked by the Canadian High Commission to help identify the pieces they had in their collection," explains Berthiaume. "As we started to document each piece I realized just what a significant body of art they had and the importance of the artists who created them." In the summer of 2005 Berthiaume traveled to Australia to review the pieces first hand and to view artefacts held at 3 other local museums. In total 77 pieces of historic and modern native art from the northwest coast of Canada was assembled to create the People of the Cedar exhibition. The exhibition is a celebration of the renewed expression of identity, both artistic and cultural, amoung Canada's First Nation Peoples and was presented as Canadas contribution to the Commonwealth Games occurring in Australia. Through its focus on cultural revival, the exhibition pays tribute to the artistic legacy of Northwest coast artist Freda Diesing (Haida) and her role in the resurrection of First Nations art. Freda was a teacher and mentor to many of today's prominent First Nation artists and she played a pivotal role in the relearning and continuation of art forms that at the time were on the verge of extinction. Her work and legacy were honoured at the exhibitions opening by Canadian High Commissioner Michael Leir who also announced the February 17th launch of Northwest Community College's Freda Diesing School of Art & Design. Diesing's alder wood, abalone shell and leather Moon Mask graces the cover of the exhibition catalogue and is the feature exhibit in promotional material. "Freda is an internationally known and respected artist and the legacy she has left is as cherished as her art," states Berthiaume. "Some of the prominent artists within the exhibition worked under Freda's tutorage and credit her for their success and the continuation of their art form. Choosing her work to depict the cultural revival of Northwest Coast First Nation peoples' art was a natural decision to make." "We are very proud to be able to honour Freda's legacy through the creation of our School of Art and Design," states NWCC President, Stephanie Forsyth. "The acknowledgement and recognition given to her by the Canadian High Commission's exhibition is a fitting tribute to the life and work of this remarkable woman." The Canadian High Commission is looking at taking the exhibition to various cities around Australia, with the hopes of eventually bringing it to Northwest BC. backgrounder attached.

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