Rande Cook – Sisiutl

Rande Cook
Kwakwaka’wakw (‘Namgis),1977

Sisiutl (prounounced (Si’sEyuL)
Red cedar


 Originally from Alert Bay on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, Rande Cook later moved to Victoria. His grandparents taught him the essential elements of his native culture, and from them he learned the power of art in maintaining ties with his ancestral roots. His mentors in the world of First Nations art have included William Wasden Jr., Don Yeomans, Susan Point, Beau Dick, Calvin Hunt, John Livingston, Robert Davidson, Bruce Alfred, and Art Thompson. Rande deeply respects these artists for their dedication to perpetuating indigenous art forms while giving them new life.

Rande uses the fundamental knowledge passed on to him by his teachers to further his artistic development. Always interested in infusing new elements into his work, he has spent time in Italy and New York studying repoussé and chasing with Valentin Yotkov. Rande has succeeded in creating his own distinctive style while continuing to search for innovative approaches.


The Sisiutl is a symbol for healing power and magic. It’s closely associated with war and strength, the Sisiutl is known to be invulnerable and to provide protection from harm.

A dramatic supernatural creature, the double-headed Sea Serpent is one of the most high-ranking crests in Kwagiulth culture. Its power possesses it to shift shape and transform from animal to man at anytime. As well, a Sisiutl can change itself into a self-propelled canoe, which the owner must feed with Seals. Touching the serpent or even looking at it, or a glance from it can cause death. Legends say Shamans tried to kill the Sisiutl for its healing power and magic. It’s closely associated with war and strength, death and revival, so warriors try to kill it to rub its blood on themselves to attain its skillful strength and become invulnerable. A warrior would often wear a headband or belt in the image of a Sisiutl to provide protection from harm. Flakes of shiny mica found on beaches were thought to be the discarded scales from the serpent’s body. Whether carved or painted, the Sisiutl is depicted with a profile head; teeth and a large curled tongue at each end of its serpentine form and in the center is a human head. Fins run along its back and curled appendages or horns rise from all three heads. The painted body represents scales and it may be carved horizontally, formed into a U-shape or coiled into a circle. Sisiutl guarded the entrance to the homes of the supernatural. It was painted on the sides of canoes and hung over doorways to protect the inhabitants from evil spirits.

Note: Rande Cook will give a presentation about his work and his sources of inspiration on Sunday, July 23 at Brickworks in Friday Harbor. Ticket information is available online at www.sjima.org or at the front desk in the museum lobby.