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BC Art and Artifacts Bought; BC Has Lost Heritage and Cultural Symbols

In a (delayed) followup to my post about Tsimshian artifacts on the auction block, it appears that the Dundas Collection has been purchased by David Thomson, son of former Globe and Mail chairman, the late Kenneth Thomson. The intention seems to be to display the objects at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa and the Museum of Northern British Columbia in Prince Rupert also acquired some items. The Royal BC Museum was also involved in financing the repatriation.

While lauding the purchase of the collection and the intention to house it publicly, the Vancouver Sun complains that it is a shame that the artifacts are going to Ontario:

So what did B.C. miss out on? Simply put, a time capsule — all the artifacts are backed up with a 250,000-word diary describing how and when they were made — and a chance to cement itself as the unchallenged crucible and repository of Northwest native art on the continent.

B.C. philanthropists and political leaders might want to listen to Susan Marsden, curator of the Museum of Northern B.C. in Prince Rupert, to understand what was a stake in last week’s New York auction.

“The fact [the collection] is in Canada is wonderful; the fact it’s [likely to be] in an institution is wonderful,” said Marsden. “It’s not lost to Canadians and it’s not lost to the Tsimshian.”

But Northwest native art has become an internationally recognized cultural icons of B.C. You can see that if you step into the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., pass through Vancouver International airport or look at the back of a $20 bill: all show Bill Reid’s masterpiece, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, a massive bronze that many critics see as the apex of modern Northwest native art, which Reid helped to revive by studying the native artifacts preserved in B.C. museums.

“This [the Dundas collection] is part of B.C.’s energy and identity and it should have been brought back here,” lamented Marsden. “It could have had all kinds of spinoffs.”

“My dream,” she adds, “was to have the major museums in Canada get together, approach all levels of government, own it jointly and have it travel, but also make it a major focus for the 2010 Olympics. Think about that. Wouldn’t that have been something?”

An earlier Vancouver Sun story is here (or here). The Canwest News Service report is here.

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