A Life's Story

March 04, 2023

Carving out a lifetime of adventure

Eccentric, caring, globetrotting artist Bob Kussy had endless stories to tell, kindness to share with family, friends

By: Erik Pindera

An artist with a big heart full of tall tales, Bob Kussy died in Winnipeg with his family at his side in early January, after 63 years of life around the country and the world.

Born in Winnipeg in 1959 and raised in Crescentwood, he was the big brother and ringleader to two younger siblings, and a colourful part of the neighbourhood.

“Bob was always the inventive one, the creative one, whether he invented games we played around the yard or wanted to build a fort. I was the runt of the litter, so he was always the one finding stuff for us to do, to entertain us as kids,” says Steve Kussy, his youngest brother.

He travelled the world and, at times, lived in Yellowknife, coastal B.C. and more recently, Elie, west of Winnipeg, before moving back to the city in the months before his unexpected death of a heart attack on Jan. 3.

At times eccentric, he moved through life quickly.

“He wasn’t the kind of guy who would show up every Sunday for dinner… Bob was the kind of guy, when he blew into your life — he never called before he showed up here at my house when he was living in Elie or Fort Garry — he just showed up, like a storm, and he took control,” says Steve.

“He’d entertain us with stories — what he’s been up to, where he’s been, what’s going to happen — and hang around all afternoon, and energize us with his stories. Then he’d be gone, just like a storm, the skies all blue again.”

From his childhood and university days in Winnipeg, where he met lifelong friends, he went on to travel the world with stops across Europe and in Morocco, Nepal and India.

Back home in Winnipeg, he opened Himalayan Imports in Osborne Village, where he sold clothing, jewelry, rugs and artifacts he bought in the markets of Marrakesh, Katmandu and other stops on his global travels, his aunt wrote in an extended obituary.

In the early 1990s, he moved north to Yellowknife, where he taught art to inmates.

He was asked to work as a counsellor for troubled youth struggling with solvent abuse, which is where he met Goota Ashoona, a third-generation Inuk carver who works with stone and whalebone, originally from Kinngait, NT.

She had been asked to translate for the program, and they married in 1997.

Together they founded Ashoona Studios and built relationships with galleries and collectors across the country and internationally. He was her biggest champion and soulmate.

In a 2021 Free Press profile of Ashoona, an intensely private person, she said Kussy helped her share her art with the world.

“I didn’t want to become an artist because I was afraid of what would happen…. And I didn’t want that to be seen, but he brought it out,” she said at the time.

“He brought me out of the box. Now he flies away and tells everybody.”

Ashoona has been wrought with grief since his death. She says her pain is greatest in the morning, when she realizes her husband is no longer there. There are two sons — Joe and Sam, who are also carvers — and three grandchildren.

“The way he talked to people, made connections with people, (it was) from his heart. That’s who Bob was,” she says.

“He cared about everybody… he cared, that’s why I loved him, too.”

From Yellowknife, the couple moved to Sandspit on Haida Gwai off the coast of B.C., where the two carvers found an ample supply of whalebone, before moving their studio to Elie in 2017.

With his kind and inquisitive nature, Kussy became part of each community where he and his loved ones lived, often through volunteer work in the arts and in soccer.

“He was always giving, he was definitely always a part of the community, and recognized by the community, no matter where he was living,” Steve says.

In recent months, the family moved to the Fort Garry neighbourhood, where they were setting up their studios when Kussy died.

Now, Kussy’s extended family and friends are raising money (http://wfp.to/SCI) to help Ashoona and her two sons with their immediate needs and to finish building their studio, so they can continue their work and livelihood.


Twitter: @erik_pindera

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