Endenshaw brothers unveil replica of Great Box

  • Mar. 24, 2015 1:00 p.m.

By Evelyn von AlmassyHaida Gwaii ObserverThe Room of the Totems in the Haida Gwaii Museum was full of elders and young people from all over the islands last Saturday to witness the unveiling of the Great Box, created by Mr. Gwaii Edenshaw and Mr. Jaalen Edenshaw. Curator intern Jason Alsop gave the opening prayer and offered a refresher of the repatriation efforts of Haida artifacts ongoing since the late 1990s.  In September of 2014, the Edenshaw brothers, both raised on Haida Gwaii as part of the Eagle Clan, travelled to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England to create an exact replica of the Great Box, a masterpiece of Haida art held at the Museum. Their mission was to learn directly from the deceased artist and bring home the knowledge embodied within the Great Box.”We don’t know who the artist is, but we do know his body of work a little bit,” Gwaii said. “There are some hidden clues in his work, and we’ve got a few very good candidatesThere has been speculation the artist was Charles Edenshaw, but the brothers said “we almost certainly know it is not him.” The brothers have years of studies with Haida teachers and in post-secondary education, and both were the founding members of the Q’alsti’da Kaa Players, writing the play Sounding Gambling Sticks, which was performed entirely in Haida, on Haida Gwaii and Vancouver to great success.The Great Box originally came to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1884. The owner of the box had it since 1870. The Edenshaw bothers finished their replica just the night before the unveiling.”We worked 28 days straight, sometimes 10 hours a day,” Gwaii said to the audience. “[We are] still learning new things from the old Master.”Jaalen added that although the design is not symmetrical, it is very balanced. They traced over the box, then folded the paper in half, and the design does not line up. There is more emphasis of bringing more life in it to not be symmetrical. “It Gives it more soul,” Gwaii said, adding no one knows for certain what the box was originally used for. “The acquisition notes called it a burial box. It was clean and dry on the inside. A lot of them say burial box….probably so [the seller] could get more for them.In England, there was always a staff member in the room with them as they worked on the tracing of the box.The Great Box will be in the Haida Gwaii Museum for the next month. Gwaii said that it might later be lent to the Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver.At age 16, Gwaii was mentored by Bill Reid in the traditional forms of Haida art. Hibby Gren was a local who carved folk art from fishing floats and avocado pits, whom Gwaii knew through his carvings. At 19, he carved his first pole under his father Guujaaw, which was 42 feet long, and did three more poles with him. He then worked with Michael Nicholl Yahgulanaas on the graphic novel “A Tale of Two Shamans”.  He studies in Robert Davidson’s ongoing drawing classes. His line of “Regalia jewelry” is his line of silver, copper and gold. He has a passion for plants and art. He graduated from Vancouver Community College in jewelry art and design; casting is his preferred medium.At 13, Jaalen began to study various Haida works, and he worked under his father Guujaaw and Jim Hart, carving totem poles, and learned the smithing of hand beaten copper shields. His Eagle Copper was acquired by the Canada Council for the Arts for their Art Bank. He also carved a 36-foot canoe in 2007. He carved the Gwaii Haanas 42-foot Legacy Pole which now stands at Windy Bay on Lyell Island. He has done original paintings on boxes, drums and paddles and has limited edition prints. He received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Victoria in 2003.After being in Jasper for almost 100 years, the Raven Totem Pole was repatriated to Gwaii Haanas. The “Two Brothers Totem Pole” carved by Jaalen and Gwaii was erected in 2011 to replace the Raven Pole in Jasper.On August 15, 2013, the Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole, to honour the 20th Anniversary of the Gwaii Haanas Agreement between the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada, was erected in Hik’yah Gaaw Ga (Windy Bay) on Lyell Island. Jaalen was the head carver of this pole, assisted by Gwaii and Tyler York, of the Skedan’s Raven clan.The brothers were raised on Haida Gwaii, both of the Eagle clan, and are the sons of Ms. Jenny Nelson, an author and retired teacher, and Guujaaw, past president of the council of the Haida Nation, carver, and drummer.

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