“Water is so important to us,” says Marion Radawetz, a Westbank First Nations artist making a splash in her community.
Presented at the WFN Heritage Offices and Repository in the Governor’s Landing building off Highway 97 as part of the 60 Artists in 60 Days initiative the Arts Council of the Central Okanagan is hosting, Radawetz’s jewelry is both unique to the show, as it’s jewelry, and groundbreaking within the artistic community of the WFN.
Unlike, the prolific First Nations artists on the coast who have turned jewelry making into a notable industry married to coastal tourism, gold and silver rings and pendants are not something anyone within the Interior Salish community has been making.
And it took Radawetz half a lifetime to work up to the task.
“I didn’t pursue it for a long time because of the capital investment,” she explained. “Just the tools cost $10,000.”
Add to that the fact she would literally be trailblazing an entire art form, and she admits the task was daunting.
But her mother, who is imbued with the same artistic spirit, saw that the fine, detailed artistry was in her daughter’s hands.
She encouraged her to set aside her work advising on First Nations issue in government and in the hospitality industry to pursue the life of an artist.
Radawetz trained in Kelowna under a metalsmith who instilled a healthy fear of the small knives and razors capable of slicing right through a finger that she how uses to craft her pieces. Then she set about building her first creations.
Radawetz focuses on the c’pcaptik,’ the oral history passed down through her community and extensive family; she is a Derrickson by birth.
Her art draws heavily on the bear and coyote, both represented in the WFN logo, the eagle, dragonfly and even salamander. And she believes each piece has a spirit
“For me, the eagle has more of a global vision of things, not such a bird’s eye view,” she said as she rattled off a string of qualities associated with each entity she includes.
The bear, representing strength and courage, is on her signature piece.
For the past five years, she has been making the grad rings every WFN graduate who completes high school receives.
“I’ve always loved jewelry because, to me, it’s always been a measurement of time,” she said.
“You always know when and where it came from and where it’s been, and you know it’s been on a journey.”
The grad rings, a small band with a bear paw resting on top, will be family heirlooms, something the students can pass down to their own children when they reach graduation.
It’s been challenging developing her art without a lineage to follow, other artists who might pass on knowledge of the craft, she said.
By and large, all of the Coast Salish artists work from well-worn templates of what the animals and images they represent look like.
In Radawetz’s work, even the making decisions about which animals to represent, which stories from her history should be recognized in the work and exactly how to represent the culture is entirely in her hands.
The Interior Salish people have only been colonized for 200 years, she explained, and trading for gold and silver, as the coastal First Nations peoples would have done, was not of value.
So she focuses on animals facing extinction and ensures almost every piece references water, reflections, the lifeblood of the valley.
Radawetz’s work will be on display for the next month in the WFN Heritage Offices and Repository.
The 60 Artists, 60 Spaces will run over the course of the next two months throughout the Central Okanagan with artwork from area artists displayed in a wide variety of locations.