Two hinkeets masks, created by Tla-o-qui-aht artist, make their way at Museum of Vancouver | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Two hinkeets masks, created by Tla-o-qui-aht artist, make their way at Museum of Vancouver

Vancouver, BC

Tleḥpik Hjalmer Wenstob, a recipient of the 2022 YVR Art Foundation Scholarship, has two steam-bent hinkeets masks on display at the Museum of Vancouver in their “Creation Stories: Carrying Our Traditions Forward” exhibit, which opened on June 19. 

“Being Tla-o-qui-aht and being Nuu-chah-nulth, I really wanted to make something that stayed very true to our tradition,” said Wenstob, noting that he modeled the pieces off of hinkeets masks he’s seen in museum collections. “[I] wanted to make these and honor, and kind of homage to those pieces that are no longer with our people,” said Wenstob.

Wenstob shared that hinkeets masks continue to be danced in Nuu-chah-nulth culture, and chose to carve two of them because they are always danced in pairs. 

“The paint, the colors, they're all inspired from these old pieces in the museum collections, of course, with my own artistic spin on them,” Wenstob shared with Ha-Shilth-Sa. 

Wenstob and nine other emerging and mid-career Indigenous artists each received scholarship awards of $5,000 to “pursue their art practice through mentorships, education or community focused art projects.”

For Wenstob, he applied for the scholarship aspiring to learn a new skill: steam bending.

Steam bending is a woodworking technique where steam is used to make the wood more pliable and easier to shape. Once the wood cools, it maintains the shape that it was worked into.

For Wenstob’s process, he shared with Ha-Shilth-Sa that he first carved the masks before steaming them. 

“This was because I thought the steaming process would create the masks to be very delicate and I wanted to make sure that they wouldn't have too much force on them from carving them after,” he said. “Once they were steamed, I let them sit and dry for quite a while before finishing them, going back in and painting them.”

Over a decade ago, Wenstob was awarded for the very same scholarship, which partners artists with mentors. For both projects, his mentor was his grandfather.

But for Wenstob, creating his artwork is interwoven with his entire family including his grandparents, parents, brother, aunt, wife, and two children.

“My entire family has always supported my carving and creating, and everyone's been involved in pretty much every project I do,” said Wenstob. “I don't think I could do it without them and I honestly don't think I'd want to venture into an opportunity where I had to create without them.”

He notes that everything that he takes on, including Cedar House Gallery, which is owned by Wenstob and his family, is there with them representing four generations. 

Prior to the Museum of Vancouver show, Wenstob’s masks were displayed for one year at the Vancouver International airport where international, national, and domestic audiences could view his work. 

“Now, them being at the Museum of Vancouver really opened the audience up to be able to see the pieces in a different space,” said Wenstob. 

Once the Museum of Vancouver exhibit comes to a close, Wenstob plans to showcase the two hinkeets masks at Cedar House Gallery, based in Ucluelet. 

But what is most exciting for the artist is that currently he has his work showing in five different locations: Museum of Vancouver, Alberni Valley Museum, Clayoquot Biosphere Trust office, Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

“For a Nuu-chah-nulth artist living at home, at Long Beach, and being able to have my work showing in so many different communities across the lower end of British Columbia, it’s pretty exciting,” said Wenstob.

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