HOUSTIE (Housty), DANIEL, Bella Bella artist; b. c. 1880, probably on the central coast of British Columbia; m. Jennie —, and they had eight children; d. 1912, probably in Bella Bella, B.C.
Bella Bella in the first decade of the 20th century was an outwardly modern, nominally Christian village of European-style houses with a wide, gas-lit plank street, native-run stores, a cornet band, church, school, and sawmill, and the only permanent hospital between Vancouver and Port Simpson. Various groups of the Heiltsuk culture had settled there after the disastrous smallpox epidemic of the 1860s. The Housties were second-ranked chiefs in the village and the family continued Heiltsuk traditions while at the same time supporting new institutions. Daniel Houstie was probably a younger relative of Chief Tom Housty, who was both the titular head of the Bella Bella sawmill and an active participant in traditional feasts and potlatches.
Houstie was one of five artists from the village whose work was collected by the Methodist missionary Dr Richard Whitfield Large between December 1898 and 1906. Large sold his collection to the Provincial Museum of Ontario, now the Royal Ontario Museum, in Toronto. In the documentation accompanying the objects it received in 1901, Houstie is listed as the maker of five carvings and the source of two ceremonial whistles.
The works that Large attributed to Houstie were an elaborately carved speaker’s staff, an incised bone halibut hook, a painted paddle, a dance mask, and a small carved and painted stick “to keep in position the pad used to produce the flattening of infant’s head.” The head-flattening implement appears to have been new when collected and was certainly an anachronism in turn-of-the-century Bella Bella. It was no doubt made for Large as an example of the old ways that the missionary was working hard – but not altogether successfully – to eradicate. Similarly, Houstie’s other works appear to be newly made replicas of traditional ceremonial and technological objects. Not novelties for the tourist trade, they can be interpreted as didactic objects illustrating the culture of the previous generation, which was born before the smallpox epidemic, the amalgamation of the Heiltsuk at Bella Bella, and the arrival of the missionaries.
Houstie’s idiosyncratic version of the Bella Bella style can be recognized in a group of undocumented boxes and mysterious ceremonial objects that Large sent to the Toronto museum in 1906. Other undocumented works with similar stylistic characteristics are found in such collections as that of the McCord Museum, Montreal. Although more objects attributable on stylistic grounds to the artist will no doubt come to light in the future, Houstie’s relatively short career (he was only about 32 when he died) may account for the apparently small number of his works in museums.
Compared with what is known about the lives and œuvres of artists in the European tradition, almost no information has survived about Houstie. Yet as native artists go, he is relatively well documented. Most early ethnographic collections are groups of anonymous works. The names and biographies of the creators were not recorded; their art was perceived as somehow expressive of the ethos of the culture rather than as the product of individuals. At Bella Bella, the sustained relationship of a missionary with the community resulted in documentation of individual artists and their specific, historical situation.
The ethnographic record shows that the Heiltsuk were respected carvers and painters in the 19th century. The work of Daniel Houstie attests to the continuation, despite enormous cultural upheaval, of their artistic traditions into the 20th century. It illustrates that Heiltsuk art from Bella Bella is the creation and property of individuals, not the production of anonymous, undifferentiated craftsmen.
Heiltsuk Cultural Education Centre (Waglisla, B.C.), A. P. Streich, “The Bella Bella gravesites project” (typescript, Waglisla, 1983). Martha Black, “The R. W. Large Collection: a Bella Bella document”