Totempolooza complete

January 2013

The four projects are really progressing, with Ray pushing ahead on his piece and moving it inside the building. Xwalacktun has his giant log taken apart, and I think both pieces are big than mine. It's given him the opportunity to create a really interesting design on both sides, since he has lots of wood volume to work with.

Johnathon has a completely different approach to ours, which isn't surprising as he's from Lil'wat, and is one of the first carvers from his First Nation to approach larger sculptures. I've seen people take two basic approaches to carving: one designs completely beforehand, and the other designs as they work, and Jonathan is of the more 'Zen-like' approach who has a very intuitive approach which changes his design as he progresses. He has left the tree very much visible in his approach, and is integrating his designs onto the original shape of the log.
Johnathon Joe, Mt Currie Band, Northwest Coast Artwork, Totem pole
Jonathon’s pole

There are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches, of design and intuitition, and I believe it has more to do with your personality, and preference of work-process, than it has to do with either way being better or worse.
Aaron Nelson-Moody, Splash, totem pole, yellow cedar, Coast Salish art
My house post ready for drawing on of design

With my piece, I've got the log sized and dressed, with clean surfaces to draw on, and have cut it lengthwise through the centre wood which means it will have less inner tension to develop cracks. I've started some rough cuts to block out the figures on the front, so that I can tell what's going on in terms of thickness when I start to hollow out the back.
Aaron Nelson-Moody, Splash, totem pole, yellow cedar, Coast Salish art
New ‘wheels’ dead handy for cutting from both sides with my little chainsaw

I've got a few different ideas for making the back look nice, and have changed my original my idea about putting the back piece back on because I like the proportions of the piece right now, and I think it's dimensions are truer to the old houseposts.
Aaron Nelson-Moody, Splash, totem pole, yellow cedar, Coast Salish art
Here is the house post with the back cut off (on left)

I also spent a few days working on, and helping out with the installation of the welcome figure we'd done during this last summer. It's nice to get it raised, as these big carvings kind of tug at my emotions until they are done, even coming to my dreams until I finish them.
Aaron Nelson-Moody, Splash, totem pole, red cedar, Coast Salish art, copper raised form
Welcome figure from summer finally goes up. Was cold.

The welcome figures were an expression of hospitality and respect for the people who came into our traditional territories. You'd see them as you came through the waterways, but they appeared on other carvings as well. We hope it will be taken as it was meant, and help direct people to our museum in Whistler. We had it upright for about five minutes before a woman with her baby stroller walked by and said, "Just what Whistler needs, another totem pole."

Aaron Nelson-Moody, Splash, totem pole, yellow cedar, Coast Salish art, adze
Used a curved base power planer, and then my lip adze to clean it all up
Aaron Nelson-Moody, Splash, totem pole, yellow cedar, Coast Salish art
Decided to leave back as smooth surface rather than completely hollow out
Aaron Nelson-Moody, Splash, totem pole, yellow cedar, Coast Salish art, Todd Edmonds, Mt Currie
Todd starts roughing in design
Aaron Nelson-Moody, Splash, totem pole, yellow cedar, Coast Salish art
Progressing

Aaron Nelson-Moody, Splash, totem pole, yellow cedar, Coast Salish art, Rilla, Mt Currie
Rilla helps to oil the wood to reduce cracking in dry building
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Our Elder puts some medicine into base
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Back painted and carved, with silver leaf for visibility

Spring 2013

Just getting the poles up, along with a few bits of other work at the Squamish / Lil'wat Cultural Centre. Driving back and forth to whistler, I used up a lot of time, which meant I got behind on lots of little odds and ends, including updating this part of my website.
Thermal Art design, tool making, forging tools, Northwest Coast Tools
My new Thermal Art Design propane forge

So I had also created two tools workshops, including a one day neck-knife making workshop, and a carving tool workshop for some of the Lilwat carvers. We still have to make the handles, and Jonathon Joe couldn't make the class, so I'd like to work with him on that also.
Thermal Art design, tool making, forging tools, Northwest Coast Tools
Rilla works on a knife

David Baker, a long time cultural ambassador from the SLCC, donated some car spring steel for us, which we treated with the assumption that it was 5160' and it seemed to work out okay. It was thick metal, so it was a real workout to forge, especially with my little anvil, but I learned a lot about moving metal keeping it a little less lumpy than my first attempts.
Thermal Art design, tool making, forging tools, Northwest Coast Tools
I have to say that forging is a lot more straightforward for making carving tools. I was buying all sorts of dimensional steel stock to make different sized knives, and always running out of the size I happen to need. I've been having to send away for my steel, which I will still need to do, but now I can just buy round bar stock and make any size I want.

