Artist and storyteller Roy Henry Vickers learned a valuable lesson from his mother, a school teacher, at an early age.
“She impressed upon me that we are responsible for the knowledge that we gain in this world,” Vickers said from his home in Hazelton.
The 67-year-old, who is best known for the colourful prints that fill his longhouse-style Eagle Aerie Gallery in Tofino, set to work gathering knowledge about his First Nations heritage the first time he experienced discrimination as a teenager in Victoria, and has never stopped. He typically shares that knowledge through storytelling sessions and his art.
Now, Vickers has carried one traditional story to print with the help of oral historian Robert (Lucky) Budd. Raven Brings the Light (Harbour Publishing, hardcover $19.95), No. 1 on the B.C. Bestseller List, tells of a boy named Weget who fulfils his destiny by bringing light to the world. He journeys from Haida Gwaii into the sky and captures the daylight by tricking the Chief of the Heavens.
It’s a story that Vickers — whose father was a mix of Tsimshian, Haida and Heiltsuk — says is common to many Northwest coastal communities. It’s recorded through petroglyphs that are more than 2,000 years old, up and down the Nass River.
Fans lined up 7 1Ú2 hours in advance for the book-signing in Vancouver, and all 300 copies sold out in 90 minutes. In Victoria, audiences are invited to visit Madrona Gallery, have their books signed or check out limited-edition prints for sale.
Budd, a former archivist for the Royal B.C. Museum who published Voices of British Columbia based on 2,700 hours of recordings in the Imbert Orchard Collection, said he knew immediately when the duo had recorded the story that it would become a book.
“On that particular day, it was magical. The vibe was in the air,” Budd said.
The audience at Eagle Aerie Gallery was silent and Vickers was in full storyteller mode, sharing the version he learned from Chester Bolton, Chief of the Ravens from the village of Kitkatla around 1975.
“I was sitting on the floor in the corner with my computer and he had his lapel mike on and I was listening through my headphones. There was this print called Salmon Skull right in the corner, right above him,” Budd said.
“I kept looking up at this skull and it kept looking back, like, ‘Are you getting all this?’ I had goosebumps.”
The process has been a rigorous one for Vickers, who created 18 prints for the book in three weeks.
“It’s helped me see that here I am at 67, all my peers are retired, and I’m creating more in a short period of time than I have ever created in 40 years as an artist,” he said.
And while the duo initially envisioned it as a children’s book, it’s officially on the adult list. Budd attributed that to the story’s many layers.
“You can look at it from a child’s angle: Raven brings the light quite literally. But if you go deeper into it, with a more sophisticated mind, it’s about enlightenment,” he said.
Raven Brings the Light: A Northwest Coast Legend; book signing and gallery show
When: Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Madrona Gallery