Kwigwatsi Studio a labour of love for Comox Valley couple

The studio is at 3250 Comox Road and overlooks the Bighouse and K’omoks First Nation Band Office.

With racks of t-shirts, sweaters, prints and cards neatly organized, there are only a few touches that remain before the Kwigwatsi Studio is fully complete.

“We’re just waiting for the hardware for the wood doors,” said Erin Brillon with a laugh. “And some large cedar panels outside the door.”

With their soft opening complete earlier this month, the studio at 3250 Comox Rd. for entrepreneur and designer Brillon and her partner, Northwest Coast artist Andy Everson was truly a labour of love.

Brillon, who started Totem Design House, which features clothing, home decor, art and jewelry, has a background in promoting Northwest Coast art. She assisted her mother in the promotion and selling artworks through her gallery in Vancouver.

K’ómoks and Kwakwaka’wakw artist Everson was selling his prints, cards, t-shirts and more online through his site, but had been looking at creating a more physical space where he could expand his products.

The duo came up with the concept, and Brillon even created the design for the two-storey building across from the Bighouse on the K’ómoks First Nation, where the couple lives upstairs and offers a gallery and studio space downstairs.

Once the printmaking equipment is installed, Everson will be able to produce much of his work on-site, and Brillon added one of the goals of the studio is to open its doors to other Indigenous artists.

“We want to employ Indigenous people and bring other artists in with other mediums as well such as glass and forton (a modified gypsum casting system). We are hoping to also use the space to host workshops and to use our space to empower our people so that it can benefit others.”

Additionally, the pair are hoping to host an artist-in-residence program where artists can work out of the studio and stay nearby.

Part of the reason for Everson to create his own work in the space is that the couple can keep up the demand for wholesale orders. Their first wholesale account was with the Smithsonian, and now with the studio, the duo can match the demand.

The challenge in the process, explained Everson, was to find funding for the building. Because the building is built on First Nation land, the couple was unable to obtain a traditional mortgage (technically they do not ‘own’ their land – it is owned by the Crown). Individual bands instead guarantee a mortgage for any home built on their land, but each band has its own guarantee limit. For the couple, the limit was significantly lower than what the building cost to build, and therefore they paid for the majority of the construction costs out-of-pocket.

“It was blood, sweat and tears,” said Everson, who credited Brillon’s drive and determination to make their vision a reality.

“I really want to break that stereotype that many Canadians believe that we get our houses for free,” Brillon added who said every detail of their project was carefully thought of and designed, as they could not go over budget with costs.

The “modern meets traditional aesthetic” studio blends in with surrounding buildings, Everson said, particularly the Bighouse and the new K’omoks First Nation Band Office. Two chilkat-style glass windows on the second floor flank the main entrance into the studio. The eagle on the right represents Everson and the one on the left represents Brillon.

While the official grand opening isn’t set until the new year, the studio is open Friday and Saturdays prior to Christmas from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Everson confirmed he will be doing a print release in conjunction with the official opening. For more information on the Kwigwatsi Studio, visit www.andyeverson.com or www.totemdesignhouse.ca.

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