Vancouver Art Gallery weave-like skin based on aboriginal blankets


The Vancouver Art Gallery’s copper-colored metal weaving facade was born out of conversations with Indigenous weavers in Metro Vancouver

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The impressive Coast Salish weaving design for the facade of Vancouver’s new art gallery was not just one person’s idea.


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It was born out of conversations between a group of indigenous weavers and the main architect of the project over several months.

The copper-colored metallic weave for the building, announced in early November, not only pays homage to the Indigenous peoples of Metro Vancouver, but also helped persuade philanthropist Michael Audain to donate $100 million for the new West Georgia building.

The redesign process began when Anthony Kiendl, the new CEO and Director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, arranged his first official meeting in August 2020 with the weaver and artist Musqueam Debra Sparrow and his brother, Chief Wayne Sparrow.

Debra Sparrow described Kiendl as someone who understands “that art is more than visual – it represents culture and history.


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“We sat in the cultural center while (Kiendl) told us about his vision of the gallery. He wanted to honor the land and the people.

After the first encounter with Kiendl that inspired Sparrow so much, it took about a year for the next stage to begin. Kiendl phoned Sparrow and asked if she would be willing to serve on a local panel of Aboriginal consulting artists for the new building representing the Musqueam , Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh . The others were Skwetsimeltxw Willard “Buddy” Joseph, Chepximiya Siyam’ Janice George and Angela George.

Kiendl said the idea was to meet regularly on Zoom with Simon Demuse from Herzog & de Meuron , the main architects of the new VAG building.

Sparrow said the new design came about gradually. It grew out of conversations about the history of Indigenous peoples and the importance of blankets, not just to Coast Salish, but to all people around the world.


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In particular, discussions focused on the twill weave pattern which has been described as “the weft crossing the warp, over two and under two.” The warp is made up of threads held in tension in which the threads or weft are inserted above and below.

Weaving is particularly important to Sparrow and the other panel weavers because of their role in its revival after being lost for 85 years among the Coast Salish after contact with European settlers.

“The four of us were talking about it as weavers. It is our responsibility to bring it to the world in a way that embraces not only ourselves, but also other people, other cultures.

Sparrow said putting a weave pattern on the facade of the VAG takes the weave out of its “comfort zone” of blankets worn by people, and applies it in a new context to the exterior of a prominent building so that everyone can see it.


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At some point during the online meetings, Sparrow said, someone mentioned copper as a color that represents the northwest coast.

Sparrow said that while it was historically used by Indigenous nations further north, such as the Haida, Coast Salish artists have also used it as a kind of “world color” in contemporary applications.

The woven metal faceplate offered by VAG has been described as a copper skin with a veil-like quality – it will shimmer and change in appearance depending on the viewer’s perspective, time of day and light. Additionally, people inside the building in spaces such as the library, for example, will be able to peer through the metal weave above the windows and see the city through a veil.


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Sparrow said she thinks there will be many more examples of Coast Salish designs in the area as local Indigenous people make their way through the town in murals, plazas and facades. .

“As First Nations people, we have a vision and a duty to wrap the city of Vancouver in our history and our work,” she said at the press conference announcing the redesign.

“We want to weave all of our cultures together in this building and wrap it like we do in a blanket.”

If fundraising continues as planned, the Vancouver Art Gallery hopes to begin construction in November 2022. The redesigned building has been expanded from 30,000 square feet to 330,000 square feet and now includes an early childhood education center, housing for guest artists and a community space for Indigenous programs and celebrations.

Public and private pledges and donations for the new building reached $240 million for the $400 million project. The VAG hopes to raise an additional $80 million from private donations and $80 million from government and community sources.

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