Pagaduan's artistic muse: leadership through working for each other

Artist Stuart Pagaduan relaxes amidst his work in the lobby of the new seniors home at the former downtown Duncan site of the Mound. - Andrew Leong
Artist Stuart Pagaduan relaxes amidst his work in the lobby of the new seniors home at the former downtown Duncan site of the Mound.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

One of the main teachings of the Coast Salish people is to help one another.

Stuart Pagaduan used this as a focus for the logo he designed for the new Ts'i'tsu'wutul' Lelum assisted living residence built on Cowichan Tribes land.

Padaguan, 42, said the logo was created in the spirit of the Coast Salish people.

"It's a spindle-whorl design with two eagles. The balance in life, unity, male, female. Taking care of one another and taking care of our elders is one of the biggest teachings we have and richest. It's a true gift."

Pagaduan created a wall panel and side tables in the shape of the logo. The pieces are carved out of wood and finished in matte paint yet have a depth that tricks the viewer into thinking the piece is made of metal. "It does look like metal, or you can't tell what it is. It's a common questions people ask. It's wood. My contemporary play on it is the flat black matte finish."

This kind of project is new to Pagaduan, who until now worked primarily in gold and silver engraving.

"I haven't done major projects like this before. I've been trying to expand my mediums. To be a successful artist, you have to learn to use other mediums and use contemporary ideas because it's such a competitive market. You have to try different things."

Pagaduan, who teaches First Nations art and language classes at Cowichan Secondary School and the Cowichan Valley Open Learning College, is especially passionate about a new project he began working on in the fall. The Cowichan Tribes held an event at Mellor Hall themed "A Healthy Community Needs..." for which Pagaduan created one large and three small carvings — a tulip with a parent supporting a child — which symbolized growth in the Cowichan Tribes community.

"The Cowichan Tribes had a residential school community dinner for about 600 people to recognize the residential experiences and go beyond a healthier more productive community. How do we go beyond the horrific things some of our people have endured? It was a positive upbeat event, not a negative or sorrowful occasion. It was a promising atmosphere. We are hopeful and proud of who we are today."

As part of the event, attendees were asked to finish the sentence "A healthy community needs...". Pagaduan asked his students to go up to the microphone and read out some of the answers people wrote.

"It's not easy getting up in front of 600 people. It was my role to organize them and empower them to be in a leadership role. This is what it's going to take. It's out of your comfort zone, but that's good. Get used to it."

As an artist and a teacher, Pagaduan is empowering his students to take risks and become leaders in their community, something he was taught by his grandparents, who raised him in their traditions, and his mentor, the late Delmar Johnie.

"He was the one that gave me an opportunity to do what I do and believed in me. It had nothing to do with art. You give someone an opportunity and you stick with them, you believe they can do something."

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