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Dempsey Pope’s work “Sculpted in Butter” was exhibited at the MMFA

Dempsey Pope’s work “Sculpted in Butter” was exhibited at the MMFA

The artist has been an Officer of the Order of Canada since 2013 and was awarded the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2012.

His exceptional style gives the impression that the works were carved in butterexplains the curator in charge of the Montreal Expo, Iris Ameslev, during a preview visit to the exhibition.

Since the 1970s, Dempsey Pop has been perfecting his style and developing new techniques to express the sacredness of the subjects he deals with.

Early in his career, Dempsey Pope was trained by famed Haida artist Frida Desing, one of the few female totem pole makers. Here he stands in front of one of his recent works, of which he is particularly proud of the detail and depth of the lines.

Photo: Radio-Canada/Jerome Gilles Couture

Using almost exclusively natural media, such as yellow cedar, red cedar, alder, and even human hair, he primarily depicts animals and scenes that hold cultural, spiritual, and personal significance to him.


In his early days, the artist mainly made masks. Here we see an “old woman” mask made in 1974 with human hair.

Photo: Radio-Canada/Jerome Gilles Couture

He breathes life into his works, and we see that he is connected to the kind of animal he representssays Ms. Ameslive

For the artist, the wolf has a special meaning. In his nation Tahltan, there are two clans, the Raven clan and the Wolf clan, to which each member belongs according to matrilineal lineage.

My mother and grandmother were wolves, and it is out of honoring them and the ancestors of our clan that I make my sculpturesPope Dempsey explains.

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How do you find your children?

For nearly forty years, most of the works on display were kept in private collections, never to be seen again by the artist.

With all the time, effort, and spirituality that goes into some of these businesses, it was so nice to find it all here. [à l’exposition]. It’s a bit like seeing my kids again after a very long time. »

Quote from Dempsey Bob
Dempsey Bob stands next to Mask.

Bought by a collector some 40 years ago, this mask has been a particular hit, according to Dempsey Pope, because of “the life you see in his eyes. It was nice to see him again after all these years.”

Photo: Radio-Canada/Jerome Gilles Couture

On the first stop of the tour, at the Audain Museum of Art in Whistler, in 2022, the exhibition will feature approximately 110 works. A year later, about half of them have been returned to collectors, while about 60 are still available for the final destinations of the tour.

Collectors haven’t wanted to give it away for a long time, Dempsey Pope explains, but there’s still a lot to see how my art has evolved over time.

For the 75-year-old artist, youthful exuberance gave way to an experiment: When I was younger, I would often do five or six sculptures at the same time. Now I usually focus on one at a time, but the tools have become a bit of a stretch of myself, I’m more efficient.

Keeping the tradition alive

Dempsey Pope, who was born at a time (between 1884 and 1951) when most Aboriginal spiritual ceremonies and representations were banned in the colonial Canadian West, explains that the presence of his work in the country’s major art museums is of particular importance.

before the ban There have been a lot of sculptors in our western countries, it has always been very important in our cultures. By the time it started it had become extremely rare but you see more and more young people taking an interest in it and an exhibition like this can’t hurthe explains.

Through the years, experiences and exchanges, Dempsey Bob has continued to innovate and develop new techniques.

I spent time in New Zealand, with the sculptors there, and that gave me ideas. I tried moving the nose of the head into the corners, which would allow me to exploit different angles in my sculptures. It’s not supposed to work normally, but I did, and when you stick the artwork on the wall there are things that can be seen from all sidesexplains the artist.