A long-running streak of vandalism sprees have forced the Museum of Northern B.C. to put a majority of its limited funds toward combatting the illegal behaviour, including delaying the instalment of accreditation signage for one rock sculpture and two totem carvings.
Located in the vicinity of the long house and carving studio off of Market Place near the courthouse, the rock carving, designed and carved by Laurence Knowles (Haida Nation) and called ‘Mouldy Forehead and Very Old and Wise Half Man, Half Rock’, does not have an attributable sign designating the name or sculptor.
As well, the two totem poles also in the vicinity – one outside the carving shed and one between the long house and shed on a wooden patio, sit with no acknowledging signage.
A Rupert resident, Robb Rydde, verified Knowles as the sculptor of the rock carving and after some digging, found the patio long house totem to be carved by Prince Rupert-born George McKay (Geo) of the Nisga’a Nation and for the totem sitting in front of the double doors of the carving shed, Rydde knew it to be designed by Alvin Adkins of the Haida Nation.
But what piqued Rydde’s curiosity was the lack of signage in the area for the three carvings.
“It’s really sad when you see this kind of work go unnoticed, even for the locals, they go ‘Hmm, something’s not right with this picture’,” Rydde said, adding that he has come across a video of a woman claiming that she had sculpted Adkins’ totem pole.
“Somebody can just come along and claim it. Who would know differently other than the people who already know?” he added.
Through his interactions with Knowles, Rydde learned that the artist was commissioned to do the work by the Museum of Northern B.C. years ago and found that Knowles was a ‘bit disappointed that there was never any public recognition or signage’ for the piece, as he pointed out on a post of his carving on Facebook. Knowles did not respond for comment in time for publication.
Susan Marsden, Museum of Northern B.C. director, said the problem with placing signage in the area for Knowles’ rock carving or for the totems is that it would very likely fall victim to vandalism – a trend that’s become too common in the area.
“Everything we put up there gets ruined. The walls of the longhouse were spray-painted with graffiti and swear words and it’s costing us hundreds of dollars to have them removed carefully with a wired brush,” she said.
Marsden added that vandals have been doing everything from climbing the studio roof, ripping off security cameras and ripping off eavestroughs. Years ago, vandals even set fire to the back of one of the main museum buildings, but that area has been taken care of through signage and cordoning off some access.
“We don’t have the dollars for gates or to put up fences and I don’t think that’s what a community should have anyway,” Marsden said.
The vandalism sprees, which have been going on for the past few years, peak every spring, said the director, and it’s costing the museum money. The Community Enhancement Grant awarded to the museum by the city isn’t used for “abnormal or crisis” projects like these, but as operational funds, Marsden said. The museum has applied for money for the security project, which will ramp up this year and involve a direct-access link from camera footage to the director’s phone, as well as immediate police response to vandalism as it happens. Those measures are to be announced later this year, said Marsden.
For the totems and rock carving (created in the early 2000s as a commissioned project), signage crediting the artists will be installed as the area is restored.
“As soon as we get that problem under control, we’ll definitely include some kind of signage for [Knowles] in the refurbishment of the area,” Marsden said, adding that the process will involve consulting the artists if they’d like their name, picture and carving name and description on the signage.