Abbotsford artist Tony Mayo was recently honoured with the Best of Show sculpture award at the annual Artists for Conservation International Wildlife Art Exhibit.
Mayo received the award for his piece Battle of the Orca and Thunderbird.
The exhibition – held Aug. 22 to 25 at the Vancouver Convention Centre – is considered one of the world’s premier fauna art exhibitions and many consider it the foremost wildlife art show.
Mayo’s sculpture is based on a legend that the Cowichan people of the West Coast have about a battle between a killer whale and the thunderbird.
In the legend, there was a time during one spawning season when no salmon came up the Cowichan River.
Salmon were an important food source that sustained the Cowichan people through the winter, so they scouted the river and discovered that a supernatural orca had claimed the mouth of the river and was mercilessly eating the salmon.
Cowichan warriors paddled their mighty war canoes out to the orca, but trying with all their strength, they could not drive him away.
The medicine people of every Cowichan village were joined by all the people as they sang their most powerful songs, calling upon the supernatural thunderbird for help.
The thunderbird appeared and soon locked in a fierce battle with the orca. Thunderbird was victorious and the salmon run was liberated.
In Mayo’s sculpture, the orca and thunderbird are interlocked in battle, with thunderbird latched tightly around the belly of the orca.
The piece is sculpted from pyrophyllite from South Africa.