Thermal Art design, tool making, forging tools, Northwest Coast Tools
Two of my basic carving knives

I've read a lot of debate about whether or not forging makes better blades, but I've noticed all the best tools are made by forging or drop forging. I have also noticed so far that the shape of the tools I'm forging are better, with graceful tapers, and very little waste of material and grinding supplies.

Blessing Ceremony

The public unveiling day came and was kind of simple and meaningful, which are two things I like. The carving process is mostly about lots of hard work, and I lose track of what the pieces may mean to the community, so it was nice to see so many people invested in the carvings, and us carvers.
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Somewhere along the way I realized that it has taken me about 15 years to finish this project, making the four Cedar Woman carvings, and telling and retelling the story. So here it is one more time:

Several years ago I met several women from across the boarder, Coast Salish and some others, and a man who was driving them around. They dropped by at the house of a friend of mine who phoned me and told me to come right over. So we all had dinner and the women were telling me that they were a Society of women who would help keep track of the state of the traditional Native territories; things like number of salmon in runs, animals we hunted, medicinal plants and the like. One thing I remember in particular was about doing controlled forest burns, to reduce the overall fire hazard, and to replenish the undergrowth which is medicine for us, and food for animals. Another story they told was of about rivers and streams, and when they are healthy they are narrow, and deep enough to keep salmon eggs cool, and make it harder to catch adult salmon. Trees grow right up to the edge, and even lean over the water, again keeping the water cool, and the river banks stable.

They mentioned that girls had to start learning this long history when they were young, as they had a lot to remember an keep track of. They would meet up with other women from different First Nations because regardless of political relations, it's all the same world.

I didn't know anything about this Society, although I knew we Coast Salish had storytelling societies, and warrior societies, and several sacred societies. When I asked one of my friends and teachers, Theresa Nahanee, she at first said that she didn't know anything about it.

I had started taking part in what became known at Utsam / Witness project, through our Hereditary Chief Bill Williams. The project combined Nature, Environment, and the Arts in a kind of camping weekend where we also shared some of our Squamish Nation ceremony. There was a lot of conflict in that part of our traditional territory at that time, with increasing pressure on the land from logging, tourism, recreation, hunting etc.

There was also a lot of pressure on Squamish Nation to pick a side, but Chief Bill choose instead to work with the Witness project. I think it was a very smart decision, as the Witness weekends are the closest thing I've seen to one of our traditional Potlatches in that we gathered lots of people who weren't necessarily part of the same community of beliefs or values, but who were willing to sit together to share a meal and ceremony together.

During this time, Chief Bill Williams asked me to think of a carving we could do which might inspire some more Squamish Nation members to travel out onto the part of our territory. During my youth we just spent more time hunting and fishing and gathering medicine, but today there just isn't the same need, or population of animal and plant life for us to hunt and gather the way we used to.

When I spoke to Theresa again, she was very excited because she had remembered something from when she was quite young, about these women who looked after our land. She told me to carve four of these women, so that people would remember this role our women played and the care we put into our land; she'd get me money and logs, and she'd tell the story. She was there for to bless the first log before we started carving, and then she passed away.

So it was very emotional for me to continue the project, and I'm grateful that Chief Bill Williams stepped in to support me in the carving of these figures. It turns out that it has been an emotional and thought-provoking project for others as well, if only because where we can doubt today whether or not we can ever find balance in the impact we have on our land, and maybe see that polar ideas like conservation/development maybe aren't completely different after all.

So I just have the one little piece left to put on the carving, and complete the project. It is a engraved piece based on a sand dollar, which was the logo for the Utsam/Witness project. It is a piece of aluminum, which engraves okay sometimes, and not so okay other times.
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Natural marker for end of project

My next project is to side in my carving shed. Well, shed is maybe a bit too glamorous a word for my shack. It's just a roof right now with some plastic sheeting stapled to it in the same haphazard way that I go about wrapping my Christmas presents.