Coast Salish carver Luke Marston is once again honouring his Portuguese and First Nations roots with a captivating public art installation destined for the country’s largest city and capital.
The famed local artist is the great-great grandson of Kwatleemaat and Joe Silvey, an adventurer from the coastal European country’s Azores Islands who arrived in B.C. aboard a whaling schooner in 1860 and was an early settler of Vancouver’s Gastown.
“It made sense to me to do the cod lure because of their (Portuguese) traditional food is called bacalhau, which is like a salted cod,” said Marston, leaning over one of the prongs of the sculpture in his workshop as he delicately carves the finishing touches. “And, because of the same resemblance to the Stanley Park sculpture – they sort of talk to each other.”
That sculpture he’s referring to is the 14-foot bronze cast Shore to Shore which was unveiled at Brockton Point in Stanley Park in 2015. It’s a recorded family history with a ‘Unity’ eagle head also resembling a bird of the Azores.
Also a cod lure, it honours the link between Portuguese and First Nations cultures and is on the site of his family’s ancestral village.
Shore to Shore captured the attention of Portugal’s Ambassador to Canada and Marston flew to Lisbon in spring of 2017 and toured city hall as well as public art galleries with the hopes of commissioning a similar piece of First Nations artwork for Lisbon.
“I loved the way their cities are set up and it’s so art-inspired, everything is art,” said Marston, who has travelled extensively throughout Europe as well as to Japan.
He played with the idea of creating a house post but the intense Portuguese heat would have almost certainly damaged any cedar piece over the long term.
The artist finished up the cod lure carving earlier this month and flew to Lisbon last week to deliver the pieces to a foundry where a mold will be created before it’s cast in bronze.
Flowing across the three prongs is the carefully carved representation of the sea wolf. A closer look reveals dorsal fins and cod encircled in ocean waves. The entire piece is approximately two metres tall and topping the sculpture is a wolf head.
“I chose the story of the sea wolf because it represents families travelling together – the wolf pack travels together and they transform into killer whales and then hunt the ocean and travel as a family,” Marston said. “If you look at it on a more political level, it’s like the transformation of First Nations people coming to the forefront again, and having their voice and moving forward in that way and gaining their identity back as a whole.”
The base on which the cod lure will eventually sit is also a sea wolf design made out of white and black Portuguese stone. It too was designed by Marston.
Funding for the public art installation was provided through the federal government’s Canada 150 program.
“It’s kind of like a working symbol of reconciliation,” he said of this piece and Shore to Shore.
Part of the mandate of Canadian embassies worldwide is to promote an appreciation and greater understanding for First Nations artwork.
Now his piece will be at the forefront of Lisbon’s lively modern art scene.
“When you look at it just through mainstream art, native art is just at its very beginning,” Marston said.
The unveiling is anticipated to be part of the huge three-day international contemporary art fair called Arco Lisboa, which features over 12,000 visitors and 45 galleries from eight countries.
Marston said he was impressed that Lisbon officials were also giving him the final say on the location.
“It’s getting super exciting because I’m getting that feeling of finishing something,” he said. “Now I get to see where the location is and then I can really finalize what the piece is going to be like.”