Beau Dick was born in Alert Bay on the Northern tip of Vancouver Island and was raised in the neighbouring Kwakwaka’wakw village of Kingcome Inlet. The isolation of the remote villages slowed down the processes of cultural destruction, which had devastated many other villages on the coast. Many of the Kwakwaka’wakw master artists, including Willie Seaweed, Charlie James, and Mungo Martin as well as Beau’s father Ben Dick and grandfather James Dick carried the art and culture through the period of cultural assimilation and transition to become among the first carvers to receive recognition as “name” artists beyond the cultural definition. They also carried the wealth of songs, dances, and ceremonial rites, which were passed on to the dedicated young artists such as Beau who was among the first artists of the modern era. Alert Bay remains a cultural centre as well as producing such noted artists as Wayne Alfred, Russell Smith, Bruce Alfred and Doug Cramner.
Beau’s first carving was a miniature totem pole based on the pole his father carved to commemorate the visit of King George XI. His father also carved the largest freestanding totem pole (173-feet) to commemorate Canada’s centennial in 1967.
Beau moved to Vancouver to complete high school. He became interested in painting and produced several large canvases in a naturalistic style representing Kwakwaka’wakw mythological figures and ceremonial dancers. He continued to carve and received several important commissions while still a young artist; he painted the dance screen for the Cape Mudge museum and was among the youngest artists chosen for the Legacy Exhibition.
The Legacy Exhibition (documented in the book The Legacy—Traditions and Innovation in Northwest Coast Indian Art by Peter Macnair) hosted by the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria (1972) was one of the first major exhibitions to focus on contemporary artists. The exhibition traveled until 1982. The exhibition and catalogue became a major resource for the growing collector base interested in contemporary Northwest Coast art. Beau exhibited two works, a Noohmahl (fool dancer) and a Tuxw’id or Kominicka mask both carved in the powerful tradition of the War Spirit Ceremony. These masks were instrumental in building the market for the more powerful and darker subjects of the Kwakwaka’wakw traditional ceremonies.
Beau is a prolific and respected artist. He was chosen to carve the large four way split transformation mask for the Canadian Pavilion at Expo ‘86 in Vancouver, British Columbia, now in the collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec. He was also commissioned to carve a major eleven-figure pole by the City of Vancouver for Stanley Park.