Posts Tagged “carving”

My favorite English teacher in college always said “write about the things that you know.”  I believe that artists should also work from what they know; and not just writers.  It follows that creative people should reflect upon their lives, what they know and the people they have met along the way.

The tough part about creating from what you know is that the cuts that make the most impression are usually the deepest.  Reflecting upon past memories is a lot like touching a carving or sculpture with your hands.  You can feel every cut, every contour, every nook and all the “scars”.  The deepest cuts make the most impression.

A carving can’t feel back, and so too reflection can be a very one-sided thing and quite unhealthy if you’re not careful.  I learned this lesson with much pain and difficulty.  It was another lesson learned in college.  It was about a girl.  And like feeling a carving, any feelings were not mutual.  It’s painfully funny how something can, for all intents and purposes, look alive and yet have no life.  What I thought was attraction, turned out to only be attention-seeking.  I fell for the wooden doll that never came to life–that could never love me back.  I was in love with the likeness of someone and not the person.

I fell for Pinocchio’s sister.

Skip ahead a few years, after much wandering in confusion, God sent a messenger who breathed life into me.  And though I was very attracted to her, she had something that I needed so much more desperately, the Holy Spirit.

She gave all the credit for the success in her life to Jesus.  The dark reflections in my soul (aka shadows) shuddered and even scrambled to explain it away; the light was rejuvinated!!!  The cut was made!

I remember the day when we sat in her Uncle’s car, watching the distant killer whales blow pillars of mist into the golden remnants of evening light that made haloes around her most beautiful eyes and face.    She told me that I have the Holy Spirit in me.

Like the air that the killer whales need to breathe, she breathed life into me.

I will carry what I saw on those shores for the rest of my life.  I would thank her, but she would just give the credit to Jesus anyways, and so I thank God!

Now, you might be thinking that we were destined for love and great things.  And we were…but not together.  I was in love with what shone through her.  I was in love with Jesus.

We tried to “make” it work over the years, but the relationship was built on sand before it was ever built on stone.  Hearts were wounded, tears shed, paths carved seperately.

I wish to this day that I could say that I am sorry for how things worked out, but that’s probably just me over-reflecting.  After all, things haven’t been all that bad.  She’s now happy working as a pediatric nurse at BC Children’s hospital and I’m happily married as an artist.

And now, like most of my stories, I leave you with a paragraph pertaining to a perpetual platitude applied to personal perceptions.  Good art is like a reflection of who we are.  Great art is a reflection of who God is.  It’s healthy to reflect upon who people are, but it’s healthier still to reflect upon who God is.

Or, as the very centre of the Bible states:

  “Far better to take refuge in God
than trust in people;
Far better to take refuge in God
than trust in celebrities.”

 Psalm 118:8-9
The Message

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Nathan Wilson and I finished our first commission together.  It had its ups and downs, but it was over all very positive and a total blast.  We worked 10 hour days over a 6 day period and worked on site the whole time.  We set up a tarp tent soon after starting the project and with the wind blowing very hard at times, it nearly blew over a few times and collapsed more times than we could remember.   We started with sketch ups of the proposed crest heads and after all the formalities, such as price, dimensions and other considerations, we started the first day after finishing our last day of class at Freda Diesing School.

Nate, looking over logPreparation of the log

We started by preparing the log–a first-growth western red cedar.  And after the surface was prepared and all the roughage taken off, we had a smooth surface to work on and put the crest heads.

"Refugee" tent that we set up to keep the rain outBeaver crest with primary and secondary forms colored

Next we painted the primary and secondary forms.

Killer whale and raven crest heads

Then we started carving.

Eagle, beaver and wolf crests

Then, finally we painted the tertiary areas and after getting approval from the clients, we were done.

final approval

Very exciting project and I am looking forward to what’s next.  Stay tuned.

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Tom Daniels and Roy Henry Vickers

Tom Daniels and Roy Henry Vickers

Harold started the day off by concluding the presentation on NW coast artists.  Again, it was a good presentation, with a bit of a surrealistic quality due perhaps to the fact that one half of the presentation was on Dempsey Bob, who was sitting at the side, observing the whole presentation.

