Community Papers

Artist shares doctorate with his family, people

Dempsey Bob receives an honorary doctorate from Chancellor Sarah Morgan-Silvester and UBC President Stephen Toope May 21 at the UBC Vancouver campus. - Don Erhardt Photography
Dempsey Bob receives an honorary doctorate from Chancellor Sarah Morgan-Silvester and UBC President Stephen Toope May 21 at the UBC Vancouver campus.
— image credit: Don Erhardt Photography

Local and world renowned Tahltan-Tlingit artist Dempsey Bob received another honour, this time from the University of BC at its Vancouver campus, May 21.

Bob was given a degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa “in recognition of his work as a foremost artist and as a cultural preservationist and ambassador.”

Bob thanked his family for their support, pausing at one point as emotion overtook him.

“This is for my...for my mother, for my father, for my grandfather, my grandmother, my great-grandfather who was an artist from Alaska,” he said, adding it was also for his teachers Freda Diesing and several others.

He also thanked his children and grandchildren.

“I didn’t get here by myself, I had a lot of help and support of my family and my people and had a lot of great teachers. Art is about learning, life is about learning and to be really good at anything takes a lot of courage and a lot of believing in yourself.

“Graduates now you have to grab that, keep that confidence in what you’ve learned and start to use it because then you’ll go somewhere because it takes a lot of courage to be good, perseverance and life is about learning, about society and technology is changing so fast, you will be left behind if you just stop learning.”

“I see this as recognition for my ancestors, my people, artists, my grandparents and all of our people...When I was in high school, I got a C- in art because I didn’t draw the way my teacher wanted me to draw, but now I’m looking for her.”

Bob was born in 1948 in the Tahltan community of Telegraph Creek and “survived dire circumstances and an unsympathetic school system to train in the Tahltan-Tlingit style of Aboriginal art” said UBC president Stephen Toope in his speech before giving the doctorate to Bob.

“Today he is internationally regarded as one of the foremost aboriginal artists of his generation, and his sculptures, castings, jewelry and prints are seen by countless visitors to museums, galleries and public spaces around the world, including Vancouver International Airport.”

Bob now lives in Terrace where he is the senior advisor to the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art at the Northwest Community College's main campus.

In a recent lecture, Bob said that he had few teachers as he progressed as an artist because people knowledgeable in the traditions of Tahltan carving had greatly decreased in number due to the decimation of aboriginal communities whose artists had developed the work over multiple generations, said Toope.

“His accomplishments therefore extend beyond his vast body of work to include the reclamation of identity and culture of earlier generations.”

Bob started his carving career in 1969 under the teaching of Freda Diesing and within five years had made his first major works, he said.

“After four decades of commitment to northwest coast Aboriginal art as both practitioner and teacher, he has inspired two generations to learn and excel, and his contributions have been recognized with many honours and awards, including his appointment just this year as an Officer of the Order of Canada."

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