Islanders carve up a pile of products

  • Apr. 10, 2007 8:00 a.m.

By Evelyn von Almassy-Salmon boxes by Elin Price, gift boxes for wine by Charley Robertson, a coffee table and boxes by Ronda Bell, little houses by John Broadhead and clocks by Roly Thompson. A burl clock and round bowl by Ryan Stevenson, who has just turned 15 and never done woodwork before. These are some of the diverse offerings that are part of the Haida Gwaii by Design show, on display until April 22 at On the Rock in Queen Charlotte.
I attended the opening and interviewed some of the participants that evening. Roly Thompson, the organizer of the course and the show, said the course included a slide show and discussion of design history, from the Parthenon to the present of Frank Gehry, all in one evening! The three-hour classes were held twice each week, beginning Sept. 8 and ending March 15. The classes alternated between Masset and Charlotte and there were eight men and two women in the class. Peter Galonski, from the Kootenay School of the Arts, was here from time to time to instruct, with Mr. Thompson teaching the other times.
Mr. Thompson said he saw a need to keep the wood that was milled on island here, and also to keep the value-added income on island. He knew that talent and a resource existed here and was determined to change the status quo. He lobbied for funding to make the dream a reality (Community Futures, the school district and SMFRA helped with in-kind resources and funding) and he organized the show.
Charley Robertson said he has a fascination with trees, and “wanted to learn the basics of woodworkingÂ… and see the side of marketing. ” He learned patience and perseverance. When I asked how he would use his knowledge now, he said that he wanted to make a Sitka spruce guitar.
Elin Price has lived on Haida Gwaii for two years and lives on a cabin on North Beach. She said she used her vehicle to dry her boxes as she had no working space at home. She wanted to gain more wood working skills and to design furniture for her Airstream, which has lots of round areas. She definitely learned to work within a small space.
Students learned woodworking skills, design planning, familiarity with tools, and went on a tour of the Abfam mill in Port Clements. Mr. Thompson saw the increasing confidence and growing skill of the individuals and knew that his dream was coming to fruition.
All these people want to make products with on-island resources, and to sell locally and to also ship their goods overseas. They want control of the manufacture, resources and infrastructure of the design and the sale of the goods that they create. In looking at their products, one can see that beauty and function have come together in their craft.
Mr. Thompson is hoping to run the course again, and the idea is percolating of a co-operative workshop somewhere. All of the participants are looking forward to continuing to use their talents. Catch the show before it comes down. Haida Gwaii by Design is a project that will be heard from again.