Harold started the day where he finished off yesterday, talking about the Gitksan artists, covering Ken Mowatt, Robert Jackson Jr, Glen Wood, Phil Janze and Earl Muldon–aka Earl Muldoe.  Ken Mowatt, born Sept 2, 1944, taught at the Kitanmaax (K’san) school in Hazelton during the 70’s.  Ken has been a carver for over 40 years and is known for many works around Hazelton, including many of the poles at K’san.  Robert Jackson Jr was born in 1948 in Port Edward, and grew up with Dempsey Bob.  Robert’s story was one of “greatness, loss and recovery.”

Harold highlighted Glen Wood, who worked with Dempsey on the eagle pole next to the courthouse in Rupert.

Eagle Pole. carvers: Dempsey Bob and Glen Wood

Eagle Pole. carvers: Dempsey Bob and Glen Wood

Harold went on to talk about Phil Janze.  Phil was a teacher at K’san and is a noted jeweler and carver.  Harold discussed Earl Muldon, aka Muldoe, who was one of the most notable pole carvers from K’san.  Earl has a long legacy of teaching and excellence.  Earl was named an officer of the Order of Canada on June 30, 2010.

The Tahltan Wolves: Dempsey Bob, Ken McNeil and Stan Bevan

This was a particularly special part of the presentation, considering that two of the above persons were at the presentation while Harold was talking about them.  Dempsey’s legacy was that of an innovator and a teacher.  Dempsey learned much of what he knew from Freda Diesing and passed along much of what he knows to Ken and Stan, his nephews.  Dempsey, Stan and Ken are all part of the wolf clan, and are all Tahltan.

On an interesting note, Roy Henry Vickers was there listening to much of the presentation.  Roy is most definitely a key part of NW coast art history.  Roy, a Tsimshian, Haida, Helstiuk, Scot by birth, went to K’san with Dempsey in the 70’s.  Although, anything that I may know about Roy is probably already on Wikipedia, I will say that he is well known for his silk screen prints, literature and great public speaking skills.  Roy will be coming to do a talk to the class early next month.  The preliminary dates are the 10th and 11th of March.

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I had a couple practice presentations at community futures this morning for the Best of the BEST competition in Vancouver this weekend. I will be going down to Vancouver for this competition. It should be a good time. I was critiqued by an audience of two people at Community Futures today, but I have to say that it was actually harder doing the presentation for my wife last night. She is a way harder critic.

Raven on a tree on the NWCC campus, Terrace     Raven on a tree on the NWCC campus, Terrace

Raven on a tree on the NWCC campus, Terrace Raven on a tree on the NWCC campus, Terrace

I caught the tail end of Harold Demetzer’s speech today and he was talking about galleries. Harold said that even the most prestigious artists use galleries. He described the variety of galleries that are in Vancouver and he made it clear as to what ones were more presentation oriented and what ones were more production oriented. I definitely want to go with a presentation oriented gallery if I have the choice. Stan Bevan told us that we need to make our own decisions as to who we feel comfortable doing business with.

In the afternoon, we resumed our projects. I am working on two bowls right now and I am almost finished my spoon.

Evan Aster and another afternoon carving

Evan Aster and another afternoon carving

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Gary Wyatt, a director from Spirit Wrestler Gallery in Vancouver, is scheduled to come up next week. In keeping with Bill McLennan’s presentation, yet to my knowledge not collaborated, Gary will be talking about traditional and contemporary artwork. In addition to this, Gary will be speaking about where he sees the market going: traditional or contemporary. Perhaps these presentations are not as unconnected as I think, because they are part of the art history lesson for this year.

Spirit Wrestler is one of the biggest first nations art galleries in Vancouver, displaying works from artists such as Dempsey Bob, Robert Davidson, Stan Bevan and Ken McNeil. In addition to aboriginal artists on this continent, Spirit Wrestler also exhibits works from Maori artists.

Below is one of my newest works. It is an alder spoon that I am finishing right now before I paint it. I like alder because it is such a beautiful material, it is easy to work with and it doesn’t give off overbearing odors or unbearable dust.

