Carrying on cultural traditions

  • Sep. 7, 2012 9:00 a.m.

by Heidi Bevington-Lisa White and Jordon Seward live and breathe Haida culture. They perform with the TluuXaadaa Naay dancers, study Xaadkil (the Haida language) with Stephen Brown and carry on the traditions of Haida art. Lisa, whose Haida name is Kuuyang, is a weaver. She made her first baskets with Naanii Florence Davidson as a child, but it wasn’t until she had children of her own that weaving and regalia making really became important to her. Her daughters needed cedar hats for their dance performances, so Lisa learned to weave in cedar and has been weaving ever since. “I was inspired to create traditional regalia for my children,” she said. “Also, I’ve lived here my whole life and my parents were always creating.” Her father, Morris White, the late Chief Edenshaw, was a Haida canoe builder. Recently, Kuuyang began Raven’s Tail Weaving, a geometric style unique to the north coast tribes. Traditionally the weaving would have been done with spun goat hair but modern weaving is done with sheep’s wool. Kuuyang has woven some head bands and medicine bags. She just completed her first blanket; she will “dance” the blanket this fall. Each design element in the blanket represents an important weaving technique or meaningful image and the ceremony will be Kuuyang’s opportunity to thank her teacher, Sherri Dick, and tell the story of the blanket to her friends and family. In the future, Kuuyang wants to begin carving. Regalia and weaving use designs in two dimensions. Carving will allow Kuuyang to explore the third dimension in traditional Haida design. Her teacher will be her partner Jordon Seward. Mr. Seward grew up in Squamish, where a school teacher encouraged him to carve a bar of soap. He quickly moved on to yellow cedar, and a Salish carver taught him how to hold a knife without cutting himself. From then on, he’s been exploring different techniques with teachers from the Salish, Kwakwaka’wakw, and Haida traditions. Mr. Seward has a connection to the islands through his father, and he felt a deep affinity for Haida Gwaii when he first came here in his 20s. He’s been perfecting his skills here for the last 20 years. Here on the islands, Mr. Seward has had the opportunity to work with Reg Davidson and Robert Davidson. They helped him see the underlying pattern of the Haida form line and to discipline his vision so that his work would be original but rooted in tradition. He works in different mediums, but his favourite is cedar; he finds it satisfying to work in a range of styles from miniature to monumental. Today he is working on a raven rattle in alder. To begin a carving, Mr Seward visualizes the projects and examines ancient pieces to get appropriate proportions without copying exactly. A piece like a raven rattle has traditional elements like the raven’s head and a human or bear figure that need to be included. After deciding on a design, he creates a rough outline on a block of wood and then begins gouging out wood to create the figures. Finally he patiently smooths the piece with a small chisel. Mr Seward prefers a tool finish to sanding. “I think it’s more valuable for the piece. The crisp lines of the form line are retained where sanding would round things down,” he says. He adds the final touch with a bit of acrylic paint, fills the rattle with agates and seals it with epoxy. The ancient Haida masters inspire all Mr. Seward’s carving: “I want to achieve the mastery they have. That’s what I strive for in all my pieces.” Both Ms White and Mr. Seward want to make Haida art more accessible for ordinary people. With that end in mind, they are opening a small studio/gift shop in Old Massett on Raven Avenue. The foundation has been poured, and they hope to have it finished by the end of the year. The studio will sell gift items decorated with their designs as well as art work by other Haida artists.

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