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Carver Vic Reece: L.A. exhibit sparks calls to artist


Terry Lusty, Prince Rupert, BC








"Everyone is a unique individual," or so the saying goes. One of those individuals is Vic Reece, who is one of the exhibitors in the Loss Angeles Celebration of Canadian Native Contemporary Art which continues until April 26 at the Southwest Museum there.

Reece, who lives in Prince Ruper, BC, contributed a carved wooden portrait mask called "Spirit of Shaman" to the display. Since then, he says, he get "a lot of (phone) calls" about his work.

A carver of wood and bone for the past dozen years and of metal for the last couple of years, Victor Reece has found his niche. Apart from his profession as a carver, he also does public speaking engagements and story telling.

Reece born in 1946 of Tsimshian parents still carves and the pride he displays through his art is evident from the products he turns out. His art is masterful whether it is masks, fish clubs, halibut hooks, paddles, or any other item.

His work has been exhibited in the Orient and has the distinction of being displayed elsewhere such as in the offices of Petro Canada in Calgary and at the New York Art Federation.

Raised at Harley Bay, B.C. (about 50 miles southwest of Kitimat), Reece is the product of a culture in which oratory and story telling were dominant. As a youth he listened and remembers many of the stories he heard as a child. Today, he tells those same stories to young and old alike.

Coupled wit that knowledge has been additional information gamered as a result of extensive research into his people's history and two-year art program he completed in 1974 at the K'san School in Hazelton. The school has an international reputation for the fine crop of Indian artisans who have gone through its doors including such eminent masters as Dempsey Bob and Glen Wood. In fact, one of Reece's most major works was a 16-foot pole caring that he and Bob completed at Metlakatla, Alaska, in 1979.

Because he has established a fair reputation as a carver, Reece no longer works on speculation. That is beneath any good carver and would not be appropo. Any works which he does today are commissioned pieces.

The cultural knowledge which Reece has acquired over the years he now applies to his art. It provides the very foundation for whatever carving he works at and through his art, he keep s the traditions of his own heritage alive. Each and every one of this carvings have a story behind it.

Reece views his artistic talents as an endowment from the Creator. He is quick to point out that he feels "gifted to live in a time when our culture can be continued." He acknowledges the fact the "Native culture almost disappeared" but "with education being what it is, there's a renewed move to preserve the culture."

To his credit, Reece does not speak singularly about Native culture. Certainly, he has a special place for it in his heart and thinks that what he does "is valuable not only to my culture, but others." The man had been active in planning and operating youth programs and it is those youth who have provided him with the opportunity to practice the art of telling stories. And, they listen, spellbound, as he weaves the stories and legends of his people.

This summer, Reece took his first stab at addressing an adult audience. Speaking at a public gathering at Prince Rupert's gondola lift station, he began by providing some background about his upbringing and how he came to be doing what he is going and enjoying today. While his presentations are formal, he keeps the tone and atmosphere as informal as possible.

What led Reece to pursue his present vocation was a chance meeting with an inmate from the B.C. Penetentiary about 15 years ago. The inmate, who is a well known artist today, "inspired me to get into my culture," said Reece. That person, he explained, "was locked away but his spirit was not." His ability to create and to inspire others had not left him. Today, that spirit flourishes in the art and actions of Reece.

As a child care worker, he cares for an guids four young children through life's journey, instilling in them self-identity and pride in their culture. What he learned from others, he now passes on to the youth, thus sharing the legacy of his own cultural roots.

Reece has a penchant for the reserve communities. The villages, he says, "continue to be a secure place for people to live in."

"'There are about 25,000 Native people who live in and around Prince Rupert" he informed "Windspeaker." For Natives, he added, "cities are different and problems Natives have area different. In every culture, there are problems. To deal with this we must understand one another."

To Reece, one means of accommodating that understanding is through stories. "They're not intended to impose ideas on others but to instill values associated with growing," he claims.

Raven, a central figure in many of his stories, is the subject of his messages. Through the stories about Raven, he weaves in morals and values which help to assist one in developing individual strengths such as honesty, goodness, sharing, and other positive traits that contribute to being a good person.

Reece maintains that if one doesn't share values with others, they will be lost. Given that, he has more incentive to share his stories, stories with a message, stories that teach values.

Reece's grandmother shared her stories with him during his childhood years, or rather the stories of her people, for no one individual owns them. It was "her way of teaching and of practicing the oral tradition," says Reece.

And what of the future? Reece is part of a team that is at present striving to establish a Native fine arts school, probably in the Rupert area, that would "create more employment and encourage cultural awareness."

He also hopes to purchase a van that could be used to a North American tour. The tour would involve a package that he would develop on North West coast stories, songs, regalia, foods and medicinal plants as well as examples of his carvings.

IN themeantime, Reece is on contract (Sept/86 ? July/87) to the Port Simpson Band. He is on staff at the reserve school as an art instructor for grades eight through 10. Port Simpson lies about 20 miles north of Prince Rupert.

In his capacity as an art educator, Reece is teaching Northwest Coast design, flat painting and basic wood carving as well as Native culture and history with special emphasis on Tsimshian culture.