Friday, December 31, 2010

Carving.1. The old one.

This Fall I have begun to carve again. This was my first childhood creative work and I have picked it up again from time to time. It comes more easily to me and is the most intimate experience I have with the side of my personality that communicates through imagery. As a child the only art I saw being produced in my little coastal BC community of Mill Bay was that produced by the Indians down the road by the ferry dock. In the big wooden buildings by the beach were dugout canoes and in the cemetery, totem poles, and that was what I carved too with my pocket knife.

It never occurred to me that I was transgressing on another culture`s tradition. I had a powerful dream of the Thunderbird several times and I never thought to doubt that this could not be for me, this little white boy recently arrived from England with his family. Ignorance was bliss. I still know this in my heart even though I have studied Anthropology and know now that only First Nations peoples have the right to make First Nations art. And I agree. So, this carving thing that I have a direct line to the spirit of the land with? What do I carve? Because, you see, it is the Thunderbird who made me a carver.

I have been saving interesting pieces of wood for years now and have recently bought a circlet saw chain cutter that is mounted on an angle grinder, - a dangerous, high speed tool that permits me to cut into wavy grained or very hard pieces of wood that defeat conventional gouges and knives. I pick up a long tapered piece that was once a buttress on a cedar tree and begin at random, - no plan. I know that the agreement I have is that I hand over my labour and something other calls the shots. The thick end starts to form into eyes... a nose... lips... and the long trailing piece must be the beard. The machine bucks and gouges as I learn to control it. Oops, that was too deep so I guess that changes the design a little, the eyes will be deeper set.... There can be no thought of My deciding here at the beginning, and this process is so rapid that the image swims up very quickly into view.

By the time I learn to shave delicate slices from the wood it is high time that I begin the fine work that will pull all the elements into a co-ordinated whole. The belt sander grinds the final shape to the face and the circlet cutter puts the curls in the long white beard. The blank eyes stare unfocussed until my sharp knife cuts the grooves across them.

Hand sanding always takes a long time, but every imperfection in the wood will show when the oils and then wax finish is applied. The oil darkens the heart wood and that sets off the white surface wood off nicely. Finished!


Anonymous said...

What an incredibly beautiful and powerful carving Bill :)

Ernst Göran Westlund said...

I have nothing to say against the idea of respecting the first nations cultural heritage. When I lived in Sweden, somebody made a crude version of a totem pole in the city where I lived. They could as well have refrained from that, because that pole was a parody. But on the other hand, as long as it is not really a copy of genuine first nations art, I can see no fault with being inspired by it.

I'm also thinking of the mail program Thunderbird. The very name of that program could be perceived as some kind of infringement. But cultural influences is in itself natural and positive. To my opinion.

Bill said...

Cultural borrowing goes on all the time, I know. In our culture we can view it as just enrichment. A plus. But to 'Walt Diney-ize' the religious core of another culture is, I think, simply nasty. On this coast, origin stories are the property of certain families, so add theft to insensitivity as well.

Here I have created my own origin story or perhaps, had it handed down from on high.