Story of influential syilx artist Toussowasket to be shared in Penticton | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Story of influential syilx artist Toussowasket to be shared in Penticton

Tadpole Group (1979)
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Toussowasket

The legacy of a trailblazing artist from Westbank First Nation will be the focus of the next Brown Bag Lecture Series in Penticton.

Noll C. Derriksan, also known as  Toussowasket, captured the syilx culture through visual representations such as paintings, pottery, and graphics. And he manifested his creations without a template to work with.

“Here in the Okanagan and B.C Interior, there wasn’t a huge tradition of visual art in the indigenous cultures,” said Paul Crawford, who will be delivering the lecture. 

Indigenous communities living near the coast had a steadier food supply and faced less extreme climates, so those environments were more conducive to the creation of visual art, like totem poles, Crawford said. But for those living further from the coast, a nomadic way of life was necessary, and that hinders the ability to make long-lasting art.

“They didn’t really have much art-making culture outside of basketry,” he said. “They didn’t really have any painting traditions.”

So when a creative visionary like Toussowasket came along – who was finding his place in the 1960s and 1970s – he was able to start a new chapter of syilx artwork.

“He really forged his own path and created a visual language that didn’t exist previously,” Crawford said.

Porcupine & Sun (1977)
Porcupine & Sun (1977)
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Toussowasket

In his early years as an artist, Toussowasket was mentored by Yugoslavian-born artist Zeljko Kujundzic. Kujundzic was a POW in the Second World War before moving to Canada in 1958, when he founded Kootenay School of Art in Nelson. The two would have crossed paths at some point after 1964, when Kujundzic moved to Kelowna to establish the Kelowna Art Centre near Richter Street and Bernard Avenue.

READ MORE: Okanagan Indian Band artist grew up asking 'where is our art?'

Toussowasket would go on to serve as president of the B.C. Indian Arts and Crafts Society, and he took “a very business-minded approach” to promote Indigenous art on a national scale, Crawford said. He also served as Chief of Westbank First Nation between 1968 and 1974.

As politics became a larger part of Toussowasket's endeavours, Crawford said he started to become a polarizing figure.

“You were on his side or you weren’t.”

He spent decades active in the local art scene and owned an art gallery in Westbank until the 1980s, but around that time the focus of his career shifted towards land development, Crawford said.

“And then he faded somewhat into obscurity.”

READ MORE: iN VIDEO: Indigenous artists on the cultural importance of Pelmewash Parkway installations in Lake Country

Crawford discovered Toussowasket in 2013 by finding one of his paintings at a thrift store in Victoria. When Crawford returned home to the Okanagan, he was pleasantly surprised to Google the name and find out Toussowasket lived just a short drive up Highway 97.

So Crawford – who’s the curator of the Penticton Art Gallery – reached out, and in 2018 invited Toussowasket to showcase his work once again.

Two years later, in 2020, Toussowasket passed away at the age of 79.

Crawford is a passionate storyteller who will be diving much deeper into Toussowasket's life during next week’s Brown Bag Lecture Series.

It’s happening Nov. 8 from noon to 1 p.m. at the Penticton Museum Auditorium. Admission is by a suggested donation $2 for adults and $1 for kids.

Mother Earth (1978)
Mother Earth (1978)
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Toussowasket

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dan Walton or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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