Tweaking the mounting of her art panels in Gastown’s Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery, Corrine Hunt, Kwakwaka’wakw/Tlingit jewelry designer and mixed-media artist, exudes a gentle confidence.
Hunt is a survivor of some of life’s most brutal crises and doesn’t sugarcoat what she experienced working through them. Coping with tragedy through humour has inspired her new exhibition, Resilience: Through Laughter.
A member of the Raven Gwa’waina Clan from Alert Bay, she comes from a long line of prestigious Canadian artists including carvers Henry, Tony, Richard and Stanley Hunt.
Hunt remembers as a child watching in awe as her uncle and mentor, jewelry designer Norman Brotchie created intricate engraved pieces.Hunt also recalls that as a child, she used diapers as a canvas for her first drawings.
“My great-great grandmother Anisalaga was a Tlingit noblewoman from the “Drift Ashore” house in Tongass, Alaska. A weaver, her pieces are in collections all over the world, so I’m just a small spec in that legacy,” Hunts says.
Hunt’s background majoring in Anthropology and Latin American Studies at Simon Fraser University led to stints working in Mexico — and to her fascination with other cultures.
“I’m the kind of person who just goes out and explores things, especially when I travel,” Hunt says. “And while of course I’m influenced by my own culture, I don’t rely on traditional myths as inspiration for my contemporary pieces. I can be inspired by a Kandinsky painting or the laughter at a traditional potlatch in my village. I really love organic shapes in my work that make people just want to reach out and touch them. I try to give all my pieces an ephemeral quality that challenges people to ask questions,” she says.
Hunt began working with silver and gold in the 1980s, creating contemporary rings and layered pendants like Totem Moves, and bracelets and earrings engraved with abstract indigenous symbols and inlaid gemstones.
She soon discovered sculpture, carving modern totem poles and gallery installations. “I’m a gatherer and love finding my cedar and driftwood and then decide in the moment what I’m going to create. The cedar tree in our culture is known as ‘the tree of life’ and the wood is really beautiful when it comes alive, even if it’s at 1 a.m.,” she laughs.
Hunt’s addition of metal and abalone as depicted in the Exhibition’s title art, Eagle Mask, and their juxtaposition with vividly painted wood creates a rich, reflective, multi-dimensional aspect to her pieces.
White Heron, one of several 3D wall panels, is laser-cut from steel and perches on yellow cedar wood. Not only consigned to the indoors, Hunt’s panels can be mounted in the garden or on a deck, the aromatic wood aging to a soft grey patina over time.
Hunt’s insatiable curiosity and global interests have contributed to her tremendous versatility when presented with challenging projects.
Some of her most public projects include logo design for the 2006 World Peace Forum in Vancouver; collaboration with Vancouver lighting designer, Omer Arbel for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games medals, to fashion accessories like vibrant eyeglass frames for AYA Optical to the Corrine Hunt Collection of hand-made Mukluks for Canadian footwear brand, Manitobah.
In 2011, Hunt travelled to Dresden, Germany with an exhibition she designed entitled The Power of Giving at the historic Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Museum. It featured 67 pieces of potlatch art originally confiscated by the Canadian government in 1921 when potlatch celebrations were banned.
In 2018 she collaborated with the Granted Sweater Company in B.C. and Burton Snowboards to create the motifs for knitted jackets sported by the Canadian Freestyle Snowboarding Team at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in Korea.
Resilience: Through Laughter also premieres Hunt’s newest foray in wood: a collection of coffee tables that are so cleverly executed, they can’t help but illicit laughter. Emerging Turtle (End Table) pokes its inquisitive head out of a hollow carved within the reclaimed red cedar.
“I just moved back to my community and studio on Cormorant Island in Alert Bay last year and it’s been a joyful time in my life,” says Hunt. “Our culture is a thriving one. We are a very resilient people.”