Zeljko Kujundzic, Thunderbirds, 1967
Photo: Michael R. Barrick

  1. Zeljko Kujundzic, Thunderbirds, 1967
    Photo: Michael R. Barrick

Zeljko Kujundzic

, 1967

180 x 180 cm each (12 total)
Commissioned by the University of British Columbia, 1967

Located high atop the supporting poles of Thunderbird Stadium, this work consists of this work consists of 12 giant thunderbirds. This sculptural project was commissioned by the University for the opening of the stadium in 1967. Kujundzic’s piece enhances the architectural concept, exposing the function of the stadium “through an aggressive aesthetic symbolism of the team spirit” (Artist statement, 1967).

The thunderbird was adopted as the symbol and name for UBC’s athletic teams in the mid-1930s and was officially sanctioned by Indigenous leaders in 1948 (see Victory Through Honour [BG1000]). The thunderbird is a sacred creature revered by Indigenous people of the Northwest Coast. According to legend, this spirit bird was so powerful that the motion of its wings caused thunder and its eyes flashed lightning. The thunderbird is described as both a benevolent protector capable of granting supernatural blessings as well as a terror who engages in warfare with humans and beasts.

Zeljko Kujundzic (1920-2003) lived in Scotland from 1948 to 1958, when he moved to Cranbrook, BC. Following his move to Canada, he painted among the people of the Kootenay Nation, and the use of Northwest Coast motifs in Thunderbirds reflects this influence. Kujundzic was a founder of the Kootenay School of the Arts and served as its director (1959-1963). In 1968, he moved to the US where he was Head of the Fine Arts Department at Pennsylvania State University, retiring to the Okanagan in 1982.