Nanaimo is home to The Good Family – a multi-generational team of outstanding Snuneymuxw artists.
Traditional Coast Salish Artist, Master Carver, Cultural Historian and Hereditary Chief William Good (Tseskinakhen) has played a key role in revitalizing Coast Salish designs on Vancouver Island. Having been taught by the great artist and carver, Elder Leslie John, he realized as a young man that most of the popular West Coast Indigenous art were based on Haida, Tsimshian and Kwagiulth designs and art forms.
William decided to revive the disappearing art form of his Snuneymuxw People so that future generations would once again know their own culture. He spent his life researching, practicing and eventually mastering the traditional styles of his People – the Coast Salish art forms and legends which were all but lost through assimilation and historical cultural oppression. “Coast Salish art is a written language. It tells your lineage, it tells who we are.”
As a Knowledge Keeper and storyteller, it was vitally important to William that he pass on his traditions to his children and also to share his cultural representations of the ancient stories, songs and dances with the whole community. In April 2018, Good’s revitalization efforts were recognized by the City of Nanaimo when he became the first Indigenous person ever to be honoured with Nanaimo’s Culture and Heritage Award in its 20-year history.
Nearly 25 years ago, William and his wife, contemporary artist and designer Sandra Moorhouse-Good, set up the Art of the Siem gallery in downtown Nanaimo that showcased their own works as well as other First Nations art. Sandra, an artist, classical painter and teacher of contemporary crafts, began designing her own line of clothing featuring her husband’s artwork. Together they founded their business called Ay Ay Mut in the 1990s, and for many years, their carvings, prints, jewelry and clothing were sought after from far and wide.
Their son, Coast Salish artist Joel Good, has been learning from his father and mother since he was a young boy. Joel and his siblings were raised in an art studio where they studied carving, sketching, design, painting, pottery and printmaking. Joel’s practice focuses mainly on the Coast Salish style of carving in red and yellow cedar, and mixing his own paints in the traditional colours. One of his specialties is creating steamed bentwood boxes according to the old customs.
Joel also created a Spindle Whorl which is an iconic symbol for the Snuneymuxw First Nation. While other Coast Salish tribes hand spun their wool for weaving and knitting, the Snuneymuxw people developed the spindle whorl to spin the dog and sheep wool used in making blankets. His large Spindle Whorl was placed on display in the City of Nanaimo’s Public Art Program and has been a cultural focal point since 2013.
Recently Joel and his father, William, completed the carving of two house posts connected by a metalwork centrepiece portal which were erected at Stl’ilep (Departure Bay in traditional Snuneymuxw territory) to welcome visitors to Nanaimo. The Mayor of Nanaimo and Snuneymuxw Chief expressed their gratitude and honoured the carvers for sharing their culture with the community.
Daughters Aunalee Boyd-Good and Sophia Good are also carrying on the family’s artistic legacy. Growing up in an art studio and their parents’ First Nations art gallery, the sisters were immersed in the arts, attended shows, assisted in art and design production and learned what it took to become successful entrepreneurs.
In 2016, they created their own clothing line called Ay Lelum – The Good House of Design that features Traditional Coast Salish family designs by their father, William Good and brother, Joel Good. Their mother Sandra Moorhouse-Good, is their mentor, having run her own business for decades.
Ay Lelum garments are designed and produced locally in both Vancouver and at their home at Snuneymuxw, using eco-friendly and natural fabrics whenever possible. The striking and unique clothes are now sold in about a dozen Vancouver Island and lower mainland stores and on BC Ferries.
In March 2018, Ay Lelum took part in the Vancouver Fashion Week by presenting some of their works with the theme of transformation and honouring matriarchs. Featuring original music and designs, their collection was called Thul Te Lada, which means ‘Maker of Beautiful Things.’ It’s also the traditional name of the designers’ mother, Sandra Moorhouse-Good, gifted to her by her late mother-in-law Hazel Good (Tsum Quat).
Apart from the exquisitely designed dresses, jackets and capes, the show incorporated elements of art, history, music, and language that the Good Family so diligently records in order to preserve their traditional Coast Salish art and culture.
“Art is everything to our family. We continually share and produce art individually and collectively. It enables us to document history and culture through art, it unites and keeps us together.”