VICKERS, Roy Henry




Author Tags: Aboriginal Authors, Art

Roy Henry Vickers was born in 1946 in Greenville, B.C. His mother Grace Freeman was a schoolteacher of Yorkshire ancestry; his father Arthur Vickers was a half-Tsimshian, half-Heiltsuk fisherman. His grandfather, Henry Vickers, was a Heiltsuk who left Bella Bella to marry a Tsimshian woman in Kitlatka, a small village on Dolphin Island near Prince Rupert.

Raised in Kitkatla, as well as in Hazelton and Victoria, Roy Henry Vickers graduated from Oak Bay High School in 1965. He worked as a fireman in Victoria prior to attending the Kitanmax (or Gitanmaax) School of Northwest Indian Art at ’Ksan on the Skeena River.

Vickers co-founded the Northwest Native Artists Guild with Robert Davidson and Art Thompson. After ending his two-year marriage with Liane Leslie Vickers in 1978, Vickers spent two years fishing and moved to Tofino in 1980. He had his first exhibition at the Eagle Down Gallery in Edmonton, a facility that was opened in 1978 by his sister Margaret Ruth Vickers.

Vickers’ first coffee table book Solstice: The Art of Roy Vickers (1988) was a bestseller. His second coffee table book is Copperman: The Art of Roy Henry Vickers (2003). He also provided 25 paintings for The Elders Are Watching (1990), a poetic text by Dave Bouchard.

The documentation of how Vickers carved a 30-foot Salmon Pole for the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria is provided in Spirit Transformed: A Journey from Tree to Totem (1996), with 50 photographs by Bob Herger. It describes how Vickers transformed a majestic cedar from the Walbran Valley and also how he overcame personal demons as an alcoholic from the late 1960s until 1992, when he checked himself out of an alcohol recovery clinic in Arizona.

While living on the Tsartlip Reserve near Victoria, Vickers has acted as an artistic advisor for the building of Saanich Commonwealth Place and consulted on the refurbishment for the Vancouver International Airport. In 1987, the provincial government presented Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with an original painting by Vickers entitled “A Meeting of Chiefs” at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Vancouver. Copies of Vickers’ print entitled “The Homecoming” were given to American President Bill Clinton and Soviet President Boris Yeltsin at their Vancouver summit meeting in April of 1993.

Some of Vickers’ paintings have price tags of more than $30,000. His former wife tried unsuccessfully to sue him for proceeds from some of his art sales, partially on the grounds that she had inspired some of his work, but B.C. Supreme Court Justice Hugh Davies ruled in 1991 that the delay in her demand to enforce a 1981 settlement order was inordinate.

“Change comes from understanding ourselves,” said Vickers, who converted to Christianity. “Revival, culture, heritage, environment. These are the key words for this last decade of the century.”

Roy Henry Vickers donated his Eagle Full Circle design for the BC Book Prizes logo and in June of 1993 he presented a traditional copper shield called a hyetsk to the chiefs of the Heilsuk First Nation in Bella Bella. Vickers built Tofino’s Eagle Aerie Gallery in 1986 and the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery in Brentwood Bay in 1999.

Raven Brings the Light (Harbour), by Robert "Lucky" Budd and artist Roy Henry Vickers features 12 new prints from the artist, and tells the story of Weget bringing light to the world, a Northwest Coast legend that has been traced back three millennia by archaeologists. In a time when darkness covered the land, the story goes, a boy named Weget turns into a raven and flies from Haida Gwaii into the sky, where he tricks the Chief of the Heavens and manages to bring the sun - kept in a box - back to earth. This particular version of the tale originates from Chester Bolton, Chief of the Ravens, who told it to Vickers in 1975.

According to publicity materials: "In a time when darkness covered the land, a boy named Weget is born who is destined to bring the light. With the gift of a raven's skin that allows him to fly as well as transform, Weget turns into a bird and journeys from Haida Gwaii into the sky. There he finds the Chief of the Heavens who keeps the light in a box. By transforming himself into a pine needle, clever Weget tricks the Chief and escapes with the daylight back down to Earth. Vividly portrayed through the art of Roy Henry Vickers, Weget's story has been passed down for generations. The tale has been traced back at least 3,000 years by archeologists who have found images of Weget's journey in petroglyphs on the Nass and Skeena rivers."

Storyteller (2014) collect Vickers' work over a preceding decade and includes 118 unpublished works. It includes notes from Vickers pertaining to each painting. Cloudwalker (2014) is about the origins of B.C.'s three largest salmon-bearing rivers with eighteen new Vickers prints.

In Orca Chief (Harbour 2015), a third collaborative book of Northwest Coast legends featuring Roy Henry Vickers's illustrations and Robert Budd's text, four careless fishermen are taught, by Orca Chief, to respect the oceans and sustainably harvest their seaweed and salmon. It remained on the BC Bestseller list for months. The book was shortlisted for a Christie Harris illustrated children's literature prize and a Bill Duthie booksellers' choice award.

The first two books in the series, Raven Brings the Light (2013) and Cloudwalker (2014), went on to become national bestsellers. The fourth and final installment in the series, Peace Dancer (Harbour 2016) tells what happens when children mistreat a crow, anger the Chief of the Heavens, bring down a terrible storm, and how villagers stranded by the storm make amends by promising to teach their children the value of all life and the importance of respect.

BOOKS:

Solstice: The Art of Roy Vickers (Eagle Dancer Enterprises / Raincoast, 1988)
The Elders Are Watching (Eagle Dancer Enterprises, 1990). Text by Dave Bouchard.
Spirit Transformed: A Journey from Tree to Totem (Raincoast, 1996). Photos by Bob Herger.
Copperman: The Art of Roy Henry Vickers (Eagle Dancer Enterprises, 2003)
Raven Brings the Light (Harbour 2013). With text by Robert Budd
Storyteller: The Art of Roy Henry Vickers (Harbour, 2014). 978-1-55017-640-7. $49.95
Cloudwalker (Harbour, 2014). With text by Robert Budd. 978-1-55017-619-3. $19.95
Orca Chief (Harbour, 2015) $19.95 978-1-55017-693-3 Co-written with Robert Budd.
Peace Dancer (Harbour 2016) $19.95 978-1-55017-739-8 Co-written with Robert Budd.

[BCBW 2016]

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Storyteller: the Art of Roy Henry Vickers