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November 10 2006

Tsimshian Treasures Return to their Ancestral Home

The Globe & Mail

Writing for The Globe and Mail, Sarah Milroy and Simon Houpt report that the world-famous Dundas collection of historical Northwest Coast First Nations art is finally bound to their ancestral home in British Columbia. Represented by art dealer Donald Ellis, Canada’s influential Thomson family acquired 19 of the Tsimshian treasures at auction. 

The 80 objects compromising the Dundas collection were acquired in the village of Old Metlakatla, near present day Prince Rupert, by Scottish chaplain Reverend Robert James Dundas from lay missionary William Duncan. For three decades, leading cultural institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, the British Museum and the Canadian Museum of Civilization have held on-and-off negotiations with descendants of Dundas. When it was finally announced that the collection was going to auction with Sotheby’s it seemed likely that the works would be dispersed across private and institutional collections around the world. 

After the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria had been denied a special government grant to purchase some of the items, David Thomson, chairman of Thomson Corp. since 2002, and his cousin Sherry Brydson decided to take on a larger role in repatriating the Dundas collection to British Columbia. ‘The intention of the Thomson family is to keep the collection together,’ Ellis is quoted as saying. James Bryant, spokesman for the Allied Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla adds ‘That’s what we wanted, for someone to keep them in Canada.’

The 19 Tsimshian treasures acquired by the Thomson family will be exhibited at an as of yet undisclosed B.C. museum later this year or early next year. The collection’s permanent home thereafter is still undecided. While a small number of works may become part of the Kenneth R. Thomson collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the majority will remain in British Columbia.

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