Susan Point

International Terminal Building, Vancouver Airport


Salish spindle whorl flanked by house posts
(1996),
glass, metal, wood

CENTRAL SALISH Indian culture, situated at the mouth of the Fraser River, was one of the first of the coastal native societies to be inundated and quickly transformed by European presence. Its distinctive craft and design tradition disintegrated in the face of overwhelming technology. When Susan A. Point, a member of the Musqueam band in southwest Vancouver (a few miles from from the International Airport), began her art studies she employed methods and materials solely of the European tradition.

In her late twenties, Point began pursuing her Coast Salish roots in the scant and incomplete information found among museum collections, which were often richer in the art and artifacts of other tribes. She became singularly adept in intuiting and completing design motifs from fragmentary bits of wood, bone and antler, and eventually was able to formalize a set of design elements such as wedge, "U" and crescent shapes which are quintessentially Salish in disposition. Point was particularly drawn to the broad symbolism of the circular spindle whorl, a pierced and decorated wood disk which could be mounted on a shaft to wind spun wool.

In a career which began with drawing, painting, print and jewellery-making, Point has rapidly graduated to large public commissions such as the installation which now sets off the mezzanine and main stairway of International Arrivals. Two 17-foot Coast Salish Woman House Posts on the main floor frame a monumental 16-foot-diameter Coast Salish spindle which hovers at the top of the stairs. While the nominal theme of this installation is "Flight", Point takes the opportunity of welcoming travellers to the world she has re-discovered: a benign and gracefully enfolded coexistence of men and women under the sun and moon, eagles and salmon, fishers and flying geese. These are worked into the labyrinthine swirl of Salish wedges, "U"s and crescents: the signature of her people.

© Ted Lindberg