Totem pole inside Chemainus Secondary School at the entrance was carved by Gus Modeste. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Death of famed Penelakut artist Modeste mourned

World famous carving talents began at Chemainus Secondary School

Condolences have been pouring in for family members and friends following the death last Thursday of famed Penelakut Coast Salish artist Gus Modeste. He was 44.

Modeste had been living in Duncan in recent years to be close to doctors and the hospital while dealing with diabetes, heart problems and other health issues.

“A very talented artist,” said Penelakut band administrator Jim Chisholm. “I met him a few times, a real nice fellow.”

Modeste grew up on Galiano Island and spent a few years in Nanaimo before going to live with his dad on Penelakut and attended Chemainus Secondary School where he honed his craft as a carver.

“He got a lot of encouragement from Walter Stoochnoff, a teacher there,” said Modeste’s aunt Connie Crocker. “That’s where his life of carving began.”

Modeste also drew inspiration from carver Francis Horne. A totem Modeste did stands as a legacy at the entrance to the high school.

His carvings and prints can be found all over the world, including Brussels, Belgium.

One of Modeste’s most loved works, known as Mother’s Love, is a powerful interpretation of orca J35 from the southern resident killer whale population and her offspring.

He also did magnificent canoe designs, including one for his own Penelakut village.

“He had such a natural talent for drawing and carving,” said Crocker. “It just really developed and it seemed to happen so easily. He was just so talented.

“I think about him personally, I never had a boring conversation with him,” she added. “He was always very interesting to talk to. He had pertinent things to talk about and he was also very funny.”

Comments poured in on social media as news of Modeste’s death spread.

“He opened my eyes to some of his views without effort,” noted Shane Harper. “I very much enjoyed some of his perspectives.”

He did phenomenal work,” Wes Bissett indicated.

Rainforest Arts on Willow Street in Chemainus is hoping some of his work will surface from his studio and proceeds of any sales will go to his family.

“He had a collection of work that he had been preparing,” noted Crocker.

“His work is a gift to the world,” added Kathy Wachs of the Chemainus Valley Cultural Arts Society. “His character was strong and sweet. Condolences to the many who love him.”

“He lives on through his art,” Hanna Miskiman remarked. “Condolences to the family.”

“This is such sad news,” offered Tammy Baines. “Gus was such a kind person and so talented.”

Chisholm said Modeste’s funeral service will be on Penelakut Island Friday, Jan. 17 at 9 a.m. at the elementary school gymnasium.

Because he was so well-known, a large turnout is expected.

“If people want to come over, they’re more than welcome to,” said Chisholm.

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Design done by Gus Modeste for his village of Penelakut. (Photo submitted)

A carving done by Gus Modeste that’s in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo submitted)

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