Gary Peterson is from the ‘Namgis First Nation and he was born and raised in ‘Yalis (Alert Bay), British Columbia. His carvings explore the legends of the Kwakwaka’wakw and traditional motifs with exquisite care and a wonderful eye for detail.
Peterson’s first introduction to the creation of Northwest Coast Native art was in 1980 when he first walked past the carving studio in Alert Bay. When not in school, he watched the artists at work – artists such as Doug Cranmer, Wayne Alfred, Beau Dick, Harold and Bruce Alfred, Richard Sumner, and Fah Ambers. Of all the artists, Wayne Alfred captivated Gary the most with his sleek clean designs and witty personality.
Gary asked Doug if he would teach him how to draw native designs, and he spent many years learning to draw formline designs, including taking classes with Francis Dick. Peterson’s father began to market his artwork in Alert Bay, and at the age of 12, Gary was the first artist signed to Larry Garfinkle Publications, later to become North West Coast Designs.
In 1991, Peterson moved to Victoria where he studied under Victor Neuman, Oscar Matilpi Sr., and eventually with his cousin, Anthony Dawson. Returning to Alert Bay, he took a carving course with his first idol, Wayne Alfred, and portrait mask making from the carver who would become his mentor, Beau Dick. Then back to Victoria and 3 years working in the Thunderbird Park carving studio at the Royal Museum, which was a great joy to him as the studio was founded by his great uncles, Mungo Martin and Henry Hunt. There he worked alongside his cousin, Shawn Karpes, and new friends Luke and John Marston. Peterson is so grateful to all the artists who took the time to share their talents, but most of all to Wayne and Beau who continue to encourage and inspire him.
Gary believes, “We never stop learning. When you think you know it all, you`ve stopped learning. Keep an open mind to all the possibilities, for everyone has something to offer. It is up to you to listen, and recognize the gifts put before you.”