The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presents


The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) proudly presents the exhibition Wolves: The Art of Dempsey Bob, through to September 10, 2023. The first full-career retrospective of Tahltan-Tlingit artist Dempsey Bob, this show brings together some sixty works by this artist at the forefront of a centuries-old tradition of wood-carving on Canada’s Northwest Coast.

Dempsey Bob - Wolf Chief’s Hat

Dempsey Bob (born in 1948), Wolf Chief’s Hat, about 1993.
Collection of Eric Savics. © Dempsey Bob. Photo Rachel Topham

Born in Telegraph Creek, British Columbia, Bob was part of the first generation of Northwest Coast carvers to sell their works in developing southern Indigenous art markets, beginning in the early 1980s, when museums were starting to understand Northwest Coast cultures as living, evolving entities, alive in the present.

During his days in Prince Rupert, where he lived as a young man, Bob studied with the legendary Haida artist Freda Diesing (1925-2002), one of the few women to carve totem poles. Over the years, he has gone on to develop his artistry through constant reference to tradition and sustained investigation of historic Northwest Coast art (at home and in international collections), of European sculpture and of South Pacific art.

Dempsey Bob

Dempsey Bob at Kleanza Creek, east of Terrace, B.C., 2021.
Photo Blaine Campbell

“We are honoured to feature Dempsey Bob’s retrospective at the Museum. Visitors will no doubt appreciate Bob’s formal and technical prowess and exceptional visual storytelling abilities, which are part and parcel of his parallel commitment and aims as an educator – namely, to impart the importance of the land and culture in ensuring the continuity of his people for generations to come,” explains Iris Amizlev, Curator – Community Engagement and Projects at the MMFA, and curator of the Montreal presentation.

Dempsey Bob - Wolf Headdress

Dempsey Bob (born in 1948), Wolf Headdress (detail), 1988-1989.
Private collection. © Dempsey Bob. Photo Rachel Topham

Bob’s carvings are remarkable for the sensuousness of their surfaces, unequalled in the world of Northwest Coast carving today. The artist’s carvings blend traditional narratives and iconography with contemporary influences. His exposure to oral histories, songs and dances from a young age has informed his understanding of art and its purpose within the community. At once traditionalist and avant-garde, Bob acknowledges the lineage to which he is indebted without indulging in nostalgia.

It is with daring that Bob reinterprets the traditional characters and iconography from the age-old stories of his people by occasionally inflecting these traditional tales with influences drawn from European art. During a residency in New Zealand, he was asked to carve a head from a square block of wood. Moving the central feature of the nose to the corner position (instead of a frontal one), he discovered an off-kilter way of presenting a face that was more sculpture than mask. That shift led to the experimental works featured in the exhibition, in which conventional mask-making gives way to contemporary experimentation with form and storytelling, the subjects seemingly caught in mid-transformation before our eyes.

Alongside the wood carvings, the exhibition showcases objects created by Dempsey Bob and his sister, Linda Bob – a heavy robe, a blanket and a chief’s robe – illustrating their collaboration, a union of their respective, complementary practices.

For more information, including opening hours and ticket prices, visit:

Wolves: The Art of Dempsey Bob

View of the exhibition Wolves: The Art of Dempsey Bob at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
© Dempsey Bob. Photo MMFA, Denis Farley

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