Retelling shines lovely light on ancient story
Celebrated Canadian artist teams with writer for children’s book about First Nations tale
West Coast artist Roy Henry Vickers has too much inspiration. And inspiration, he says, is really the breath of the creator running through a person.
He has looked at his life — he is now 66 — and decided the only way he is going to be able to create everything he wants to with the time he has left is to collaborate and teach others his ways. As one step in that direction, he has teamed up with Robert ( Lucky) Budd, historian and author of Voices of British Columbia, and created the first in a series of four children’s books that retell stories Vickers heard from his heroes as a child and young man growing up in British Columbia.
The first of those books is Raven Brings the Light, which is the story of how a young boy named Weget disguised himself as a raven to bring light down to Earth. The story is told in words that are meant to be read aloud; they’re written as told orally by Vickers to Budd. It is a story that has been passed down by First Nations people for at least 3,000 years, Vickers said, and it was first told to him by Chester Bolton, chief of the Ravens, from the village of Kitkatla, in about 1975.
But this book is so much more than the story. It contains a collection of stunning new prints by Vickers, which will form his largest collection of new prints released at one time. He says he thinks in pictures, so the collection of prints included in this new book has been brewing in his mind for many years. Once the pair started discussing the project, the drawings came fast and furious.
“It was way bigger than me or Lucky. It just became this other vehicle and you’re just hanging on for the ride,” Vickers said.
Vickers, who has received the Order of British Columbia, the Order of Canada, a hereditary chieftainship and several hereditary names from Northwest Coast First Nations, creates vividly coloured prints of natural scenes that include First Nations symbols and often contain shadow images within the larger picture. His art has been given to Queen Elizabeth and other foreign dignitaries visiting British Columbia and Canada. His print of Siwash Rock, released in 1988 as part of the Vancouver Series, and his trademark eagle moon image are distinct and notable.
The partnership between Budd and Vickers is clearly more than just a writer- illustrator relationship — there is a palpable energy between them. They first connected in 2011, when Vickers was looking for a story he had heard at the Royal British Columbia Museum on an archival recording. Budd was familiar with those recordings and helped Vickers find the one he was looking for, but the relationship didn’t end there. The two got talking and a year and half later, not only have they produced Raven Brings the Light, but they have three more children’s books planned, and they are working on a Vickers memoir.
Progress is slow on the memoir, however, because every time they get together to work on it, they get diverted onto another creative project. For example, when they were talking about art for Raven Brings the Light, they decided to make a video of Vickers’ creative process, which, like his artwork, is unique. He was introduced to computers early on and started drawing with a mouse directly onto a large monitor. From there, he fills in the colours; a process that he says is similar to the paint by numbers he grew up with. The results, however, are far superior.
Vickers is partly colour blind, something he says he thinks helps his work. He also has better- than- normal distance vision, and grew up observing the natural environment — the colour of the sea, or a small animal in the trees — and he says these three things have given him a unique perspective of the world, something he expresses in his art and that he hopes to pass on to others.
“( In my art) there are all off these little animals and birds in the negative spaces,” Vickers said. “The teaching process means to respect — which means to take another look at the world around you.”