Sinixt artist Ric Gendron leaves Revelstoke with an art legacy

Written by Laura Stovel

In an alley just off First Street West, on the wall of the Eleven Revelstoke Lodge (formerly the Explorer Society Hotel), hang two colourful paintings. The faces of Sinixt women, men and a child gaze out at the viewer. These were real people, most of whom knew the upper Columbia River intimately, some well before Revelstoke even existed as a town. They are the faces of the ancestors – all but the child, that is. He is here to remind us that the story continues. He is the artist, Ric Gendron, more than six decades ago. The diptych (a painting in two parts) is appropriately called Coming Home. 

Some of those featured in the diptych are important to the story of Revelstoke, a story that saw Sinixt pushed out of the area, especially with the coming of the railway and the settlers that followed. There’s Adeline in her magenta blouse, whose first husband, Jim, was shot in 1894 by settler Sam Hill at Galena Bay, just south of Revelstoke, as he tried to assert his land rights. Below her is Alex Christian, who struggled unsuccessfully to keep his family’s land near present-day Castlegar. Both were pushed into Washington State like many Sinixt before them.

Ric Gendron smiling Buchanan 1


The child in the painting, young Ric, is shown just below a depiction of his parents on their wedding day. Above him is a sweat lodge, his spiritual home, a place of teaching, healing and renewal. Beside him is a giant raven, a bird with which he has a close spiritual connection. 

Sadly, Ric Gendron passed away on July 9 at the age of 69. A celebrated artist and musician, he was known for his bright, powerful acrylic paintings. The portraits in Coming Home are probably among his more representative works. And these paintings are unusual for him for another reason: he rarely paints his own likeness. 

“When I do self-portraits it’s usually a painting of a twisted raven with big teeth or something like that, not something that represents what I look like physically,” he said during an artist talk at the Luna Festival in 2021. “While I was painting this, it was always on my mind. Should I put myself in there? Because these are my people, this is where my ancestors come from. I thought, to heck with it” and put it in.

Gendron spent his early years in the Coulee Dam area in Washington as one of ten children. His Umatilla mother and Sinixt father adopted four other children. “And so there were 14 of us (kids) living in a tiny house,” he said. “Our friends were the sagebrush and the rattlesnakes and little scorpions and little cactus and things like that.”

The family moved to Spokane, where Gendron did most of his schooling. After completing community college, he moved to Seattle to study at the Cornish College of the Arts. For 36 years he made a living as a professional artist, raising three children as a single dad. “We struggled really hard,” he said. His career took off in 2002 when his five-painting exhibit, the Indian Boarding School Series, was displayed at Whitworth University in Washington.  

Gendron became known to people in Revelstoke when his beautiful painting, Medicine Lodge, was printed on the cover of Swift River, a book by Laura Stovel, published in 2019, that described how Sinixt people were pushed out of the upper Columbia Valley. The author was able to connect with Gendron through his close friend, Shelly Boyd who is the Territorial Land Advisor for the Colville Confederated Tribes. 

In 2020, Miriam Manley, the artistic and executive director for Arts Revelstoke, was looking for an Indigenous artist to feature in the 2021 Art Alleries, a creative adaptation of the annual Luna Festival necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic. “The idea first came from the Indigenous Friendship Society to signify the legacy and long history of Indigenous people in this area. If we were going to commission an artwork it should be a Sinixt artist. Ric stood out for the quality of his work,” Manley said.

Once again encouraged by Boyd, Gendron said he was very pleased to be invited. But the landscape of Revelstoke was very different from the semi-desert landscape that he knew. Manley suggested using portraits and Boyd provided the historical background of many of the people portrayed. 

“We were blown away with the layers of history and meaning,” Manley said. “When Ric and Shelly agreed to come to Luna and give an artist talk, it was so meaningful.”

Listening to Gendron give his artist’s talk at the Luna Festival, what came across was his deep knowledge of art and the artists that inspired him – including Vincent Van Gogh and the Native American artists Fritz Scholder and T.C. Cannon – and his tremendous humility. “I’m just a paint slinger,” he often said. Well, Paint Slinger, we celebrate and thank you for Coming Home.

C school class learning Sinixt history Ric Gendron paintings photo Buchanan 1

Communications & Marketing Manager
With a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies in communications, journalism and adventure studies, Nora is an expert at connecting with audiences. She’s worked as a guide, journalist, copywriter and freelance writer. Nora moved to Revelstoke in 2021 for its proximity to adventure activities but stayed for the vibrant community. As an art enthusiast, she appreciates the huge role Arts Revelstoke plays in building the diverse, cultural arts community she has come to know and love. She’s excited to join the team and use her skills to tell Arts Revelstoke’s story.



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