Bon Graham-Krulicki’s art exhibit draws from the ancient language and culture of her ancestors, as well as the fierce power of nature.
Her new show, It Speaks to Me, opens Nov. 26 in the art gallery of the Cultural Centre, with artist’s reception on Nov. 28 starting at 1 p.m.
“It all started with the words in 2007,” she said.
Graham-Krulicki spent a couple of years designing a special font, in part to help stave off extinction of the traditional language. The font echoes the Coast Salish style artistically and she created art prints and paintings based on the Halkomelem words she chose to highlight.
“Something told me to stay on my path with the language project and I saw it through.”
She worked closely with respected elders and fluent speakers for guidance, and her work was exhibited during Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Winter Olympics. She’s also been working in the local schools with children to share the Halkomelem language through video and art projects where they create a unique painting on canvas which stays behind at each school.
A graphic artist for more than 25 years, she earned recognition as a Dreamcatchers Charitable Foundation Big Idea finalist. Her work can be spotted in Chilliwack at the Stó:lõ Resource Centre, Chilliwack General Hospital, and more.
There’s a strong focus on nature in this show. A centre display case will contain Fraser River rocks, Harrison Lake driftwood, a tree from Hope, some maple leaves and cedar branches, along with some family artifacts.
“Nature is a strong thread that runs through almost all of it,” she noted, from the blood moon, to the feathers, trees, and totems.
Most of her work is acrylics on canvas and the show will include more than 50 pieces. Some have textured elements like cedar tree branches, and some, like the traditional Coast Salish designs were printed directly on log slices.
Born in Hope, the artist is a member of the Snuneymuxw First Nation of Nanaimo, where her mother Ellen (Prest) Graham and grandmother Lavina (Wyse) Prest were born.
A descendant of the Wyse family, Graham-Krulicki signs her work ‘b. wyse’ as a nod to family history.
Her Stó:lõ roots date back to the late 1800s, and her great-grandmother was (Tata) Mary (Benn) Prest, wife of William Prest, from the Skwah First Nation.
Graham-Krulicki is now working as a member of the Sto:lo Tourism redevelopment team, operating and reinvigorating the Sto:lo Gift Shop on the Coqualeetza site, and showcasing the work of emerging and established aboriginal artisans.
She’s been winnowing down her choices of what to include in the show for more than a year. There will be several new works, and one of her favourite pieces is called Yellow Girl.
“There was just something about the beauty of her face as she came to light,” she said. “She represents youth and our hopes for the future.”
The show’s title, It Speaks to Me, was inspired by the poem My Heart Soars, by Chief Dan George.
“When it came to naming my show, I thought it was fitting,” she said.
“I wanted it to have cultural significance but with a modern twist.”
Chief Dan George wrote: “The beauty of the trees, the softness of the air, the fragrance of the grass, speaks to me.
“The summit of the mountain, the thunder of the sky, the rhythm of the sea, speaks to me.
“The strength of the fire, the taste of salmon, the trail of the sun, and the life that never goes away, they speak to me. And my heart soars.”
From the pride of a powwow dancer, or salmon warrior, to the woven basket and Halkomelem inspired words and phrases, she felt strongly about sharing some cultural elements that lit her fire.
“It became about how to get this into people’s hands.”
When a cedar basket came back to the Skwah First Nation from someone who owned it for decades, she had to draw one of the baskets.
“It was a great story to hear how it came back to the community, after all these years, and links directly to my Sto:lo lineage.”
It Speaks To Me is Nov. 26 to Jan. 2 in the O’Connor Group Art Gallery at the Cultural Centre, 9201 Corbould St. from 12 noon until 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Also 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on show nights. Artist’s Reception is Saturday, Nov. 28, 1 to 3 p.m.