A Sculpture for the Ages

November 1, 2013
‘namaxsala by Mary Anne Barkhouse

‘namaxsala by Mary Anne Barkhouse
Photo Ryan McCosham, IMG2013-0156-0002-Dm © Canadian Museum of Civilization

It is a powerful image that reaches across the ages — a life-sized bronze female wolf in a gleaming copper canoe seeming to float in the lower pond beside the Museum of Civilization’s Grand Hall.

‘Namgis First Nation sculptor Mary Anne Barkhouse was inspired by her grandfather’s story of giving a pregnant wolf a ride in his skiff through treacherous waters. The sculpture is called’namaxsala, which in the Kwakwala language means “to travel in a boat together”.

“What does it take to let a wolf, a predator, get in your boat?” asks Mary Anne Barkhouse. “’namaxsala reminds us of the value of independent thought and of compassion for all living things. One of my grandfathers was a farmer and the other was a fisherman. I grew up with a sense of stewardship of the land, stewardship of the water. This has infiltrated my art.”

The Museum was able to commission’namaxsala thanks to the generosity of Manitoba philanthropists John and Bonnie Buhler. “When I saw the model of a wolf in a canoe, I thought: How unique, I’d love to learn more about it,” says John Buhler. “Its originality had an immediate appeal. It seemed unbelievable, but now it’s a reality, and I love it.”

Mary Anne Barkhouse, artist

Mary Anne Barkhouse, artist
Photo Ryan McCosham, IMG2013-0156-0013-Dm © Canadian Museum of Civilization

Now retired, John Buhler was founder and owner of the highly successful Buhler Industries Ltd., Canada’s only tractor manufacturer. He and Bonnie have long been passionate philanthropists, making charitable donations to healthcare and education and to many other organizations such as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Manitoba Children’s Museum. ’namaxsala is the first major project outside of Manitoba that they have supported.

Connecting Past and Present

Born in Vancouver, Mary Anne Barkhouse is a descendant of a long line of internationally recognized Kwakwaka’wakw artists, including Ellen Neel, Mungo Martin and the artist’s great-great grandfather Charlie James, whose model totem pole is in the Grand Hall at the Museum of Civilization.

Mary Anne Barkhouse’s choice of copper, long used by Kwakwaka’wakw artists, connects her with ancestral traditions, while casting the wolf in bronze reflects contemporary artistic practice.

John and Bonnie Buhler

John and Bonnie Buhler, patrons
Photo Ryan McCosham, IMG2013-0156-0009-Dm © Canadian Museum of Civilization

“All of us who saw the installation go in said that it looked as if it was meant to be there and is original to the design of the building,” says Mark O’Neill, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. “With this sculpture, Mary Anne Barkhouse’s work joins an important collection of contemporary aboriginal art commissioned by the Museum, including powerful work by Bill Reid, Daphne Odjig, Alex Janvier and Shelley Niro.”

“It’s the perfect location for ’namaxsala,” says Mary Anne Barkhouse. “In the Grand Hall there’s the work of my family from previous generations. It couldn’t go anywhere else.”

Interested in taking an active role in shaping and preserving Canada’s history for generations to come? Contact Jean-Charles D’Amours, Director, Major Gifts and Sponsorships at 819-776-8272 or jdamours@historymuseum.ca