Thunderbird is a work by the late Art (Arthur) Thompson, a Nuu-chah-nulth (Ditidaht) artist and a fierce advocate for the rights of residential school victims and survivors. We would like to thank the family of Art Thompson for granting us permission to reproduce the Thunderbird image and to use it as our First Nations Education Foundation logo. We are deeply honoured by this gesture and eternally grateful.
– First Nations Education Foundation –
About Art Thompson
Art Thompson was born in 1948 in the village of Whyac, on the western end of Nitinaht Lake on Vancouver Island. He was a renowned artist and a fierce advocate for survivors of residential school abuse. He was also one of the first survivors to have his case heard in court and to then receive acknowledgement of what had happened to him.
Thompson’s ancestral roots are in the Coast Salish (Cowichan) and Nuu-chah-nulth (Ditidaht) nations. His father and grandfather were also artists; known for their ceremonial pieces such as masks and regalia, as well as totem poles and canoes.
Thompson spent much of his childhood away from his family and his cultural traditions. At the age of two, he contracted tuberculosis and was hospitalized for three years. Shortly thereafter he was able to return to his family, but was then sent away to residential school in Port Alberni. He ran away several times before finally securing employment in the logging industry at the age of thirteen.
Just before his twelfth birthday, Thompson was initiated into the Tlu-Kwalla (Wolf Society) along with his brothers and sister – an ancient custom that is still very active today. This event was an important connection between Thompson and his cultural heritage and it influenced his later decision to become an artist.
In 1967, he enrolled in the Commercial Art program at Camosun College in Victoria, where he worked primarily in two dimensional mediums such as paint and pastels. During this time he began to explore a narrative style with traditional Nuu-chah-nulth design. His advanced understanding of traditional Nuu-chah-nulth design came at a time when this style had been virtually overlooked in the scholastic studies that were shaping the growing interest in Northwest Coast art.
Thompson’s personal contribution to Northwest Coast art includes the use of strong contemporary and traditional design shapes with a narrative approach to myth and legend. He brought new colors and original subject matter to his work. These early serigraph prints are now considered to be a turning point in establishing Art Thompson, Nuu-chah-nulth design, and the print medium as a whole, in the contemporary art market.
You can learn more about Art Thompson’s life and his art at the following sources: