Chief Beau Dick – a rarity.
Critically acclaimed, versatile, super talented Northwest Coast artist.
Tough, focussed, determined, First Nations social activist.
What made Dick stand out was his haunting, memorable, strong, art, and his vocal, fierce, public demonstrations seeking redress for the abuse, neglect, social, political, injustices his people have suffered for generations and continue to suffer from.
Dick was born in Alert Bay, B.C., lived in Kingcome Inlet, Vancouver, and Victoria, eventually returning to Alert Bay to live and work.
He began carving at an early age. He learned the art of carving from his dad, Benjamin Dick, and his grandfather, James Dick.
Working with master carvers Bill Reid, Robert Davidson, and Tony Hunt, honed his skills.
Today Dick is one of the pre-eminent Northwest Coast carvers.
His masks dramatic, haunting, stark and memorable.
Years ago we bought one of his masks – a treasured possession.
Dick also made prints – wonderful depictions of Northwest Coast traditions and mythology.
He was a pioneer – a social activist – bringing awareness to the public and the politicians of the plight of Canada’s First Nations people
Twice, he, and fellow First Nations people demonstrated in front Canada’s political institutions, breaking the copper.
In 2013 it was in front of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria and the following year, in front of Parliament in Ottawa.
Breaking the copper was part of the Idle No More movement, indigenous people protesting that their guaranteed rights, engendered by various treaties, were violated by governments.
In Victoria Dick said:
“The copper is a symbol of justice, truth and balance, and to break one is a threat, a challenge and can be an insult . . . there should be an apology.”
His position in Ottawa even tougher:
“In breaking this copper we confront the tyranny and oppression of a government who has forsaken human rights and turned its back on nature in the interests of the almighty dollar, and we act in accordance with our laws”.
Dick’s work has been shown at major art exhibitions in London, Sydney, Australia, Athens, New York, and Kassel, Germany.
Art collectors everywhere have sought his works – especially of late, his masks now hard to find, prices jumping through the roof.
A Personal Note
Over the years I got to know Dick. We saw each other often, especially at the Douglas Reynolds Gallery in Vancouver, a gallery specializing in First Nations Art.
Dick would often sing and dance at art openings at the gallery either when he had a new show of his works or those of other artists.
We would chat and I remember it so well – he always had a twinkle in his eye, often followed by a slight chuckle when telling stories about himself or others.
Once he invited me to a special potlach at Alert Bay, but much to my regret I never went.
However, later, we met again at the Douglas Reynolds Gallery and I invited him to come and be my guest on a podcast I was doing, Cool Conversations.
A week later I picked him up at the University of British Columbia for the interview. He was an artist-in-residence there, lived there, along with a studio where he could carve.
The interview went really well, lasting for about an hour.
But that wasn’t the end of it.
After the interview we spent almost three hours together – Dick telling story after story, about his life, how he had stopped doing drugs, his carving career, and the betrayal by Canada’s politicians of First Nations people.
What a treasured and awesome experience.
I drove him back to UBC and just before we got to the residence he gave me a card, with his name and telephone number, saying, ”if you want come and see me at my carving studio let me know”, with that twinkle in his eye and then he was gone.
To my regret I never went. A few months he died suddenly from heart complications.
A documentary was made about Dick. Below are some excerpts.
Beau Dick – artist, activist, human being, par excellence.
Always remembered as the gentle soul that could and did.