By Kate Petrusa
As an Anthropology graduate student very new to the world of museums, I didn’t have the slightest idea how much thought and intention goes into selecting and curating exhibits. Starting March 17, 2012, MOA is presenting Kesu’: The Art and Life of Doug Cranmer, showing Doug’s impact on Northwest Coast art and artists. So significant was his impact that, after his passing in 2006, a large group of family, friends, and community members worked hard raising money and generating ideas in order to recognize Doug. Together, they laid the groundwork that has brought the Kesu’ exhibition and book to fruition, with the enthusiastic help of MOA.
Doug’s influences as an artist, mentor and cultural leader are extensive. He taught a number of well-known Northwest Coast artists, including Bruce Alfred and Beau Dick (Kramer 2012). In 1962-63, with Bill Reid, Doug restored the Wa’kas pole originally from Kwakwaka’wakw territory and now at Stanley Park (Kramer 2012: 32). He carved five major pieces at Expo ’86, helping to put Northwest Coast art on the international art map (Kramer 2012: 55). Doug and his students also assisted with the building of the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, BC, a facility dedicated to the survival of cultural heritage of the Kwakwaka?wakw people (U’mista Cultural Society 2011).
In 2006, a young ’Namgis carver, Rande Cook, visited Doug and asked permission to create a retrospective of his work. Five months later, Doug passed away from lung cancer, and Rande began the project with the help of Doug’s family, friends, and fellow artists. By organizing an art auction at Victoria’s Empress Hotel on April 7, 2007, they raised significant funds selling donated art (two pieces sold to MOA), and put these funds towards realizing Doug’s retrospective, now embodied in the Kesu’ exhibit and the accompanying book (Kramer 2012: 117).
With funds to jump-start the exhibition, three women stepped in to sustain this project: Vivien Cranmer, Doug’s wife; Gloria Cranmer Webster, Doug’s eldest sister; and Dr. Jennifer Kramer, MOA Curator. Vivien worked to secure MOA as the place to host the exhibition, arranged interviews, and tracked down Doug’s art from private collections. Gloria provided invaluable insights into Doug’s personal life growing up in Alert Bay, contributed one-of-a-kind family photographs, and imparted expert knowledge
concerning Doug’s cultural leadership (Kramer 2012: 125). Jennifer synthesized many hours of interview transcripts, historical data, personal anecdotes, and diverse perspectives to bring forth a concise and integrated picture of who Doug Cranmer is.
The efforts of so many contributors to the Kesu’ exhibition and book demonstrate the extent to which Doug Cranmer was truly a remarkable and unforgettable artist, mentor, friend, and community member. Come take a closer look!