Artist Hjalmer Wenstob stands with a carving he made at the Cedar House Gallery, which opened on March 17 in Ucluelet. The artwork depicts the story of Tlehpika, Wenstob's great-great-great-great grandfather. (Carla Moss photo)
On March 17, the first day of the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, 25-year-old ƛaʔuukʷiʔatḥ (Tla-o-qui-aht) artist Hjalmer Wenstob and his family transformed the Cedar House Gallery , Huu-mees Ma-as, into a new kind of gathering place in Ucluelet’s Whiskey Landing.
While the art and stories of many skilled Nuu-chah-nulth artists can be found in the gallery, it’s also a place that holds an inclusive work space for community creation and learning.
Wenstob explained his real passion is in the relationships around the creation of art: the conversation and community born out of the carving.
“I think it’s important when you’re learning language or about each other to embrace each other and find a way to work together,” he said. “With the new gallery, the Cedar House Gallery that my family and I just opened, we want to make a space where we can come together and do this work and learn from each other and grow.”
Over the two weeks of the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, Huu-mees Ma-as debuted its first community carving project: an eight-foot dorsal orca fin. The two-week project was co-funded by Community Plan H Action Plan and saw participation from over 50 people.
“For two weeks we transformed the gallery back into more of a workshop,” said Wenstob. “They helped shape and paint it and then at end of the whale festival we went to the Kwisitis Center and we had an Elder from Ucluelet come with us, Richard Mundy, to help with the unveiling of it.”
“We wanted to donate it back to our community,” he added, “so we decided the Pacific Rim National Park, which kind of ties us all together on the coast here, would be a beautiful space and a beautiful reminder of our relationship to whales, and also a reminder of our traditional territory of Tla-o-qui-aht where I’m from.”
In recognizing that he and his family are ƛaʔuukʷiʔatḥ living in Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ (Ucluelet) territory, Wenstob said they are seeking to do their work in the best way possible. Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ President, Les Doiron’s and elder Richard Mundy’s acceptance of their invitation made the gallery opening a beautiful occasion, said Wenstob, “more of a family gathering than anything with gift giving and sharing of words.”
Creations from many well-known, skilled Nuu-chah-nulth artists from up and down the coast fills the retail space of the gallery, including pieces from Patrick Amos, Joe David, Marika Swan, Ike Charlie, Harry Williams, Jimmy Zahir (Mickey), Clifford and Linda George, Rose and Brian Wilson, Doug David, Mark Mickey, Stan Thompson, Hjalmer himself and many more. Some work from Kwakwaka'wakw and Coast Salish artists is also available.
A graduate from the Ucluelet Secondary School and the University of Victoria’s Master of Fine Arts program, Wenstob is happy to be home with a gallery in a building his grandfather designed and built.
“Our family crest is carved into the concrete floor at Whiskey Landing,” he said. “It’s exciting to come back home after being away. I’ve been at UVic for the last six years, so it’s really wonderful to come back home and create, carve and work in that space.”
Hjalmer and his wife, Annika, have a 15-month-old daughter named Huumiis. When they first bought the gallery from Hjalmer’s uncle they were happy to learn the official name the of the Cedar House Gallery was Huu-mees (Cedar) Ma-as(House). “This is Huumiis’ house. It’s our little girl’s house,” said Wenstob.
“This is important for my family, my baby girl, my wife Annika, my mom and dad, my brother,” he added. “That’s why it becomes more community around the gallery when people come around, share food and laugh.”
With carvers from all over the coast represented, artworks in progress, community and his younger brother Tim Masso teaching the Nuu-chah-nulth language, Wenstob sees the Cedar House Gallery as a “safe place for people to come learn a little bit about the coast, and a space to grow.”