A Haida carver is raising money for a memorial pole project meant to honour his late mother.
Prince Rupert-based carver Lyle Campbell and a crew of three helpers started work on a 65-foot red cedar log from Haida Gwaii on April 20, transforming it into a memorial pole for Lyle’s mother Alice Campbell, who died of breast cancer almost six years ago.
To compensate his crew for the work, which is expected to take about five months, Lyle started a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $24,000.
“I’m not taking any money on this project,” he told the Observer. “I will not take a dollar as pay because I’m doing this to honour the life of my mother.”
In a way, Lyle said his mother had the idea for the memorial pole in the first place.
She was born on Haida Gwaii, met Lyle’s father and moved with him to Prince Rupert where he was working. Despite having an artificial hip — she suffered from polio at age eight — she gave birth to Lyle as well as several siblings.
“They told her she’d never have children, but she had four,” Lyle said.
She was limited in what she could do for work as a result of her hip, however, and would knit to sell or donate.
Often she would be knitting when Lyle visited her and he remembers her looking over her shoulder at the yard.
“She’d say, ‘I’m just imagining what my pole will look like,’” he said.
“After she passed, it just more and more seemed like it had to happen at any cost. It just had to happen.”
About a year ago, after taking some time away from carving, Lyle started working with a Haida liaison to acquire the cedar log for his mother’s memorial pole.
“They happened to be building a road near a monumental cedar, so when the timing was right the tree was fallen,” he said. “Carvers know sometimes we have to wait for the right log to come along.”
For the design of the pole, Lyle said he was inspired by the crests of his family’s Stasdsta’aas people, such as a beaver, an eagle, butterfly, frog and dragonfly.
When complete, with acknowledgement going out to the Tsimshian people, he said the pole will stand 30 feet above ground in Prince Rupert, where his father still resides.
And if COVID-19 is still causing restrictions on large gatherings, he said the pole may need to be raised rather quietly.
“Before she died she said she didn’t want any big feasts or celebration, just a small family gathering, and that’s what she’s going to get,” he said. “Kind of funny how that worked out.”
Lyle said the remaining wood from the red cedar log will be used to create smaller, seven-foot poles, a sculpture that is destined for Denmark, masks and more.
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