Alder spoon

My Alder Spoon

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Bill McLennan

Bill McLennan, curator and project manager for the UBC Museum of Anthropology, made another presentation today before going back to Vancouver. Bill touched on a number of different topics, including what characterizes west coast style first nations art?

Bill pointed to the flowing curves and stark angles that balance each other in typical west coast style artwork, all brought together with a sense of tension.  In fact, Bill’s description of NW coast art reminded me of Bill Reid’s description of the art form in The Transforming Image, where he describes the expanding and contracting tension of  NW coast style art.  It should be noted that Bill McLennan and Bill Reid were friends up until Reid’s death in 1998.

So, what makes art, west coast art?  And a question related to this: what makes a piece traditional?

Though this was not quite an easy question to answer, Bill, in true scholarly fashion, gave us some material to work with in order to make our own conclusions. Bill went through a number of photos of bowls that were made over one hundred years ago, and he gave us examples of contemporary work done by Doug Cramner.

Doug Cranmer's "Killerwhales"

Doug Cranmer's "Killerwhales"

Old Grease Bowl

Old Grease Bowl

With the examples of “traditional” work that were given, Bill showed us what I thought was a stark example of how tradition isn’t always what it seems. He showed us examples of Nuxalk carvings that looked more similar to northern styles than to the Nuxalk style that is generally accepted as traditional.

Dempsey Bob always tells us that “innovation must come from tradition”, but he also reminds us that tradition had to start somewhere. So, where does tradition start? I think that this question is as easy as answering where the wind comes from, because what is considered to be traditional changes as social norms change. And social norms can change with technology, geography…any number of items.

Anyways, I have finally completed my most extensive painting yet.  Is it traditional?  All I can say is that many people have already commented about it.  Come to the Terrace Art Gallery on Friday, between 7pm to 9pm, to see it.


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Geo McKay

Geo McKay is an aboriginal artist from the Nisga’a nation, who resides in Terrace. Geo has been at this game for a whole lot longer than I–40 years in fact–and has a lot to offer the native art market and the local community of artists.

I invited Geo McKay out for a coffee tonight with the intentions of gleaning some of his wisdom and maybe a good story or two. Geo, not wanting to miss a beat went into telling stories right away. Geo told me about his childhood and difficulties with school and how he dropped out to help out his family at home. Geo later came back to school and graduated within a short period of time. In drafting and architecture classes, Geo excelled with an A+ average.

Geo was mentored for a time by Freda Diesing, a Haida artist whom Dempsey Bob described as “the only teacher [of traditional northwest coast art] around at the time.” Also, one thing that Geo noticed about Terrace when he started carving, was that there was no native representation in the tourist markets around Terrace. Geo was determined to change this and worked hard over many years to develop his skills.

Over the years, Geo would come to sell to the museum in Prince Rupert–where a friend told him that people were buying. Geo lived for 15 years in Prince Rupert. Geo also sold to certain galleries in Vancouver, developing relations with the Spirit Wrestler Gallery and the Royal BC Museum.

Geo related to me a story about how he had three masks that he had carved that he was hoping to sell to the Royal BC Museum. He said that one of the masks he was selling for $800, another for $1200 and another for $1500. When asked why the difference in price, Geo referred to the fact that the first mask had one face, the second two and the third three faces. So, the buyer purchased the first two masks, but told Geo that she couldn’t afford the third mask. Not wanting to let Geo get away with the mask, she made a counter offer; she would take the mask on a 40% commission. Geo got a fraction of what he was hoping for, but he was still happy because it was more than what he would have had otherwise.  I think that the moral of the story was that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Geo also went on to say that when an artist sells to galleries in Vancouver “it doesn’t matter how many emails or photos that an artist sends to the galleries down there, the artist has to actually meet with the gallery owners that he wants to do business with, because the artist is selling himself.”

Geo went on to share his knowledge on pricing, mentoring, artist representation, target markets, relevant market factors, sponsorship, business partnership, and why some art businesses fail.

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