Canada’s most celebrated indigenous designer. America’s original counterculture super-band. Coast Mountain Culture Magazine’s resident musicologist Jamie Bliss explains how two neighbouring talents have combines legacies on a project of extraordinary artisanship.
The Grateful Dead’s 30-year run as a touring entity ceased in 1995 with the death of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia. Yet, nearly 25 years later, the band continues to release box sets every year. The sets, limited to 15,000 to 18,000 per release, often sell out within days and trade on secondary markets at a significant premium. Rhino Records pays lavish attention to every aspect of the physical product, including liner notes, packaging, ephemera, and artwork. The label’s latest effort sees newly released Grateful Dead CDs housed in replica Indigenous bentwood boxes designed by renowned First Nations artist, carver, designer, speaker, and best-selling author Roy Henry Vickers.
A resident of Hazelton, British Columbia, with a gallery in Tofino, British Columbia, Vickers has artwork featured in museums and collections spanning the globe. His pieces have been gifted to visiting heads of state, while his carvings adorn numerous public spaces, such as the new terminal at the Vancouver International Airport. He received the Order of British Columbia in1998 and was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2006.
From his home fronting the Skeena River, Vickers describes the natural fit between the Dead’s dancing skeleton iconography and his own artistic traditions reflecting his mixed Tsimshian, Haida, Heiltsuk, and British heritage. “My life has been about culture communicated generation to generation through song, stories, and dance. When you’re standing in the truth, strength, and beauty of who you are as an individual, the ancestors on the other side excitedly say, ‘maybe this will be the one to show the truth, strength, and beauty of our lineage,’ and as such, they are the grateful dead.”
Vickers explains the basis for the box’s physical design, “the treasure box in Pacific Northwest culture is an allegory for the cultural treasures of all of the area’s different peoples.” Grateful Dead archivist and Victoria, British Columbia, resident David Lemieux enthused, “this is really unlike any other box set I’ve ever seen in the music world, if not one of the finest and most fascinating pieces of art I’ve ever seen. This set will be displayed prominently in my home.”