Tom is a Kwakiutl Carver and Painter who carries blood lines from Blunden Harbour and Fort Rupert through the marriage of his parents. Also called Walawidi, Tom is the son of Hereditary Chief George Hunt and Mary (Henderson) Hunt. A member of the Kwakiutl, or Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, Tom was born in Victoria in 1964. His ancestry also includes Tlowitsis and Tlingit family roots.
Tom began apprenticing in Kwakiutl art with his father at the age of 12, and through his teenage years, spent several summers in Campbell River working with his maternal grandfather, the late Sam Henderson, who taught him the traditional form of the Nakwaxda’xw Nation (Blunden Harbour).
In 1983 he moved to his home village of Fort Rupert (Tsaxis), which is on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. There he worked as an assistant to his uncle, Calvin Hunt, owner and operator of Copper Maker Gallery. This apprenticeship was an important period in Tom’s development as a versatile and accomplished artist, learning to move comfortably from massive wood sculptures to very small, intricate pieces.
With family ties in Campbell River and Fort Rupert, Tom’s knowledge of the Kwakiutl history is illustrated in his artwork. His family is deeply involved in the Potlatch system and many of Tom’s masks have been presented at Potlatches. His totems, panels, masks and paddles are in collections worldwide.
Tom currently resides in Campbell River with his family and children. There he works from Sam Henderson’s original carving shed on the Tyee Spit, a very special place in his learning and in his heart. “[We have a] responsibility to uphold our culture, song and dance, and history of where we come from, for our children and grandchildren.”
Engagement in community is a long line of tradition for Tom as he continues to give back to his own Nation, related families and communities-at-large. His Public Art projects are featured in many locations in Klemtu, Port Hardy, Fort Rupert, Campbell River, throughout Vancouver Island and the Pacific Northwest. Some art works have been commissioned by organizations or galleries.
A recent Public Art project, supported by Canada 150, was hosted by the Cowichan Tribes. A full totem was commissioned and placed on a trailer which travelled to different locations in the Cowichan region throughout the summer of 2017. The totem, called ‘Clan Totem of Our Nations,’ travelled to four communities in the Cowichan Valley to allow community members to take part in the project. Tom carved as the public watched him turn a red cedar log into a creation of First Nations’ traditional story. The totem features a bald eagle, the sun, mother, children, black bear, salmon and a bubble man in the carving. A ceremony took place for the raising and placement of this special project in March 2018 at Station Street Park in downtown Duncan.
Tom also led two other similar projects hosted by Vancouver Island University as well as K’omox Nation where he mentored young First Nations carvers and collaboratively carved totems for each project. As the Lead Carver for the Klemtu Big House, Tom expressed that he was honoured to work with youth and up-and-coming artists, and that the beauty of the carvings and the spirituality of the work made it a very special way to share culture and support other communities.
Tom spends a great deal of time not only carving, but sketching and painting to ensure his projects meet the high standards he strives to deliver. Through his quality workmanship, every piece tells a story, every image has purpose and meaning. Tom is able to transform his cultural knowledge of stories and legends into beautiful imagery and works of art which represent his Kwakiutl People worldwide.